A Tool Is a Tool Is a Tool, Continued
When citizens become customers
It’s a new Great Awakening. Like pop-up ads on a
computer monitor, preachers are appearing everywhere, fluttering over the
footprints of Jonathan Edwards and George Tennent, proclaiming the advent
of Salvation through Better Practices. Central to the theology of
revivalists like David Osborne and disciples such as Bill Clinton, Al
Gore, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Gavin Newsom is the Doctrine of Customer
Their new scripture, already being written, reads:
We the people of the United States, in order to
form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility,
provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure
the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and
establish this Customer Service Plan for the United States of America.
A sacred light shone forth from the High of Highs,
the Office of the President of the United States, in September 1993:
first means ensuring that the Federal Government provides the highest
quality service possible to the American people. Public officials must
embark upon a revolution within the Federal Government to change the way
it does business. This will require continual reform of the executive
branch’s management practices and operations to provide service to the
public that matches or exceeds the best service available in the private
NOW, THEREFORE, to
establish and implement customer service standards to guide the operations
of the executive branch, and by the authority vested in me as President by
the Constitution and the laws of the United States, it is hereby ordered:
Customer Service Standards. In order to carry out the principles of
the National Performance Review, the Federal Government must be
Reflected in a thousand
interfacing mirror images, the beacon of hope spanned the continent. In
the City and County of San Francisco it appeared first in the form of a
change to the
Sec. 16.120. Customer Service Plan
of the City and County shall adopt an annual Customer Service Plan, in a
format to be determined by the Board of Supervisors by ordinance. The
Board may excuse a department from particular requirements of the
ordinance where compliance would be inappropriate or impractical. Each
department shall file its Customer Service Plan with the Board of
Supervisors no later than February 1st of each year, along with
a report on how the department met the previous year’s Plan, if any.
(Added November 1998)
From there, its rays
rippled out to every part of the city’s political culture, including the
Book of Newsom, a collection of policy papers that served as
campaign literature in the November 2003 race for mayor:
Customer Service and Public Safety for San Francisco
should expect city government to respond quickly and effectively to their
needs. They have a right to outstanding customer service that allows them
to easily access city services, track the city’s progress on their
requests, and get their needs met quickly. Unfortunately, in the year 2003
San Francisco lags well behind other cities in providing easy access to
city government through a single point of contact: a 311 phone number for
non-emergency city services….
How 311 Will Work in San Francisco
When fully operational, San Francisco’s
311 call center will be staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Like 911 or
411, dialing 311 will connect citizens to a call center staffed with
trained call takers who have access to translation services. 311 call
takers will be more than just operators – they will function as customer
service representatives for all city departments.
Now, not even Sacramento’s marbled halls remain in
darkness. Building on the words of previous, lesser-known prophets, the
present governor revealed in the Gospel According to Schwarzenegger
WHEREAS, the people of California
have spoken and made clear their desire for a government that is a better
provider of services, more responsive and more accountable;…
1. There shall be created the California Performance Review
to conduct a focused examination of California state government….
2. This year, the Performance Review will examine … (5) Customer Service.
There’s no “revolution” in performance reviews, no “salvation” in Customer
Service Standards. They are simply tools, capable of doing good or evil,
depending on who’s using them. The people’s future requires that they are
While the federal
executive order of 1993 may have lit the first official torch, the
distance from Clinton’s government devoted to “putting people first” to
Schwarzenegger’s government as a “better provider of services” is vast. It
marks a giant leap, not of faith but of philosophy. The transformation of
people-as-citizens into people-as-customers is not merely semantic. It
destroys the most basic concept upon which the United States was founded,
that of “we the people.”
Consider the following scenario:
[A telephone rings.]
San Francisco 311 Call Center. This is Randy. For
quality and training purposes, this conversation may be monitored and
recorded. How may I provide you with excellent customer service today?
Good morning, Randy. You mean I reached a real person
and not a recording! That’s already a sign of excellent customer service.
I’m blown away. What’s the next step?
It’s really very
simple. All of us 311 operators are connected to a giant CitiStat
database, so that we can track the progress of your case. Mayor Newsom
says that CitiStat is “an innovative and
highly successful performance management strategy” — it’s part of a
new, more competitive approach to city services.
One of the things it does is record our success and failure rate.
If I don’t serve your needs, I can be demoted or moved to a different
office. You may have heard of the city’s other new piece of technology,
CompStat, which has revolutionized the way the police do their job.
Imagine what a difference it makes in law enforcement if an officer knows
that he might be moved elsewhere if the crime rate in his district doesn’t
What a wonderful idea —
sharing the burden! I imagine a number of cops in high crime areas like
Hunters Point or the Excelsior look forward to the day when they will
exchange their front-line positions for cushier assignments in Pacific
I don’t think…How may
I help you today? You’ll forgive me if I go a little slowly, but I’m new
at this, so I may need to consult the manual as we go along. Let me see…
the first thing I have to do is determine what kind of customer you are.
Are you a citizen?
Of course, I am, but
what difference does that make?
Oh, we’re supposed to
use different strategies, depending on whether the customer is a citizen
or a business or an employee or another government. If you’re a citizen,
we might find what you need through the
Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services. The manual says it is
“dedicated to helping the citizens of the City & County of San Francisco
receive the highest levels of service possible from all areas of City
government.” If you like, you can directly contact one of the district
liaisons. They “work to ensure that the Mayor's Office is involved with
helping improve the quality of life for all San Francisco residents.”
