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  Service Stars

A government department that had made its automated answering system work for customers

Satisfactory customer service is seldom memorable. What is memorable is poor service and service that goes the extra mile. Sometimes it only takes a small gesture to change a routine customer service experience into one we will recall months later, we will tell others about and will cause us to become repeat customers. Those who do those little extras are truly Service Stars.

Sometimes the concept of customer service seems to be an anathema to those who work in government departments.  I still recall, years later, having been told by an operator for Alberta Health and Wellness to “call your MLA” if I didn’t like their automated voice mail system.   The way in which this was said left me feeling that I was being invited to take a long hike off a short pier.

Happily, not all civil servants deal with taxpayers in this fashion.  One shining example of a government office that gets things right is in the Passport Office in Edmonton’s Canada Place.  I have often cited their automated voice mail system as an example of how technology can be used to benefit customers.

Years ago, I called to inquire about our passports.  While it would be nice to report that the call was immediately answered by a person, this was not the case.  A recording told me that all the operators were busy and that I would be served in the order that my call had been received.

Nothing remarkable here.  What made the difference was that I was not told repeatedly how important my call was.  Instead, the automated system began a countdown: “There are 15 callers ahead of you . . . there are 12 callers ahead of you . . . there are 10 callers ahead of you.”  I sensed I was moving closer to the front of the line, especially when numbers were skipped in the count.  Feeling I was making progress made the waiting less of a burden.

Recently, I applied for a new passport.  Having completed the paperwork and paid my fee, I was given a receipt indicating that the “mail-out date” would be two weeks later.  What a surprise it was when eleven days later – three days before the scheduled mailing date – a new passport arrived.  It had been processed and mailed a full week earlier than promised. 

Those who work at the Passport Office understand how we all hate to wait…either on hold or for a delivery. They make the waiting easier to take.


Nelson Scott offers several Customer Service Presentations, including Customer Service MAGIC: Changing Complainers into Loyal Customers; What Your Mother Taught You About Customer Service and other Training Resources developed by Service Quality Institute and the Vital Learning Corporation.


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A professional trainer, speaker, and consultant since 1995, Nelson Scott works with organizations that are committed to making the right hiring decisions, developing and retaining productive staff, and strengthening relationships with customers.  Learn more by visiting or e-mailing


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