To some people this may seem like a pointless semantic issue around the use of the words “customer” and “citizen” but I think it is actually quite an important issue.
Some basic points first around definitions:
- Customer = A person that buys or obtains goods or services from another.
- Active Citizen = a citizen who takes an active role in the community.
Thinking about the future (something I’m doing quite frequently at the moment) I’ve been considering the language we use when talking about how we need to re-imagine and reposition local public services.
I posted previously on the role of content, stories, networks, relationships and trust however in all of this the outcomes we need to foster and encourage are that of active citizens and not more customers…
In an ideal situation we would want people to identify a local issue, connect with others in their community, other networks and seek to solve the problem directly. If that requires funding then they should be connected to funding sources, local public services businesses etc to help move it forward.
Only in the end if the issue can’t be solved should the local authority be contacted for help and assistance and when you contact them, the experience needs to be excellent and delightful.
But if we think customers first then we will maintain the view that everyone in the community is a default customer and we will not see the opportunities to transform and empower local people and communities to help themselves.
This is and will be a major challenge for people in terms of thinking differently as people have spent a good number of years hearing many people say we should be customer centric, customer focused and customer driven, which if you are still providing services is naturally the right thing to do…but the question is whether you are actually still delivering services in order to put customers first?
So the challenge for local public service providers is that we need to have two levels of thinking and two levels of transformation.
One thing for me that hasn’t happened often enough and doesn’t seem to be the focus of much conversation that I’m connected to right now is the overall framework that local public services sit within.
The issue with the majority of thinking right now is that it appears to be about doing better within the current local services framework which we know isn’t fit for purpose in the coming years – so we simply end up doing what we know will fail better as opposed to doing things completely differently.
So what is happening about what a new framework might need to look like and what is needs to enable. The two levels of thinking that needs to go on within local public services right now in my opinion are:
- A strategic level – What is the strategic framework and how can we start to shape it (policy, infrastructure, environment, political etc) which local public services reside and how does that empower, encourage and provoke active citizens.
- An Operational level – For service providers at what ever level, how do you design, provide and deliver services with and for users (customers)
Most thinking is naturally in the second level as this is where most people are and where most people feel able to affect change. So this isn’t wrong but it does mean that we need to ensure that the first level of thinking is happening and those people who can and are able to influence and shape it are connected and networked together.
As I’ve said before none of this is going to be easy and it shouldn’t be easy…but people do need to recognise their own responsibility in helping to shape the above levels and as organisations we need to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute.