Create Great Content To Improve Government Customer Service

by admin on December 16, 2014


Create Great Content To Improve Government Customer Service

Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr.

The article below is a speech delivered on December 11, 2014 at the Digital Government Institute ( ( Conference on improving customer service at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C.

Leonard Sipes (Senior Public Affairs Specialist/Social Media Manager) and Timothy Barnes (Enterprise Director) won top awards for two categories; best government customer service and the best use of technology.

Premise: Content creation is the heart and soul of good customer service (and social media). There and endless numbers of employees within government who want to create great content, but they are hampered by finances and an unsupportive bureaucracy.


First, Tim Barnes and I would like to thank CGOV, the Digital Government Institute and the attendees at the Government Customer Service Conference for allowing us to speak today. It’s quite an honor.

There are a thousand different ways we could take this address and keep it short, entertaining and meaningful.

Dale Carnegie said “There are always three speeches. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.”

My favorite is “Be sincere; be brief; be seated,” from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

We won top awards for government customer service and for the use of technology so I want to dwell on those for a couple minutes.

But if you will permit me, I also want to opine on government customer service across all government agencies.

(We provided a brief demonstration of our television and radio shows via  and

Government Customer Service:

The heart and soul of the success of our radio and television productions is simply a respect for learning styles. It’s impossible to calculate as to how many people since 2006 have said that they were appreciative that we took complicated subjects and made them approachable through video and audio instead of a long, esoteric, rambling and confusing government report.

We have had long conversations with aids to mayors, county executives, governors and members of Congress plus criminal justice leadership as well as university professors and students. All expressed appreciation that we offered entertaining and informative programs that gave them a good understanding of the issues being discussed.  Our products work because we provide options for learning.

A New Way of Communicating

In 2006, we understood that we were given a clean slate as to government communications. We knew that we would be the first television and radio podcast series within the federal government.

We believed from the beginning that every item of importance in government should be addressed by audio, video, a fact sheet and story-based articles.

We believed that every government research report should include an executive summary no longer than five pages focusing on results with the longer, esoteric, rambling and confusing government report available on-line.

We believed that every government document should be written in plain English. If you are confused by the language used, then you haven’t done your job.


I note that Gallup recently rated the US Postal service as the highest ranking government agency.  Overall, 73% of women and 70% of men in the U.S. rate the job the Postal Service is doing as “excellent” or “good.”  Gallup opined that it was an expansion of services and the fact that Americans had contact with the US Postal Service every day.

Well, if we made our customer products more approachable, could we find ourselves having more frequent contact with the American public? I think that the answer is an obvious “yes.”

According to Gallup, “Americans’ confidence in all three branches of the U.S. government has fallen, reaching record lows.”

According to Pew, “Public trust in government remains near historic lows. Only 24% said they trust the government in Washington always or most of the time.”

It’s not my job to justify government policies across the board and regardless of service delivery, governing will always be complicated and filled with pitfalls.

But with federal worker morale at its lowest point in years (per the Partnership for Public Service) we simply understand that all of us need to do better as to communicating with citizens and that emphasis equally applies to our employees.

The Best Possible Job:

So the question remains, are we within government doing the best possible job of communicating? Are we creating the best content? By content, I mean media that respects learning styles such as audio, video, fact sheets and story-based articles.

I speak to many within government who complain of their inability to communicate effectively. They want to do a better job but they are hamstrung by bureaucracies that take forever to approve materials, or the approval process is done by committee, or they don’t have the staff, ability or the money to be involved in creative content creation.

There is a point when the process becomes so cumbersome that they simply give up.

Accelerating Government Transformation With IT (New Research)

Only four percent of government employees feel that they are “highly successful” when it comes to executing progress with technology.

They are frustrated by the lack of funding and limited executive support.

Customers expect the same level of support and IT excellence from government as when they interact with the private sector.

Thus my contention that government employees are frustrated by the content creation process is partially substantiated by this research.

Content Creation:

Content creation is the heart and soul of good customer service, or for that matter, good social media.

Whether it’s through a call center or a website, sending content to customers that answers their questions in a friendly way that respects learning styles is fundamental.

The essential question for government as to every product we create is whether or not it serves customers or serves us. In too many instances, we create what we want rather than what the customer needs.

All government agencies and every business prosper through good communication practices. We are honorable people doing an honorable job and anything less than a daily devotion to excellence in content creation causes people to question our devotion.

Our Agency:

As to what Tim and I and the leadership at our agency have done, it’s not rocket science.

We created well over 300 products since 2006. These include radio, television shows and video, story-based articles and fact sheets.

We are far from perfect in our approach to government customer service but we have been allowed to experiment with different forms of communication. That takes courage on the part of leadership.

This is our sixth and seventh award in 2014 and I won’t bore you with the other national and regional awards we’ve won for podcasting, audio and television production but we have received up to 1.4 million page-views and we dominate Google, Bing and iTunes searches for items of importance to our agency.

