Designing Customer Service Programs for Finance Departments: The Arapahoe County, Colorado, Experience

Article excerpt

This article describes an approach to institute customer service programs in finance departments.

Governments are no longer just collecting taxes and building roads. In today's world, providing information has become an important role for every government, and the finance department is no exception. Finance officers need to be sure they are giving their customers what they need, in a form they can understand, and on a timely basis. The finance department must take responsibility to help their customers and every other government worker do his or her job more effectively and efficiently.

Finance Department Customers

Each governmental entity's primary customers are the taxpayers. Any opportunity for contact with the taxpayers should be viewed as an opportunity to make a good impression by going the extra mile. A government finance department, though, has very little direct contact with the taxpayers. But finance departments do come in direct contact with other government departments. All the other departments and agencies that rely on the finance department for financial information should be considered customers. The finance department should continuously strive to meet these customers' needs--making procedures easier and reports more useful and timely, much in the same way successful private enterprises continually seek to anticipate and satisfy their customers' needs.

Customer Service Plan

The five steps necessary to implement a customer service program are:

* support from top management,

* input and involvement from all customers working within the government,

* support and involvement from the entire finance department staff,

* involvement from supporting departments, and

* completion of the requested projects.

Support from Top Management. The first step in creating a customer service program is to receive approval from top management. There are two facets to this step: 1) the "customer service program" must be approved and 2) approval must be received for the changes that will take place during the process. Both of these steps were easy at Arapahoe County because the emphasis on improved customer service originated with the county commissioners. As such, the commissioners were leading the drive for customer service programs.

1) Receiving Approval for the Customer Service Program. In other governments where top management is not initiating the customer service program, staff must make a presentation to convince management why this program is important. The presentation must stress that top management's support is vital and present specific ideas for changes and improvements. Staff must explain that many ideas for change will come from interaction with the "customers" and, most importantly, they must state what benefit will be gained from this program.

Input and Involvement from All Customers Working within the Government. The second step is to communicate with each department within local government to learn what the finance department can do to help.

2) Receiving Approval for Changes that Might Take Place during the Process. Other additional changes and improvements will happen along the way. If any of these changes are directly in opposition to the existing policy, approval will be required before implementing the change. If changes and improvements are not contrary to policy, the project can move forward without top management approval.

A meeting with a small group of representatives from each department enables a good exchange of information. If a meeting includes a large group of people, individuals often do not feel comfortable opening up and sharing ideas. Holding several meetings with small groups is very time consuming, but it proved to be very important in providing successful customer service. At Arapahoe County, each department revealed very different problems and needs, many of which no one in finance had heard of before. …