Click on the PDF link to the left for the full text of Pat's Article for the Euston Manifesto Group from July 2007.



Time is not free, yet too often, the way service is organised suggests that it is.

Time is precious and limited. There is so much to do, see and experience in this world. And the more that we can spend our time positively, the better.

Why then do we sometimes treat the public as though they have unlimited supplies of this precious and limited resource?

This is not just an issue for the public sector. There are examples of good and bad service in both public and private sectors. My point today is that a consideration of time---the customer's and the citizen's time---should be at the forefront of thinking about how services are delivered.

Sometimes, when we call a government department or agency, perhaps not knowing if we're starting at the right place, we can get passed along, or have to make the call all over again because the process went wrong in the first place. It takes time and when it does not go well it can be frustrating and debilitating.

Then there is waiting at home for a delivery or an engineer to call when we have been told it is an all day appointment and the company cannot be any more precise.

Something that may take just a few minutes in terms of the delivery or the job needing done can end up taking the whole day, with people having to go through the inconvenience of taking time off work or time not being able to be spent on something more positive in order to wait all day for the person to arrive.

It's even worse of course if the person doesn't turn up.

Service like this is time stealing.

The all day appointment, with no call to say the service is coming or no window within the day to say when it will arrive, is in a sense the hallmark of poor service. The terms of such a transaction are clear. The company will deliver in a manner geared to its convenience and the customer's inconvenience.

And this demonstrates that this is not just about time. It is about power. It gets to the heart of the question, who is working for whom? Who is important in this situation? Making people wait like this is a transfer of part of the burden of delivering the service from the provider to the user.

If the customer's time or the citizen's time is treated as precious, if every effort is made to ensure they don't waste time, then this says a lot about how the organisers of the service feel about their customers and their importance.

If it is thought this doesn't matter, that the citizen or customer can wait, then it is clear that those organising the service think that they, not the customer, have the power.


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