What ails govt service?


AS a fervent reader of newspapers, I come across all sorts of reports every day. On the opinion pages, I have seen letters to the editor with headlines like “Excellent service at National Registration Department (NRD) in Putrajaya”, “Poor counter service at NRD office” and “Give me service, keep your smile”.

What is it about government departments and their delivery of service that attract such contradictory comments? Those that handle thousands of clients a day, such as the National Registration Department, Road Transport and Immigration, have borne the brunt of criticisms for poor services rendered.

Despite services being available online, many still prefer to go in person to the offices concerned, causing long queues. It’s not uncommon for many to come back another day because of the crowd. The net effect is loss of thousands of man-hours in waiting time, and racking up additional transport costs due to multiple visits to the department concerned.

Why do our government officials behave the way they do? Unlike the private sector, there is only one service provider for certain services. Malaysians who wish to get a passport have nowhere to go except the Immigration Department. In marketing terminology, they are a captive market. They cannot go to another service provider even if they are prepared to pay more.

Similarly, if one wishes to get a driver’s licence or apply for a MyKad, there is no alternative service provider. The poor service is due to lack of competition.

Furthermore, the environment does not spur the departments to lift their service level to attract and/or maintain customers. No matter how slow or fast the counter clerk works, he continues to receive the same monthly pay accorded to his grade.

Unlike the private sector where profits are crucial for the long-term survival of a business, there is no bottom line for government organisations. Whether the customer waits for hours to be served or is inconvenienced because of system inefficiencies, the department will not have to pay any cost/price nor will the staff be booted out for non-performance.

And although there are annual awards for best employees, they do not seem to be enough to motivate the staff to excel.

One of the profound changes driving the growth of the service sector is the phenomenal advance in computers and information technology. Yes, government departments have leveraged IT to upgrade their delivery of service, but more can still be done.

Today, a department’s website is as important as its telephone number. Through the website, much information can be disseminated and feedback obtained. And unlike printed brochures or leaflets, a website can be easily updated at little cost.

This is not being done, however. Emails sent to the department stay mostly unread, and the enormous power of the website remains untapped.

Government departments can also reduce the number of trips or waiting time for their customers by strengthening the telephone answering service and/or maintaining a responsive email system.

Many of us – especially those who are not so IT-literate – can recall the countless times we hear the telephone ringing incessantly at the other end, but no one picks up. And when someone finally does, callers are put on hold until the line goes dead. On other occasions, a typical cold reply would be along the lines of, “You have to come in person.”

A customer-centric work culture long practised by the private sector must be cultivated by government departments. This requires strong commitment by the top management. Employees must be taught to take pride in their work. For staff at the counter, it must be grilled into them that their paramount duty is to serve the customer well. In this regard, only those with “people” attributes must be assigned as frontline staff.

We can proudly declare that Malaysia has only truly arrived the day good customer service becomes standard and when letters commending a government department outnumber those that criticise.

DR POLA SINGH

Kuala Lumpur

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