‘Customer champions’ are to be given the job of looking after the interests of customers and acting as their advocates in internal debates. The challenge for the champions is to change public service culture to a customer focus as part of the drive for responsive Government services.The customer focus campaign will embrace all public services. As well as central government agencies such as the Benefits Agency and Employment Service it will cover the health service, including hospitals and GPs, the emergency services – fire, police and ambulance, the courts and local council services including schools.
The importance of achieving a customer focus to ensure that public services are responsive to the needs of users was set out in the Modernising government White Paper published in March 1999. Despite the impact of such initiatives as the Citizens’ Charter, which later became the Charter Mark award scheme and the various quality initiatives, it was clear that attitudes within public services towards customers had changed little during the past few years. Confirmation that change was not happening came when the findings of ‘mystery shoppers’ working for the Cabinet Office proved conclusively that attitudes were still firmly entrenched in the past. See Publicnet 1 September 1999 – feature.
The ‘champions’, who will have Board level status, will ensure that there is a regular flow of customer views about service and that these views are at the forefront of decision taking. They will work on the minds of public servants by making sure that consumer research is fed to all those who need to know. Their most difficult task will be to influence hearts to the extent that the culture really does change.