We advised government agencies at the highest levels and we spoke at conferences throughout the country.

We were the first in federal service to offer an audio and video podcast series and I contend that my previous government agency was the first to do the same at the state level.

I have been hosting radio and television programs for over 20 years.

Summation Thus Far:

We were allowed to take reasonable risks;

Leadership trusted us to make appropriate decisions;

Our motivation was to improve customer service with a focus on learning styles;

We understood that what we had to accomplish agency objectives.

Accomplishing Operational Objectives: Fugitive Safe Surrender:

Our products accomplish operational objectives. What’s offered below is one of many examples.

We had a complicate program named Fugitive Safe Surrender where offenders with non-violent warrants were encouraged to voluntarily turn themselves in for the possibility of a rescinded warrant and new court date.

This lofty program was a public relations nightmare when promised federal funding for television commercials fell through.

Although we had a small amount of money for radio ads, we understood that it was our ability to create our own products that would save the day. As an example, we went to Indianapolis to interview people going through the Fugitive Safe Surrender program there to get audio stories of people surrendering.

We knew that these stories, which we mounted on a website created for the event, would have an impact on offenders wanted on warrants, and their families and friends who would participate in the decision to take part.

In addition to self-created audio and video, we interviewed the first person in line to surrender.

This person described how he, on his mother’s birthday, had made a promise to her to surrender. He walked on his own for approximately 10 miles beginning at 3:00 a.m. to be the first in line. He described his walk as a “pilgrimage of self examination” and a determination to begin a new life.

He told me his story in 10 minutes through an audio recording and he agreed to let me use the recording and be interviewed by media after he completed the court process.  I created a press release describing the interview and his availability for interviews and Tim instantly produced it and placed it on the internet and on our website.

Within 15 minutes of the completion of the interview, a press release went out with the audio attached. Within fifteen minutes, I received my first request to interview the person surrendering. Every media source in the market also asked for an interview. Within hours, his story went national and then international.

No one gave us permission to do what we did but with supportive leadership, we felt that we had consent to move in any direction that would ethically advance the story.

The results? Well over 500 people with warrants participated in the process over the course of three days. Many stated that they made their decision based on the publicity we generated.

We used simple and portable tools to record and produce. We had the technology and we had the support to make quick decisions and create good content.


I make it a point at every presentation to tell people that I’m technologically challenged. I’m a criminologist by training and a communicator by profession but I’m not a techie. I emphasize this because I do not want people to feel as if they need a technology background to do what we’ve done. They do not as long as they have access to someone who is technologically proficient.

Tim Barnes, our Enterprise Director, took the lead in putting together simple and inexpensive technology that, with some training, provided me with wonderful methods to communicate.

We use free WordPress software and free and inexpensive plug-ins to power four websites and one main portal.

Tim also introduced me to audio creation through a MacBook Pro and the use of Garageband plus some free software. Once purchased and installed, we create all the audio we want for free. My agency build a recording studio with is nothing more than a small room with sound-dampening curtains, a mixer and some microphones.

As to video, we create television shows through a local community access station that gave us the best possible price. In our technical assistance to government, association and nonprofits, many have stated that they went to their own community access stations are now creating television shows on important topics for extremely reasonable prices.

But do you need studios for audio and video production? The answer is a resounding no!

You can use digital audio recorders for a couple hundred dollars and the video capacity of your Smartphone or tablet to get decent video.

I tell everyone that we are not National Public Radio and we are not the CBS Evening news. Our production values do not have to be that high. We simply want to offer options to customers. We simply want to respect learning styles.

There are emerging technologies like Stringwire that allow anyone to stream video through their Smartphones for free and Soundcloud that offers audio storage and decimation inexpensively, but it’s not about the technology, it’s about our willingness to be aware of new options, to experiment and take reasonable risks.

Beyond the awards and the millions of page-views and the great Google rankings, we distribute our feeds automatically to over 150 organizations and websites through our RSS feed.

We are on YouTube, internet television and internet radio. We aggressively use social media. The point is that we don’t lift a finger to be a national and international presence. We simply create reasonably good products and others disseminate our productions for us.


So the secret sauce is not so secret; we were encouraged to experiment. We were provided with a small amount of money and the two of us did this in addition to our daily duties.

But from the beginning, it was a dedication to customer service and a respect for learning styles that guided us. We knew we could do it faster, better and we understood that it would not significantly detract from our daily duties as a spokesperson and tech administration.

Any agency can do what we did and from my conversations with my peers within government, they want to do it also.

With the assistance of CGOV, the Digital Government Institute and those of you in the audience, we can make government both proactive and responsive. We can leave people with a good feeling about what government is and what government does.

If we are honorable people doing an honorable job, we have nothing to fear. The risks are reasonable and the results are significant.

Thank you.

Leonard Sipes




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