External And Internal Customer Service Management Essay

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State Government of Victorias Department of Business and Innovation DBI or the Department has a vision to help deliver the Governments economic vision of a dynamic, innovative and sustainable economy in which business is encouraged to grow', with a corresponding mission statement to 'work with business and the community to boost productivity, exports, investments and jobs' (DBI 2012c). As highlighted in the previously undertaken customer service audit, this means that DBI's core group of external customers are Victorian businesses. Its internal customers are four government Ministers as well as all levels of staff members within DBI.

One of the main initiatives which DBI undertakes to support Victorian businesses 'boost productivity, exports, investments and jobs' is the facilitation of overseas trade missions which allow companies to interact in person with their potential overseas customers, investors and partners, as well as key government decision-makers.

Background Information

As part of its trade missions program in 2012, DBI led a trade mission of over 600 Victorian company representatives to China long with senior Government representatives including the Premier of Victoria and three government Ministers. The size and public profile of the mission meant that DBI needed to deliver high quality customer service to internal and external customers on an unprecedented scale. While the mission was successful, there are a number of improvements which could be made to DBI's customer service delivery processes and feedback collection.


The key objective of this essay is to identify further customer service strategies to improve DBI's customer efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of large scale trade missions, such as the China STM. A second objective is to identify ways to promote this improved customer service to DBI's internal and external customers. These two objectives will be fulfilled by re-examination of the customer service audit and recommendations provided in an earlier piece, but also by drawing on the author's own experience of leading a portion of the China STM being discussions in-market.

Audit findings & Recommendations

The customer service audit previously undertaken by this author found that given increased need for customer information and the relatively small number of potential customer who were being serviced by DBI, two new customer service strategies had been developed and deployed to support the servicing of missions such as the China STM. These strategies were the new business engagement model and the Global Engagement Management System - a new customer relationship management system based on Salesforce. These new strategies provided new ways to collect, store, access and share information collected about external customers with internal customers.

A large number of customer services were being delivered across the lifetime of the China STM, and could be segmented into the following stages:








The delivery of customer services at every stage within DBI is governed by a number of internal policies and procedures relating to information security, privacy and risk management. While they provide a good foundation for the improvement of customer services externally and internally, there are significant issues around the under-utilisation of technology around during the recruitment stage, an over-reliance on in-market experts and non-DBI staff during the trade mission who do not need to adhere to DBI's standards of customer service, and the lack of a defined process around implementation of lessons learnt from customer feedback post-mission. The implementation of recommendations based on these customer service process deficiencies will greatly increase DBI's level of customer service satisfaction and efficiencies.

Customer Service Strategies

This section will review existing customer services delivered by DBI and its internal/external stakeholders in the context of the GEMS and business engagement model strategies, and suggest new strategies to improve their effectiveness and efficiency.

Table 1: List of China STM services provided by the central trade mission coordination team to external customers and the services' value to the customer

Stage of Mission

Services provided to external customers

Value of service to customer


Consultation with select Victorian companies on opportunities they see in target market.

Opportunity to provide feedback to DBI on previous experiences on trade missions and their needs in-market which should improve services provided to them by DBI in future.


Face-to-face discussions between DBI and potential mission delegates.

Increased understanding of the DBI trade mission program and other export initiatives

Application stage

Processing of application and follow-up for more information

Notification of whether the application has been accepted or rejected.

Approval of application means the guarantee of $3,000 in funding for the customer to promote its business overseas

Post approval

Collecting information from delegates for mission marketing materials

Provide delegates with updates on what items have been included on their travel programs

Provide delegates with recommendations of flights and accommodation, including referral to group travel agents.

Marginally reduced need for the customer to prepare their own marketing materials in the target market

No need for customer to make any meeting arrangements in target market unless they want to.

Should the customer wish to use DBI's recommended service providers, it will be remove the need for their own travel agent.


Organise pre-mission briefing sessions for delegates with market intelligence, networking and training on the Victorian Government trade mission mobile app.

Provides a foundation for the customer's understanding of target market, although further research is highly recommended.

Training to use the mobile application means that the customer will be able to access their travel itinerary in-market through a single entry point.


Coordinate on-ground transport, all government facilitated meetings, networking events, and liaise with venues/hotels on behalf of clients.

Opportunity for customer to meet their potential customers, investors etc. face to face as well as their compatriots from Victoria.

No need for customer to arrange any on-ground arrangements during business hours and business events.

Post mission

Process grant payments once required paperwork is received. Payment made within six weeks.

