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Summary 

In recent years there appears to have been a move in Australia to provide government services to customers in a more centralized, customer-focused manner, including through the use of online portals where multiple services can be accessed in one place. Individual agencies may continue to collect feedback from customers through online forms and other mechanisms. Some states, including New South Wales and South Australia, have also started using a whole-of-government survey mechanism to solicit feedback annually on the customer service provided by a number of agencies. The use of the same approach by different jurisdictions allows for benchmarking, comparisons, and sharing of best practices between jurisdictions.

I.  Introduction

There are no laws at either the federal or state/territory levels in Australia specifically requiring government agencies to seek customer satisfaction feedback. However, some guidance has been developed by different entities and some state governments have worked to develop whole-of-government approaches in addition to the mechanisms used by individual agencies to solicit feedback or handle complaints.

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II.  Complaint Handling

The Commonwealth Ombudsman investigates complaints from members of the public about federal government departments and agencies.[1] There are also state and territory ombudsmen. These entities may provide best-practice guidance to government agencies within their jurisdictions; for example, the Commonwealth Ombudsman has published a Better Practice Guide to Complaint Handling.[2]

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III.  Customer Feedback on Federal Government Agencies

At the federal level, several service agencies participate in the myGov online account initiative, which allows customers to access government services and personal notices online in one place, using a single login and password. This includes Medicare (the publicly-funded health care system), the Australian Taxation Office, Centrelink (which administers benefit payments), the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.[3] Links to the contact information for each of the relevant agencies is provided on the site,[4] with each agency providing online forms for complaints and feedback.

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IV.  Customer Feedback on State Government Agencies

State governments have undertaken various initiatives to measure customer satisfaction with government services. In recent years, several states have conducted the same annual whole-of-government customer satisfaction survey, allowing for comparisons between Australian jurisdictions and with other countries that also use the survey. The following provides information regarding this initiative, and related or past activities, from the perspective of two of the states involved.

A.  New South Wales

In New South Wales, one of the legislated objectives of the Public Service Commissioner is to “foster a public service culture in which customer service, initiative, individual responsibility and the achievement of results are strongly valued.”[5] In 2012, the New South Wales government appointed the first Customer Service Commissioner in the country. Reforms that were subsequently implemented included “a ‘one-stop shop’ – Service NSW – with service centres, a single 24/7 telephone service and a single digital channel.”[6]  The Service NSW website provides an online form for customer feedback and complaints.[7]

In 2013, the Public Service Commission Advisory Board and the Customer Service Commissioner developed a “whole-of-government customer satisfaction instrument,” which was intended to “complement existing agency initiatives and create a coordinated approach to customer service reform.”[8] The resulting survey of people who use public services was conducted by the Customer Service Commissioner in 2014, involving “6,208 customers, including 5,189 from the general population and 1,019 from the business community, responding to a telephone survey, face-to-face interviews, and mobile phone-based or online questionnaires.”[9] 

In terms of initiatives by individual agencies, the Public Service Commission found in 2013 that “94% of the 83 agency respondents collect feedback from their customers and nearly three-quarters make changes as a result of views presented by customers.”[10]

The Public Service Commission’s State of the Sector report for 2015 states that

The NSW Government believes a strong customer-centred approach is essential for delivering the best possible services. Across NSW, public sector agencies seek customer feedback to help improve the quality of their services. The Customer Service Commissioner’s Customer Satisfaction Measurement Survey, which the PSC Advisory Board helped establish in 2014, is an additional method of regularly measuring customer satisfaction across the whole public sector.

The Customer survey is designed to provide a greater understanding of how customers perceive public service performance; the overall customer satisfaction with different types of services; the key drivers of customer satisfaction; and areas for improvement to increase overall sector performance.[11]

The 2015 report goes on to discuss the outcomes of the survey for that year and to compare the results to other jurisdictions. It also includes a message from the Customer Service Commissioner who states that various whole-of-government initiatives aimed at improving services to customers

will be supported by a measurement framework that will build on the annual Customer Satisfaction Measurement Survey. The 2015 survey benchmarked our performance against other jurisdictions, highlighting opportunities for cross-jurisdictional learnings and education. This survey will be implemented each year, and we will continue to benchmark our performance against other governments and leading public sector organisations.[12]

The State of the Sector report for 2016 also discusses various aspects of developing and maintaining a customer-focused culture in the public sector. This includes leadership development programs, employees being surveyed regarding how senior managers and their agency overall perform in relation to the area of customer focus, as well as polling customers annually using the Customer survey.[13] The report notes that many agency leaders have “built customer awareness into their induction programs, emphasising the alignment of customer service, business purpose and values.”[14] Another approach “has been to replace government with customer service at the top of an agency’s strategy pyramid. This simple visualisation represents a significant cultural change, as the focus has shifted from examining inputs to the quality of outputs. The focus is on creating a high-performance culture.”[15]

