The choice is ours to make

A customer is the most important visitor on our premises.
He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him.He is not an interruption in our work.
He is the purpose of it.
He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it.

— M. K. Gandhi

I began the chapter on the Civil Service (Vol 2 part1) of the 2013 PRB Report on the overall review of the pay and grading structures and conditions of service in the Public Sector with the above quote. It was not only an inspirational saying from Mahatma Gandhi but a guiding principle for the report.

It is rather unfortunate that more often than not complaints are levelled against civil servants on the quality of service delivery. The customers take a hostile view of officers who are perceived as arrogant, careless, inconsiderate, etc. Customers want services to be delivered effectively, courteously and in a timely manner at all times. The quote is a reminder about the status of a customer in a work environment and the empathy, consideration and due respect to be given to him.

For me customer focus was an important consideration and a basis for many a recommendation in the 2013 PRB report. Public sector workers have two types of customers: the internal customers comprising the officers of the ministry and those of the other ministries and departments, and the external customers related to the business of the organisation.

In a nutshell the 2013 PRB report was geared towards making the public sector more customer-centric, responsive by “providing appropriate structures (levels) which are fit-for-purpose so that decision-making and service delivery are expedited by:

(i) reducing superfluous levels (at times created merely to afford channels of promotion);

(ii) merging layers where there is excessive overlapping of duties with a view to reducing complexity and increasing efficiency;

(iii) creating levels for greater control/accountability on the basis of functional needs; (iv) adopting e-government;

(v) “providing for training and development to equip people with right knowledge, skills, competencies and attitudes to cope with challenges arising out of technological progress, societal demands and work environment; and

(vi) “ granting benefits to induce desired employee behaviour and attitude for improved performance”.

“Work is in progress” is what a senior official told me regarding the implementation of the various PRB recommendations to improve the public service delivery. I still hold the view that we should not consider our position as a way to get through the hours. Our job whatever position we hold should be to push ourselves to the peak of our abilities – to be the best performer, to excel in our work whether it be that of a cleaner, clerk or senior executive. We all have an obligation to serve, care, give due respect and to run the extra mile for the customers. However, the desired changes are taking too much time to provide a world-class service.

The way forward, to quote Gandhiji’s words, is quite simple: ‘We have to be the change we want to see’. And we have to change individually because as Gandhiji said it so well: “A change of heart cannot be legislated, it must come out of conviction.”

The choice is ours to make, and to respond effectively to new priorities and challenges, to provide high quality service, and to help deliver customer-centric and world-class public services with honesty, integrity, dedication and diligence as Gandhiji would have wished.

  • Published in print edition on 2 October 2015

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