The Ritz at the civil registry office: Piloting customer experience improvements in the public sector in Nicaragua

by Paivi Kovalainen

How many times have we waited in a long line at the bank only to find out that it was the wrong line to take? Or when have we realised that small things, like a cheery greeting, have made a big difference in our customer service experience? Although most people are hardly expecting the 5-star treatment in a government office, we found that was exactly what was needed.

In 2013, UNICEF Nicaragua prototyped a social innovation experiment with the civil registry office of Bilwi, a small town on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, aiming to increase the demand by the families to register their children. The prototype had a positive impact on demand by improving the customer experience, as well as increased the satisfaction of the registry staff.

To that end, I planned a customer experience workshop for the Town Hall civil registry officials in Bilwi. The goal was to allow civil servants to experience customer service first hand in order to understand how service with empathy makes a difference.

Participants first took the role of VIP customers and through specialised exercises, they reflected on situations that made them feel good or bad, appreciated, or completely let down as a client. They quickly connected this exercise with their daily work at the civil registry office. In the afternoon session, the groups were sent off to carry out service trials (small customer service experiments) in four different settings in town: the bank, the airport, the mobile phone shop, and a restaurant. Many of the participants were sceptical about the challenge saying, “How are we going to do this?” However, an hour later, the groups came back bursting with enthusiasm. They shared so much information and so many observations that we couldn’t believe they were the same people who had had their doubts about the experiment.

“Mrs. Delaida Wilson was one of the facilitators of the workshop.” (P. Kovalainen – UNICEF Nicaragua 2014)
“Mrs. Delaida Wilson was one of the facilitators of the workshop.” (P. Kovalainen – UNICEF Nicaragua 2014)

Based on the findings, we asked the participants to identify what small changes could be implemented to improve customer service with the resources they already had. The groups were then given yet another challenge: to carry out a customer service experiment with only 80 USD per group. In two weeks we met again to see the results and what did we find? Three groups joined forces and built two service windows making the service experience more organised. The fourth group conducted research on the barriers to birth registry in three rural communities and based on their findings, the registry team is now working on a proposal for the Municipal Assembly to make birth registry more accessible to those communities. The work is still in progress, but we see that creative solutions start from the individual and small changes can yield big results.

Paivi Kovalainen is a Finnish UN volunteer working in Child Protection in UNICEF Nicaragua. The customer service experiment at the civil registry office i

“Drama exercise to reminisce good times. Javier wanted to share the memory of his best friend´s proposal.” (M. Laakso – UNICEF Nicaragua 2014)
“Drama exercise to reminisce good times. Javier wanted to share the memory of his best friend´s proposal.” (M. Laakso – UNICEF Nicaragua 2014)

n Bilwi forms part of the birth registration programme and the policy-making process for children in the region. Stay tuned for updates!

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