Raising service standards and user satisfaction
29. The logic of the Herdan review is that a revamped Charter
Mark scheme would improve standards of public service provisionwhich,
in turn, would increase user satisfaction with services:
The main thing is to use it as a tool to drive up the public
service standards and then the users will recognise they are getting
the service they wanted.
We received a great deal of evidence, however, that measures of
customer satisfaction were problematic for a variety of reasonsraising
the question of whether user satisfaction is the most appropriate
indicator of successful, high-quality public services.
30. One key criticism of such measures is that they
are entirely subjective and can reflect low expectations as much
as high quality provision. Age Concern told us that in their experience
this is often the case among groups such as those on low incomes,
those living in disadvantaged areas or older people:
Across many services older people tend to report
higher customer satisfaction, in spite of other evidence that
suggests they frequently receive a worse service than younger
31. The tax advice charity TaxAid told us that assessments
of user satisfaction may be based on secondary or relatively less
important considerations than the quality of service received:
Sadly, because of the huge complexity of the
tax system, "customers" of HMRC (and indeed clients
of the charity TaxAid) are not really in a position to judge the
key element of servicewhich in this context is whether
they were given the correct information or advice. In our experience
of customer surveys, since they have no other basis for making
a judgement, clients are more inclined to assess satisfaction
on the basis of whether their experience was "pleasant"
and whether their adviser had good interpersonal skills.
32. Another difficulty with measures of user satisfaction
is that they may not be consistent with broader policy objectives.
Tetlow Associates, which has worked with the National Consumer
Council and the Local Government Association on developing customer
satisfaction measures for local government services, gave us an
education-related illustration: students might be satisfied with
undemanding coursework, but their longer-term interests and those
of society are better served by a more challenging curriculum.
More generally, the health charity the Picker Institute, which
pioneered the development of patient experience surveys in the
UK, argues that 'satisfaction' is an ill-defined conceptthere
is no agreement about which aspects of user satisfaction should
be taken into account or which are the most important.
33. Given these potential difficulties with the use
of satisfaction measures, the Picker Institute favours using measures
of user experience instead. The national surveys of patients'
experiences of health care are a successful example of this approach,
and have been used extensively to identify areas where health
service provision could be improved.
Similarly, Diabetes UK proposes satisfaction measures that are
focused on actual outcomes for service users, since in its view
"customer satisfaction is not just about satisfaction with
the service but about satisfaction in terms of impact on quality
34. Measures of user satisfaction can shed some
light on the quality of public service provision. They should,
however, be treated with care because they are subjective and
are sometimes based on less important considerations than service
quality. We agree with the Herdan review that a user focus is
essential for any standard aimed at improving public services.
We believe, however, that this should be based on measures wider
than surveys of user satisfaction. More sophisticated measuressuch
as those that consider users' experiences of services, or outcomes
for service usersare likely to be more effective at enabling
organisations to improve public service provision.
35. Other types of data could usefully feed into
the service improvement process associated with the new Customer
Service Excellence standard. The evaluations of service quality
undertaken by various audit, regulatory and inspection bodies
are clearly relevant here, as are the results of benchmarking
performance against other services and sectors.
36. We believe there is strong merit in having
a toolsuch as the Charter Mark or the new Customer Service
Excellence schemefor improving user responsiveness and
raising the quality of public services. If it is to be effective
at this task, however, we believe that the emphasis should be
on securing high standards of service provision. This means
that considerations other than user satisfaction will need to
be taken into account, including the broader user-focused measures
we have already recommended, as well as the results of wider assessments
by audit, regulatory and inspection bodies.
37. The importance of achieving and maintaining standards
of service provision is also central to the next aspect of the
Charter programme we considerthat of people's rights, or
entitlements, to minimum standards of public service provision.