A report on the key findings of the New South Wales 2016 Customer Satisfaction Measurement Survey is available online.[16] With respect to the scope and approach, the report states that

  • ‘Customers’ in this survey are citizens that have had direct dealings with services provided by the NSW Government in the last 12 months.
  • In 2016, the online survey was undertaken with 5,369 customers. This included 4,237 consumers and 1,132 business customers.
  • The survey captured customer feedback on 22 different NSW Government services (described in the customers’ language).
  • Feedback received from customers about each of the individual services have been aggregated to provide a view of the performance of NSW Government services overall.
  • The same survey was also undertaken with customers in [other jurisdictions].[17]

B.  South Australia

The approaches to soliciting feedback from South Australian government agency customers have evolved over the past ten years. In 2007, the Government Reform Commission produced a Customer Service Good Practice Guide that “outlines key considerations for improving service delivery throughout the South Australian public sector.”[18] One of the elements of effective customer service that the Guide suggested should be considered was to “identify and understand your customers” through seeking direct feedback from customers “by asking them what they need, want and expect.” Appendix A of the Guide contains “a practical guide for measuring customer satisfaction.”[19]

The South Australian government’s most recent strategic plan included the following target in relation to customer and client satisfaction with government services: “Increase the satisfaction of South Australians with government services by 10% by 2014, maintaining or exceeding that level of satisfaction thereafter.”[20] The plan notes that between 2008 and 2012 (excluding 2011, when the survey was not conducted), “the SASP [South Australia’s Strategic Plan] Household survey provided the data for this target’s key measure. A new whole of government satisfaction measure will be established for 2016–17 with an agreed common methodology expected to be rolled out to all agencies in May/June 2016.”[21] Copies of the 2012 survey questionnaire and responses are available online,[22] as are summaries and reports regarding the survey for each year it was conducted.[23]

According to a 2013 report on strategies and achievements with respect to the strategic plan goal, the South Australian government had at that point “purchased a licence to use the Canadian Common Measurement Tool (CMT) to measure customer satisfaction. The tool is made up of eight core questions that measure the key drivers of customer satisfaction. There is also a set of additional questions that can be used to further understand the drivers of satisfaction.”[24]

In addition to the strategic plan, the South Australian government’s “Modern Public Service” policy,[25] which is supported by a “Charter of Public Service Guarantee” and the state ombudsman’s “Complaints Management Framework,” “identifies the need for agencies to assess customer satisfaction in order to identify opportunities where they can improve their service to the community.”[26] In 2016, Service SA (the South Australian government’s “central point of contact for citizens and businesses looking to access government related information and services”) partnered with the New South Wales Office of the Customer Service Commissioner “to implement its first Customer Satisfaction Measurement Survey in South Australia.”[27] This survey “captures a holistic view” of the government’s customer service, and “includes baseline scores for whole-of-government customer satisfaction. South Australia was benchmarked against New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Canada and the United Kingdom, through representative population samples.”[28]

The Department of the Premier and Cabinet states that

[a]gencies across government are working together to share best-practice on customer experience, including use of the Common Measurement Tool to develop a consistent approach to complaint handling and agency-level customer satisfaction measurement.

A new online portal will go live on www.sa.gov.au early in 2017, giving customers access to a whole-of-government complaints and feedback channel, which will direct comments to the responsible agency to follow-up.

Service SA has also developed and published a suite of tools around customer intelligence to help agencies adopt best practice in customer service.

We are listening to our customers, and to support improved monitoring and performance the Customer Satisfaction Measurement Survey will be conducted every year.

Feedback on 23 different types of government services will be collected and shared across government – including in the areas of education and training, justice, health, family and community services, business and trade services, consumer information, transport, utilities, arts and leisure, and planning and environment.[29]

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Prepared by Kelly Buchanan
Chief, Foreign, Comparative, and Internationl Law Division I
October 2017


[1] About, Commonwealth Ombudsman, http://www.ombudsman.gov.au/about (last visited Oct. 12, 2017), archived at https://perma.cc/6PQG-KFEZ.

[2] Commonwealth Ombudsman, Better Practice Guide to Complaint Handling (Apr. 2009), http://www.ombudsman.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/35615/Better-practice-guide-to-complaint-handling.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/AL9B-KM64.

[3] About myGov, myGov, https://my.gov.au/mygov/content/html/about.html (last visited Oct. 12, 2017), archived at https://perma.cc/VY2Z-ZBDT.

