Paradoxes of Public Sector Customer Service

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Abstract

The use of customer service ideas in government continues to be widespread, although the concept and its implications for public sector service production and delivery remain poorly developed. This paper presents a series of paradoxes related to customer service and its use in government. The central and most troubling paradox is that customer service techniques and tools applied to government may lead to increased political inequality even as some aspects of service are improved. The argument is structured by examination of the following: the predominant structural features of service management in theprivate sector, the assumption that customer satisfaction is a central objective of service firms, the understanding of customer service that informs current federal reform efforts, and the operational and political challenges of customer service as a public management objective.

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