By Civil Service World

28 Jan 2015

Tackling the cultural and organisational changes needed to optimise and improve digital customer experience across the public sector


As the deadline approaches for delivering the Government’s digital strategy, our briefings and online debates will give you advice on practical issues – such as meeting new mandatory service standards – and show how political developments will affect ICT, digital and customer service teams across the civil service.

To explore the challenges of transforming customer service, Civil Service World and TCS are hosting a web chat on Thursday 5 February from 1-2pm on the topic of the cultural and organisational change needed to optimise and improve digital customer experience across the public sector.

To join in the discussion all you need to do is create a Civil Service World account. To register click here. Once registered, sign in on Thursday 5 February and navigate to this page. Once here, you will be able to join the discussion via the comment box.


Richard Harries, deputy director, Reform think tank 

Richard joined Reform as Deputy Director in September 2013. Prior to that he was a senior civil servant with over twenty years’ experience in Whitehall, working at the Home Office, Cabinet Office and Department for Communities and Local Government.

In Government, Richard was responsible for policies on local government finance, public service productivity, and for volunteering and charitable giving at (what is now) the Office for Civil Society. Richard’s early career was as a professional mathematician (and later economist), working on issues as diverse as the operational security of prison perimeters, the social impact of allowing convicted prisoners to wear their own clothes, and the relationship between crime and the economy.

Robin Ryde, former chief executive of the National School of Government and director of Robin Ryde Consulting

Robin Ryde, former CEO National School of Government, current role: Director, Australia & New Zealand National School of Government, Head of Leadership, the Oxford Group, Visiting Fellow, Ashridge Business School, Fellow of Health Education & Training Institute (Australia), Founder Situation Press Publisher, Owner Robin Ryde Consulting Ltd. 

Mark Kieran, an interim manager operating at the boundaries between public, private and not-for-profit sectors

Mark is an experienced senior manager with leadership, interim management and consultancy experience across the public, private and third sectors. He has worked in Central and Local Government, Parliament, the welfare-to-work industry, for skills/training organisations and for several private providers of public services.

His expertise includes strategy formulation, operational management, organisational change, business development, government relations and stakeholder management. He is a Non-Executive Director / Trustee of a small charity in Lincolnshire and is Chair of Governors at a local primary school. He has a particular interest in public scrutiny and accountability, and how that can be preserved in an increasingly fragmented system of public service delivery.

Anthony Grigg, Strategy & Structure, Global Consulting Practice, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS)

Antony has more than 15 years experience obtained in a mixture of Industry and Consulting roles. He works across many industry verticals with hands-on experience of not only defining strategy and solutions, but also understanding the practicality's of turning theory into practice within both a local and global context. As Head of Customer Experience within TCS's Global Consulting Practice, Antony has recently been focused on the impact of digital technologies and how organisations and their customers are transforming at very different rates.    

Clair Fisher, tutor, Westminster Explained

Clair joined the Civil Service Faststream in 2000, working initially in Justice Strategy & Policy. Her most recent civil service post was as the deputy director for Place, Performance and Partnerships – responsible for overseeing negotiations between Whitehall and Local Authorities in the South of England.  Now working closely with leaders across the Public Sector, Clair is passionate about helping people make a positive impact with the work they do.  

Through training, consultancy and coaching Clair has worked with numerous Public Sector organisations (and individuals working within them) focussing on Effective Leadership, Creative Policy Making and Strategic Thinking.  Clair is also an associate of Westminster Explained, a trainer for Civil Service Learning, a lecturer on Brighton University’s Public Sector MBA, and a reviewer for Evidence and Policy Journal.  Other current clients include the NHS, the National Trust, and Local Partnerships (LGA). 

Sam Mitha CBE

Sam Mitha is participating in a personal capacity. He was until 2014 Deputy Director of HMRC’s Tax Policy Group, responsible for coordinating HMRC’s advice to Treasury Ministers on the Budget and Finance Bill. Sam was previously responsible for HMRC policy on the structure of Income Tax and National Insurance, Business Profits, etc and he has held senior roles in the Cabinet Office (such as being Deputy Director of the Senior Civil Service Group).

Sam led the introduction of the Bank Payroll Tax, R&D Tax Credits, changes to Film Taxation,  etc. He was awarded the CBE in the 2014 honours list for his work on Tax Policy. Since he left HMRC in 2014, Sam has been become the trustee of two national tax charities which support low-paid, vulnerable and elderly taxpayers.​


This web chat will consider the following challenging statements based on practical project experiences both inside and outside the public sector:

1. No organisation will achieve cutting edge customer experience unless improvement is driven from the very top.

2. Departments focus too much on achieving short-term financial savings from customer experience programmes rather than delighting customers. 


