Government service

Yesterday I shared some thoughts on the mythical LGW.

One hallmark of the complaints about the LGW is that it is impossible to get someone to help when you call an agency. You call one agency, get given the number to another agency, which refers you to a third agency, which refers you back to the first number that you called.

We aren’t supposed to do that. We’re supposed to warm transfer calls (wait for the person to pick up and see if they are the right person to help), but I really hope that I’m not the only person who doesn’t do that. (See: when dealing with phone calls, I become an LGW.) (If the person says that they’ve called the agency that I want to refer them to, I’ll generally get their contact information and do some research. I’m not completely heartless.)

Some number of weeks or months ago, someone said something on twitter about whether people get better service by tweeting to an agency than by calling. I didn’t respond at the time, but here are my thoughts on this question:

1. It varies by agency. (I’m looking at you, agency-that-I-won’t-name-here.)

2. That said, the agencies that do Twitter well really do Twitter well. In some cases (many cases?) these are the same agencies that have a pretty bad reputation for service-by-phone.

Consider: who tweets for agencies? Their public information officer, or someone knowledgeable about the agency who volunteered to take on the task. Who answers the main telephone number for agencies? A receptionist.

This isn’t to knock receptionists. For example, ours (referred to yesterday as our telephone-answerer, because while he does many things, most of them very boring things that I would otherwise have to do, if he weren’t around to answer our phones I might have to quit) is incredibly helpful to people who call, and VERY patient with the people who come in to our office angry. Among the jobs I would never want to do is receptionist. (Unlike garbage man, I have worked as a quasi-receptionist, so I have first-hand experience in not liking the job.)

But receptionists probably aren’t as tuned in to everything going on in the agency as someone higher up is, possibly know fewer people in various parts of the agency, and as committed as they may be to their agency’s image, certainly aren’t as committed as a PIO is. And let’s be honest, some might resent their job. There are people everywhere in all types of jobs who are unhappy in them. It happens. And since it happens, it could happen here. But where it isn’t happening? Someone who has volunteered for a task.

Twitter also has the advantage of not requiring an immediate response the way phone does. (See: I hate phones.) So it’s easier to figure out who the right person to help is.

These factors combine to make government-service-by-twitter generally more constituent friendly than government-service-by-phone.

Cynics (and we have plenty of cynics) could say that it’s a class thing (people on twitter are professionals working at their desks during the day; people on twitter have regular access to internet) or a race thing (agency folks on twitter are white and receptionists are black? I have no idea other than that the agency folks I know personally actually are white), but I really do believe that it has to do with how the people on twitter and on the phone came to have those responsibilities.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

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2 Comments on “Government service”

  1. Alan says:

    Many good thoughts here. At our agency, we have a staff of operators in a Command Center who are plugged into our customer information system and can view or create work orders, so they actually have access to more than I do as the PIO. So I get in touch with the Command Center when someone’s asking for help on Twitter.

    I have to say I think Twitter pretty much demands an immediate response, or at least one within a few minutes to an hour.

    • rebkatz says:

      Alan, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Your agency is definitely one of the good ones :-)

      I do think that to some extent, your agency is different than the ones I deal with by virtue of receiving mis-directed calls. I’m pretty sure that when people have needs that your agency deals with, they know that your agency is the one to call, and you have customer service numbers and such. Not to say that everyone loves your agency, because who doesn’t love to complain? It’s different when someone wants to make a noise complaint, or complain about campaign signs, or ask housing-related questions.

      And just to clarify regarding the “immediate response” thing–I agree that twitter demands a prompt response…but that’s different than the immediate-ness of picking up the phone and answering a question cold. Maybe I just have terrible phone skills :-)


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