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The Role of the Customer Experience in the Value of Government

It's not enough to simply deliver services efficiently. The goal should be to create a sense of place.

We pay an inordinate amount of attention to the price or cost of government. It's time to transition the discussion to the value of government. Governments that provide the consumers of their services--their citizens, businesses and residents--with a satisfying consumer experience also go a long way toward creating a sense of place, that all-important feeling of connection and belonging so central to a community's well-being.

As democratic institutions, governments are responsible for delivering services and programs in an equitable manner and for creating social goods--public safety, infrastructure, education--that individuals otherwise would be unable to achieve on their own. But progressive leaders also recognize that ours is increasingly an experience-based economy.

Residents interact with government not only at the functional and the cognitive levels but also at the emotional level. Individuals, families and business owners volunteer to live in a particular community. In doing so, they consider a number of variables, not the least of which is the way they experience the community. While not alone, governments are pivotal players in influencing this experience.

In the business world, no company provides a better example of the connection between value creation and the consumer experience than Apple. At over $700 billion, Apple is the world's highest-valued company. Its products are typically the most expensive and it never puts them on sale, yet it has waiting lines for its new releases. Why? Because Apple has succeeded at blending functionality (reliable and emerging technology) with a sense of style and, overall, creating a unique and highly valued experience.

Apple certainly isn't alone in understanding the importance of a brand experience. It's a way for businesses that essentially sell a commodity to differentiate themselves. Travel-related business such as airlines and hotels, for example, offer frequent customers perks such as complimentary upgrades or early boarding. Auto dealerships provide preferred appointment times for select customers and offer them shuttle services or loaner cars. And countless businesses, from financial institutions to grocers, offer rewards programs.

Today many people want both quality and convenience and are more than willing to pay for it, whether dining out or stopping in at Starbucks for a $4 latte. This demographic is looking for ease of use, special access (where applicable) and an overall enjoyable experience.

For governments, providing a pleasant and enjoyable consumer experience has less to do with the size of budgets and more to do with the attitudes of officials, managers and the workforce. The thinking should be this: that it's not good enough to merely meet the minimum threshold of utility or functionality in the delivery of services and programs and that the goal should be to enrich the emotional connection that consumers have with those services.

So what sorts of things could governments do to enrich that connection? How about giving season-pass holders to municipal swimming pools and recreation centers discounts on recreation programs, special-entry access to avoid lines, or free consultations with a fitness trainer? Or faster turnaround times on real-estate plan reviews for developers who have met a threshold for purchase of permits? Or a loyalty program for frequent customers at airport parking lots? Or longer check-out periods for library users who reach a year without an overdue book or DVD?

None of these ideas cost much, if anything, and you can probably come up with your own ways to add to the value of government that are tailored to your community's unique characteristics and circumstances--ways that enhance that priceless sense of place.

A former city manager and owner of the Mejorando Group
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