Opening comments from the panellists:

Richard Harries:

As a citizen, I have interacted with various iterations of digital government over the years: the Government Gateway for my income tax returns, DVLA for my road tax and MyLambeth for my garden waste.  As a former civil servant, I have seen the hard work that goes on behind the scenes to make this happen – the legislative and bureaucratic hurdles.

On point #1: Yes, but we also need to remember that no organisation is an island. Many operate within partnerships – particularly local authorities – and the “very top” in this context will be those leading and governing partnership priorities, not simply individual organisations working in isolation.

" GDS’s exemplar programme is delivering savings and delighted customer. It can be done."

On point #2: The pressure of fiscal consolidation has undoubtedly limited departments’ efforts but it has also provided a valuable focus on driving up value. Nor does it need to be “either/or”: GDS’s exemplar programme is delivering savings and delighted customer. It can be done.

Robin Ryde:

Increasingly, I have became involved in customer engagement through supporting various change programmes across public and private sector to re-shape the relationship with the customer (often as a development to the book “Never Mind the Bosses” which seeks to reduce deference within organisations and between customers and providers)

"the cultural shift in attitudes required within the public service has not completed its journey and this is where the battle still needs to be won."

For very many years the public service has adopted a provider-centric approach to customer service, inviting ‘customers’ to engage with processes that are designed for the ease of the provider.  Behind this has been a tacit expectation that the customer should defer to the needs of the provider, for information, compliance and even behaviour change.  In recent years ideas have been borrowed from the private sector and from the discipline of the behavioural sciences, and progress is being made.  However, the cultural shift in attitudes required within the public service has not completed its journey and this is where the battle still needs to be won.

Clair Fisher:

Inspiration, vision, encouragement and drive from the top are important factors in achieving cutting edge customer experience.  But drive from the top is not enough.  I’m with John Adair who maintains that success in an organisation requires excellence at all levels, and Barry Oshry who says that the best place to drive organisational change is often the middle.  Indeed, customer experience is often most dependent on those on the front line – sadly perceived as the ‘bottom’ of an organisation.   Cultural change and meaningful improvement can only happen when all levels of the organisation are engaged, encouraged and resourced.  If the top make it their mission to drive this so much the better ... but it is possible for it to be done without the ‘top’ or despite them if necessary!

 "Is ‘customer delight’ an appropriate aim for the Public Sector?"

Short term-ism at the top of Public Sector organisations is a real problem.  Leaders who are overly engrossed in the day-to-day fixing and micro managing lack the strategic space to drive and deliver real change.  This means they neglect long term challenges, fail to resource  medium – long term priorities, and leave those below them feeling under pressure and under resourced.  It is inevitable that quality of delivery and customer experience will be compromised. 

Some questions for us to ponder during the web chat might be: Is Departmental (organisational) short-termism an inevitable consequence of political uncertainty? Could it be that short term focus on cost-cutting is a responsible response to the current financial situation?  Is ‘customer delight’ an appropriate aim for the Public Sector?  

Mark Kieran:

Cutting edge customer experience (CX) is a very high aspiration and it won't be achieved through the efforts of just one part of an organisation. 

Those at the top have their role to play, in setting high standards and expectations, encouraging the cultural change on which excellent CX is built, injecting challenge and energy into old processes, etc.

"Frontline staff need to live and breath the change so that everything they do sends out the sincere messages necessary to convince customers they really do matter."

Middle managers, often the bogey-men (and women!) of effective organisational transformation, need to use their detailed understanding of business processes to translate those high-level scene-setters into credible practical steps that give frontline staff the comfort, confidence and resources to materially change their behaviour and take the kinds of risks that deliver exceptional CX outcomes.

Frontline staff need to live and breath the change so that everything they do sends out the sincere messages necessary to convince customers they really do matter. Customers are very good at sniffing-out insincere, hollow platitudes. 

Not much in this approach fits with the short-termism now rife in business, political and media spheres.  Perhaps the greatest contribution those at 'the top' can make to the achievement of good CX is not to get spooked at the first sight of choppy waters but to hold their nerve and redouble their efforts in arguing for the long-term benefits of great CX.


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