[4] Contact Us, myGov, https://my.gov.au/mygov/content/html/contact.html (last visited Oct. 12, 2017), archived at https://perma.cc/EL7J-ZGMQ.

[5] Government Sector Employment Act 2013 No 40 (NSW) s 10(e), https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/acts/2013-40.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/CN83-W45P.

[6] Public Service Commission, A Better Picture: State of the NSW Public Sector Report 2014, ch. 3, “Customer Focus: Importance of the Customer,” http://www.psc.nsw.gov.au/reports---data/state-of-the-sector/previous-editions/state-of-the-sector-2014/chapter-3--customer-focus/importance-of-the-customer, archived at https://perma.cc/VG8J-WAMY.

[7] Contact Us, Service NSW, https://www.service.nsw.gov.au/contact-us (last visited Oct. 16, 2017), archived at https://perma.cc/A97A-2ACR; Customer Complaints, Service NSW, https://www.service.nsw.gov.au/customer-complaints (last visited Oct. 16, 2017), archived at https://perma.cc/QPD3-TYMF.

[8] Public Service Commission, supra note 6.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Public Service Commission, To the Next Level: State of the NSW Public Sector Report 2015, ch. 3, “Customer Focus,” http://www.psc.nsw.gov.au/reports---data/state-of-the-sector/previous-editions/state-of-the-sector-2015/chapter-3 (last visited Oct. 12, 2017), archived at https://perma.cc/DEE9-VTFD.

[12] Id.

[13] Public Service Commission, Leadership Matters: State of the NSW Public Sector Report 2016, ch. 2, “How Do Our Leaders Lead the Sector?,” http://www.psc.nsw.gov.au/reports---data/state-of-the-sector/state-of-the-sector-2016/chapter-2 (last visited Oct. 12, 2017), archived at  https://perma.cc/88NJ-JLPK.

[14] Id., ch. 6, “How is the Sector’s Culture Changing?,” http://www.psc.nsw.gov.au/reports---data/state-of-the-sector/state-of-the-sector-2016/chapter-6 (last visited Oct. 12, 2017), archived at https://perma.cc/WY9W-B3AZ.

[15] Id.

[16] Customer Service Commissioner, NSW Whole of Government Customer Satisfaction Measurement Survey: 2016 Key Findings, https://www.comprac.nsw.gov.au/ArticleDocuments/1045/2016-Customer-Satisfaction-Measurement-Survey-Findings.pdf.aspx, archived at https://perma.cc/HS7L-YDS5.

[17] Id. at 2.

[18] Government of South Australia, Customer Service Good Practice Guide (2007), https://publicsector. sa.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/20070101-Good-practice-guide-Customer-service.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/D6CM-9SR6.

[19] Id., App. A, at 8.

[20] South Australian Government, SA Strategic Plan, Target: 32, http://saplan.org.au/targets/32-customer-and-client-satisfaction-with-government-services (last visited Oct. 12, 2017), archived at https://perma.cc/SWN6-V9RQ.

[21] Id.

[22] SA Strategic Plan Household Survey, Data SA, https://data.sa.gov.au/data/dataset/79a561df-2d3f-4765-aab5-f5661bc703ec (last visited Oct. 12, 2017), archived at https://perma.cc/Q83S-7CTP.

[23] Government of South Australia, SA Strategic Plan, “Our Progress,” http://saplan.org.au/our-progress (last visited Oct. 12, 2017), archived at https://perma.cc/ZTS8-QYVY.

[24] Government of South Australia, SA Strategic Plan, Target 32, “Key Strategies and Achievements” (Nov. 2013), http://saplan.org.au/media/W1siZiIsIjIwMTQvMDcvMDEvMDZfNDRfNDJfODQzX1RhcmdldF 8zMi5wZGYiXV0/Target%2032.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/2B38-GKP4.

[25] Government of South Australia, Building a Stronger South Australia, No. 14: A Modern Public Service (2013), https://www.premier.sa.gov.au/images/policies/building_a_stronger_sa-a_modern_public_ service.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/P82P-6WAZ.

[26] Government Services and Information, Department of the Premier and Cabinet, http://www.dpc.sa. gov.au/what-we-do/services-for-business-and-the-community/government-services-and-information (last visited Oct. 12, 2017), archived at https://perma.cc/55FZ-95CR.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Customer Satisfaction Measurement Survey, Department of the Premier and Cabinet, http://dpc.sa.gov.au/ what-we-do/services-for-business-and-the-community/government-services-and-information/customer-satisfaction-measurement-survey (last visited Oct. 12, 2017), archived at https://perma.cc/UN4Q-P6NT.