Web leads way for customer service

FCW's DotGov Thursday column looks at how an agency's chief Web officer can take leadership of customer service

In an increasingly fast-paced Web environment, the public will judge an agency on the quality of service it provides.

A supportive customer environment is more than a snazzy World Wide Web site. It's more than a part-time job. It takes hard work by committed organizations and dedicated individuals.

Customer-driven organizations must invest in an infrastructure and the people to provide services. These investments are over and above the investment required to develop products or services.

Clearly, such a large investment requires the involvement of a full-time senior executive and staff to develop, promote and maintain the agency's focus on customer service.

There are formal designations for chief financial officer, chief information officer and chief people office (internal personnel). Is it not time for a chief customer officer? Customer issues are at least as important as issues involving finances, people, information or knowledge.

The Web appears to be the agencies' channel of choice for delivering many products and services. As in issues involving the Web and issues involving customer service, it seems we repeatedly come back to two key areas: leadership and the development of Web organizations.

If ever there was an issue today that provides the opportunity for people to lead it is the issue of delivering products and services via the Web. The needs are great but so is the potential to provide dramatic results in a short amount of time.

Keys to a customer-centric organization are outlined in "Business components of a customer architecture." The outline shows that agencywide support is essential, but few agencies are linking to and integrating services beyond their stovepipes. The key to becoming the leader is simply to assume the responsibility and start doing. Anyone who steps up to assume the leadership for agencywide world-class customer service will become the chief customer officer.

Delivering products and services via the Web will require organizations to become adept at providing the kind of functionality stated in the outline. Carnegie Mellon University's popular Capability Maturity Model provides insights for the development of organizations that can repeatedly deliver high-quality solutions. CMM principles directly translate to organizations focused on delivering products and services via the Web.

With the future that the Web holds and the responsibilities that Web managers and Webmasters have, the chief Web officer of an agency seems the most likely candidate for evolving into the chief customer officer.

Kellett is founder of the Federal Web Business Council, co-chairman of the Federal Webmasters Forum and director of GSA's Emerging IT Policies Division.

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