Blog post

An Amazing Citizen Service Anecdote

By Andrea Di Maio | January 06, 2010 | 3 Comments


I just spent a few days on the Amalfi Coast, in the south of Italy. Besides enjoying the breathtaking scenery, tasting wonderful food and meeting groups of Japanese tourists who seem to love the place after a movie has been shot in the area, I met a relative of mine who lives close to Pompeii and told me a quite incredible story.

One of her cousins lives in a small village that – over the last few years – developed a bad reputation for organized crime: some of you might have heard about a book called Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano, which gives a quite extreme but accurate account of what happens down there. The many honest people living in that area feel they are somewhat forgotten by government, as the top priority seems to be law enforcement. This person was not receiving regular payments for her pensions and, after trying with the local social security office, she wrote to the Italian Minister for Public Service complaining about the situation.

To her surprise, she received a phone call shortly afterwards from a member of the ministers’ staff. In a matter of weeks the situation was resolved, the pension is being regularly paid and she also received an additional phone call from the minister’s office after a while asking whether things had improved and she needed anything else. It goes without saying that she is now a great supporter of the minister and his policies, and one of his strongest advocates in discussions with friends and relatives.

As far as I can tell, this woman had no political connection of any sort, she was just a person like many of us, lost in bureaucracy. I have to admit that, for how critical I have been in the past with this minister for preventing employees from using social media and for some questionable use of government web sites, I am quite impressed. No email, no social software, no e-government here: just snail mail and good old phone. A proof that service levels does not always relate to the use of technology.

I just wonder: how would this combination of customer focus and personal touch work with the use of social media? Would somebody feel as warmly as this woman did after receiving a tweet, a Facebook message or an email, with respect to a phone call?

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  • John Sheridan says:

    Hi Andrea and Happy New Year,

    Did you see this similar (ish) story from the US ( Of course, shovelling snow isn’t quite the same as pensions but perhaps it shows that Gov 2.0 may have more to do with responsiveness than technology.



  • David Sands says:

    Twitter is a fantastic tool to deliver for your citizens, I’ve found, but have only found that opportunity a handful of times. You see the tweet, complaining perhaps they can’t find a certain service or information, and tweet back a link.
    If Twitter sticks around, I’ll be pushing my government to have tweet-duty added to communications positions in all departments.
    – David Sands, Government of Alberta

  • Jed Sundwall says:

    I really like this story (and the film Gomorrah is in my Netflix* queue!).

    This reminds me of point #4 on Dan Bevarly’s Jane & John Q. Public’s “Year-End (2009) Gov 2.0 List”: “Our phone is a talking device – why doesn’t that work?”

    We talk a lot about tweets, apps, etc. I’m convinced of the utility of new technologies, but I agree that we should keep basic tenets of customer service in mind as we seek to use them. Answering the phone and reading snail mail are no less important today than they used to be.

    *Speaking of Netflix, they focus most of their customer service on plain old phone service, 24/7. I’ve never used it, but I hear it’s excellent.