Six Customer Experience Lessons from the Government Shutdown

The recent government shutdown resulted in hundreds of thousands of furloughed government employees, closed national parks and barricaded monuments, limited food inspections, and, gasp, no panda cam at the National Zoo! Every news channel and political pundit has given their perspective on why the shutdown was bad for our country. But, what lessons can leaders reinforce with their teams? Here are six.

The government’s actions leading up to the shutdown present an opportunity for CEOs to reinforce six fundamental customer experience lessons with their teams.

1. Importance of working together for a resolution – Currently our government is a personification of organizational dysfunction. People with different beliefs refuse to negotiate to reach a solution for the common good of their customers (that is you and me, and all other Americans). We are all put in situations where we are up against competing opinions, but we must find a way to negotiate or compromise with our colleagues or business partners to achieve what is ultimately the best solution for our customers.

2. Relevance of deadlines – This might seem obvious, but the shutdown is a good reminder that some people need a refresher in the importance of meeting deadlines. They are not loose guidelines. Not meeting deadlines affects all of your stakeholders, so take them seriously. If you say you will launch a new product on December 1, customers anticipate that and what happens when you don’t deliver? You guessed it; you might lose customers, revenue and trust in your brand. Plan accordingly up front and make sure you have all the necessary resources in place, and a backup plan in case something goes wrong.

3. Importance of implementing customer service standards – Did you know the House of Representatives passed a Government Customer Service Improvement Act of 2013? It was aimed at setting standards and improving the service customers receive from federal agencies. For CEOs, the lesson here is, while it is a great idea to want to continuously improve customer service and set standards around it, you have to actually do it. Which leads to the next lesson…

4. Weight of credibility – Most governments, local, federal, or otherwise, unfortunately lack credibility and the shutdown is not going to increase customer confidence in our government one bit. Leaders must do what they say and always be honest with their customers. People are not perfect; they make mistakes. But, it is important to admit when you are wrong and try to do better. No one wants to do business with someone they deem untrustworthy. Be someone your customers trust, respect and want to return to time and again.

5. Brand is a Living Asset – Your brand is a living business asset, brought to life across all customer touchpoints which, if properly managed, creates identification, differentiation and value. The actions we take in the day-to-day management of our business expose our motives. If the United States government’s brand is anchored on ideas like “By and for the people”, or “E Pluribus Unum – ‘from many, one’”, then the recent behaviors of our government’s leaders diminish our brand intention. As the government’s customers, we rely on the President and Congress to guide and lead our country. Unfortunately, they cannot stop pointing fingers at each other long enough to consider resolving the shutdown and putting the nation first. All of this diminishes the brand of the United States, and the ability of its citizens, and its allies to maintain value in our currencies, our initiatives, and our government.

6. Importance of morale – Let us not sugar coat it; the shutdown is depressing. It does not increase our confidence in the state of our country or ability of its leaders. Remember that, in addition to your external, paying customers, you have internal customers to take care of. High morale among a business’s employees is vital to success, both internally and externally. Employees may provide bad customer service because they do not enjoy their jobs, or may leave the company, potentially leading to high turnover rates and increased hiring costs. Customers can see if a business is not running smoothly, and if they perceive it is not, they may start to lose confidence and you might ultimately lose their loyalty.

Now that the government shutdown is behind us, let the government’s recent actions (or lack thereof) serve as lessons in how one can improve or kickstart one’s internal and external customer experience plans.

Brad Smith is EVP, customer experience for Sage North America, responsible for developing all aspects of the Sage commitment to the customer experience from product design to the invoice experience and all touchpoints in between.




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