Dr Laura Olcelli compares public and private sector customer service.
There are endless comparisons between the public and private sector. But when it comes to the customer service representatives working in public- and private-sector organisations, are there any significant differences?
The analysis of over 1,893 psychometric questionnaires during a three-year study shows a trend in terms of levels of optimism, stress and emotional intelligence.
You may call them dogmas or myths. Either way, they abound. There are endless comparisons between public- and private-sector organisations in our collective imagination, world-wide: ‘private companies are more efficient’; ‘civil servants have a more rewarding job’; ‘the private sector is superior’…
Over the past three years, I worked for major UK Government departments and privately owned companies – in contact centres of comparable sizes, in close geographical locations, and with the same aim: to modernise their customer communication and improve customer service performance.
When it comes to the customer service representatives working in public- and private-sector organisations, are there any significant differences?
So were there any significant differences between the Customer Service Representatives working in the Government agency and those employed by one of the ‘Big Six’ utilities? While training over 600 CSRs in the former, and 1,239 in the latter, I also gained a deeper insight into the mental attitudes of our delegates.
As part of the training, teams were asked to complete psychometric questionnaires. These sophisticated ‘Behavioural Profiling Analysis (BPA) questionnaires’ measure a range of factors such as individual levels of optimism, stress and emotional intelligence.
By the third year of both projects, we had accumulated over 1,839 questionnaires.
The gargantuan 48,600 pieces of data examined gave us a good understanding about some of the differences between the customer service teams in the public and private sectors, in terms of optimism, stress and emotional intelligence.
Graph 1: Level of optimism in public and private sectors.
On a scale from 0 to 12 (where 0 corresponds to the highest level of pessimism and 12 to the highest level of optimism), CSRs in the Government Agency score an average of 8.1, and therefore are more optimistic than those in the private organisation (7.3).
This might be the positive impact of what they often see as a ‘job for life’, which culminates with a generous pension.
Graph 2: Level of stress in public and private sectors.
Without the pressure of the competition, targets and bonuses, it’s not surprising that CSRs in the Government Agency are also relatively less stressed. Along a scale ranging from 14 to 154 (where 14 corresponds to an extreme Type B and 154 to an extreme Type A), they score an average of 92 – compared to 99 in the private sector.
Graph 3: Level of emotion management in public and private sectors.
Among the job skills of the 21st century, emotional intelligence is one of the most desirable. Particularly remarkable in a job that requires dealing with difficult customers virtually on a daily basis is emotion management.
Customer service teams in the Government agency score well (13-16 range) in all the key aspects EI, but especially in emotion management. Their average score of 15.2 is 1.5 points higher than their colleagues’ in the utility company.
Within the context of the eternal debate about public and private sectors, the results of the three-year study suggest that the contact centre advisors in the Government department are more optimistic, less stressed, and have a higher level of emotional management than those who are in the same role, but in a privately owned company.
At a time when emotional intelligence and positive psychology have entered a new era, and there’s so much emphasis on nurturing mental health in the workplace, this trend also indicates that CSRs in the public sector may be further ahead on the road to wellbeing than their private-sector colleagues.
About the Author
Dr Laura Olcelli is a training and development consultant at T2uk. She has been training contact centre advisors in UK public- and private-sector organisations for the past three years, resulting in cuts in complaints and AHTs, and improvements in NPSs and employee engagement.