Let’s see…where do you live?
In the Excelsior, but…
In the Excelsior.
Ummm… oh yes, that’s District 11. Your MONS liaison is Kriztina Palone.
But I should warn you that she’s also the liaison to District 10, so she
may be kind of busy these days. I suppose you could also talk to your
district supervisor. But let me try to help you first. Can’t let those
performance ratings fall, especially during my first week. What kind of
information do you require?
Well, I live in the
Excelsior, but I’m calling on behalf of people who live in Potrero and
SOMA as well, in fact people who live all over the city. We’re all the
owners of small environmental businesses — I market organic produce, one
guy develops biologically based auto-repair equipment, another one is a
Oh… so you’re not
really citizens; you’re businesses. I’d better pull up the
business-customer strategy. Do you know, I read on the
Department of Labor website recently that the whole concept of
customer service is changing? We used to put together something called a
“value chain” to help you — they described it as G2C, or government to
customer. Isn’t that clever? But the Internet has made everything much
more complicated, so now we’re using a “value network.” That’s C2B2G2B2C —
citizen to business to government to business to citizen. Exactly like
what you just said! You’re a citizen, but you’re part of a business, and
you’ve come to the government for help. I used to laugh at those MBA
types, but it turns out again and again that they know what they’re
talking about. Now, at this point, according to the Department of Labor
people, I’m supposed to dialogue with the customer on needs and
priorities. So what is it that you need?
Some information, for
starters. The Board of Supervisors just passed a law exempting biotech
companies from the city’s payroll tax, and we want to know if the law
applies to our businesses. None of us does any gene-splicing in a
laboratory, but we all are involved in cutting-edge biological science,
which seems to be exactly the kind of thing the city is trying to promote
by the ordinance.
Can you hold on for
just a minute, while I retrieve the law you’re referring to?
Thank you for
waiting. I found it. Here’s what it says:
business” means conducting biotechnological research and experimental
development, and operating laboratories for biotechnological research and
experimental development, using recombinant DNA, cell fusion, and bioprocessing techniques, as well as the application thereof to the
development of diagnostic products and/or devices to improve human health,
animal health, and agriculture.
That’s not much help,
is it? Sounds like this is a job for the Office of the Treasurer and Tax
Collector — in Room 140, City Hall, where you go to file your tax
OK, I’ll check with
them. Assuming they’re going to say we’re not genuine biotech businesses,
let me ask you another question. We’ve been talking about this for a long
time. The city has been stumbling along for years economically, and as
citizens of San Francisco and as entrepreneurs we feel we have a
responsibility to contribute to its well-being. We employ local workers,
which keeps money from leaving the city and — as the district attorney has
repeatedly argued — also helps to lower the crime rate. We’re good
citizens. We want to be good citizens. But it’s not easy, particularly
when some groups get singled out for special privileges. How can the city
government make it easier for us to be good citizens?
I’m sorry, while you
were speaking, I was doing a search for “citizen” in the database.
We offer a variety of
ways for citizens to participate in the government of San Francisco. They
can sit on any of a number of advisory boards and provide public comment
at meetings. They can ask the Office of Citizen Complaints investigate
suspected police misconduct. And they can come down to City Hall and
actually do some work — most departments welcome volunteers.
My training program
stressed that we still have a long way to go. That’s why Mayor Newsom has
instituted a program called Project Connect, where volunteers fan out
through select neighborhoods, asking residents what they need. He has
promised to develop “a comprehensive plan that will set neighborhood
priorities and customize service delivery in targeted communities.” In
other word, to work out ways that we can provide better customer service.
Maybe that’s what you have in mind. You’ll need to be patient, because it
will take time. But remember, we work for you.
You don’t work for me. I
didn’t hire you, and I can’t fire you. You don’t work for me. That
suggests I’m above you in some sort of hierarchy.
Nor do you deliver
services to me, like some bountiful potentate. That suggests it’s
you who’s above me.
And don’t insult me by
calling me a customer. I don’t buy anything from City Hall. If I did — say
I came in and asked how much it would cost to get Planning approval —
you’d have the cops on me within minutes. What’s more, you’re not
competing for my custom. Short of moving away, I have no alternative but
you. If you were an actual business, you’d be up for anti-trust
The truth is, you
represent me. As far as I’m concerned, you are me. You represent my
“agenda,” if you will. But you’re also everyone else in this city. And you
represent a whole lot of other agendas as well. It’s your job to find ways
to make them work, to make them work together. Not to dole out services to
select individuals or groups.
You spoke of Newsom’s
search for a comprehensive service plan. I’m talking about a different
kind of plan, one where citizens come together — proudly and cooperatively
— to work out ways to help the city survive and flourish. It’s the
government’s job to facilitate our plan. Not the reverse.
May I ask you to
lower your voice? I cannot help you if you are yelling at me.
I’m sorry, Randy. I
didn’t mean to lose my temper. It looks like we’ll just have to find other
ways of being good citizens, whether you like it or not.
May I suggest a visit
to the Small Business Commission? Or maybe to the Chamber of Commerce?
OK, thanks. And thank
you for your time.
you hang up, I’d like to conduct a brief customer satisfaction survey to
allow us to set more appropriate performance goals and provide you with
better service in the future. May I ask you to take a minute to answer a