Customer; the word we can’t yet use…

“They offered me the office, they offered me the shop. They said I’d better take anything they’d got.” Joe Strummer

serviceSuccessful organisations in the private sector focus on the needs of their customers and the Public Sector has customers so in this respect you might think the Public Sector is no different to the private sector? The difference lies in the perception of who the customer is and in the case of the Public Sector there is a distinction between the users of the service and the customers. The customers of Public Sector services are the decision makers who control the provision of the funding and not the users of the service; of course in the private sector these two roles are normally one and the same because the funding for a business also comes from its paying customers. In the Public Sector there is no simple relationship between happy service users and a healthy bank balance and this means that the users of the service have little or no say in the success or otherwise of the Public Sector organisations that are there to provide services to them; organisations that the service users are paying for indirectly through taxation.

I still recall visiting the careers service when they had an office in Penrith, I was sixteen years old and I had been “referred” (passed on) to seek guidance about what the world of work could offer a bright young man in this beautiful part of the world. I humbly explained that I had got a GCSE in English and an O level in Maths, which was my only strong-point. I’d excelled in maths at school and I had the test results to prove it. After listening to me talk about my hopes and dreams for nearly a full minute the somewhat disinterested lady explained to me that she felt I would be suited to enter the world of Carpet Fitting or to join the Royal Navy, the logic behind this “either, or” recommendation was that both these occupations required a good command of numbers…confused; I was. I didn’t know it at the time but she was of course just doing her job, she was simply ticking the right boxes to ensure that she was seen to be worth her salary. I’m sure she wasn’t an uncaring person, it’s just that being of real benefit to me didn’t put food on her table or pay her mortgage, because I was not her real customer. Twenty five years later in 2010 when my wife was made redundant after 23yrs of working, she was handled by staff at the local Job Centre in much the same way; it seemed as though the presence of security guards was the only thing to have changed in the intervening period. You see unlike the private sector in which there is a direct relationship between pleasing the customer and drawing a wage; i.e. no custom equals no pay packet, the Public Sector has no direct financial relationship with the people it is supposed to serve and this is one of the strongest factors creating the poor service we see from so many organisations in the Public Sector. If you are a user of Public Services in the UK it is safe to say that you are not yet viewed as the customer…you are a complier, you have no choice, nothing to compare with and very little say. Roll on the era of the Public Sector customer.

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