Where is the logic for customer satisfaction?

Posted on May 16, 2016

Last month’s opinion piece on the government’s ‘program logic’ approach to evaluation elicited a spirited discussion on whether customer satisfaction is an intermediate outcome of government programs. It was pointed out that in some cases, such as corrective services, customer satisfaction isn’t a relevant consideration.

This view recalls elements of our previous discussions on the problem of using the term ‘customer’ for public service activities. Unlike the private sector, customers in many government programs aren’t really customers – they are there involuntarily and do not have a choice of service provider. This is particularly true of regulatory programs—such as policing, fair trade compliance and work health and safety investigations—which involve monitoring, detection and enforcement activities.

It’s understandable that clients who have been apprehended by these programs may not feel like customers. As such, their level of satisfaction is not a relevant consideration in evaluating whether the program produced the intended outcome, whether it’s solving a crime or achieving compliance with fair trade or work health and safety legislation.

The purpose of developing a program logic is that it sets out explicitly the causal links between intermediate and longer-term outcomes. For programs where customer satisfaction is not pertinent, it’s not included in the program logic. Of course, this doesn’t mean that how people feel about their treatment in regulatory programs is unimportant—all government programs have a responsibility to treat people fairly, respectfully and professionally. It simply means that a more nuanced view of customer satisfaction may be required. For example, the risk of re-offending may be determined by the level at which the prison environment has fostered the health and self-efficacy of inmates, which would be reflected in the program logic.

For many types of government programs, such as the learn to swim example in last month’s opinion piece, customer or client satisfaction is relevant to the achievement of higher order outcomes. As with most educational programs, if students respond favourably to the instructor and learning environment, they are more likely to acquire new skills and knowledge and as a result, change their behaviour (or in this case, learn how to swim).

The lesson? If customer satisfaction is appropriate, then it should be incorporated into the program logic. If not, it should be reframed in a way that evaluates whether the program meets the needs of its clients in a way that contributes to longer-term social or community outcomes. Rather than an all or nothing approach to customer service, agencies should consider designing a program logic that focuses on achieving the broader outcomes of the program.

Nexus has substantial experience developing program logic for government organisations, including data collection and program evaluation. Contact us to find out more.