Arrange any necessary follow-up events or introductions through China VGBOs or in consultation with other DBI stakeholders

Customer receives some reimbursement of their travel costs

Although customers mostly do their own follow-ups with contacts they made in the target market, however they are now aware of a number of DBI staff who will be able to assist where necessary.

Table 2: List of China STM services provided by the central trade mission coordination team to internal customers and the services' value to the customer

Stage of Mission

Services provided to internal customers

Value of service to customer


Identify key sector opportunities in partnership with trade/Investment teams, sector teams and China VGBOs to

Development of recruitment materials with marketing teams

Central point of coordination for all internal customers for all trade mission delivery activities

Central point of contact for information relating to any external customers associated with the mission

Central point of contact for all business development managers (BDMs) who are part of the new business engagement model for information provided by their clients during the trade mission process

Manager of all information on GEMS relating to the mission and its participants.


Update reports to Secretary and Deputy-Secretaries on recruitment numbers in each sector in order to allocate budgetary and human resources to the sector teams to develop the travel program in China, as well as allocate resources to marketing/communications and the

Application stage

Seek approval of applications from relevant sector team managers and their Directors

Post approval

Assist marketing team to translating information into Chinese

Assist companies to develop bilingual company information into promotional booklets to be handed out to delegates' clients in China

Coordinate business meetings in China in consultation with sector teams, trade and investment attraction teams, and China VGBOs


Supply Ministerial Offices with information regarding the delegates travelling

Provide Ministerial Offices with information to address delegates at pre-mission briefing


Provide necessary updates to all internal stakeholders

Post mission

Collate mission delegate feedback for internal review process and get feedback from all internal stakeholders. Feedback used for future mission planning.

In summary, the main value proposition that DBI's services had in the delivery of a trade to its external customers were the financial contribution made by DBI to their travel, the complete business travel program development, centralised on-ground support which is provided by DBI during their travel, and the market intelligence which DBI can provide on the target market prior, during and after the mission to the customer. Similarly, the one main value provided by DBI's services to internal customers was the single point of coordination and information access about all facets of the trade mission's delivery and its participants.

However in spite of the streamlined and coordinated process and the new customer service strategies pertaining to BDMs and the GEMS system, there exists a number of gaps in the system which means that existing resources and systems could be better utilised to provide faster and better customer service.

Broadly speaking, these proposed improvements could be divided into the following five customer service improvement strategies for better customer engagement and satisfaction:

Strategy for improving recruitment efficiency and effectiveness by internal customers

Strategy for increasing Chinese literacy of staff for the organisation and delivery of missions

Strategy for delivering improved on-ground support for internal and external customers

Strategy for more inclusive and effective feedback

Strategy for improving grants administration efficiency

Table 3: Select recommendations for improving trade mission related customer service

Type of Customer

Stage of mission


Potential value-add



Integrate elements of social media into recruitment and promotion processes for trade missions

Better utilisation of current social media platforms (and other government IT resources) to increase reach of DBI to its customers.



Use GEMS tags to identify potential exporters who are interested in the target market

Reduce time taken for BDMs or sector managers to recruit for trade missions or increase number of 'right' companies recruited



In-market delivery

Better training of staff to handle china related questions, and need more client-facing DBI staff with Chinese language skills to reduce over -reliance on interpreters during trade missions.

Up-skilling existing workforce, recruiting new staff with desired skills, and being able to provide important language support to customers during mission.


In-market delivery

More on-ground support during mission

Provision of more timely and coordinated customer service



In-market delivery Feedback/

Better use of trade mission mobile application to collect customer data/feedback - rather than just broadcasting information during mission and not used as an interactive tool

Provide opportunities for customers to provide immediate feedback into the central coordination team when dissatisfactory customer service arise in-market



Seek DBI staff feedback as a group as well as individually

Opportunity for more internal customers to provide feedback on trade mission delivery. This would make the improvement recommendations and collated/feedback process more transparent and inclusive, and not just provide the reports to decision makers without further consultation internally.



Outcomes to be collated and distributed and potential improvement reports which are developed from outcomes circulated to all internal stakeholders for more inclusivity.


Grants administration

Introduce simpler way to claim and pay grants and reduces potential 6 weeks waiting period down to 4.

Provision of more timely customer service and reduce wait times for receiving grant payment

Action Plans

Strategy for improving recruitment efficiency and effectiveness by internal customers

Recruitment for trade missions currently take up a large amount of resources across a number of different teams, from BDMs to sector managers to the central coordination team. However, a number of existing technological resources can be better leveraged to improve the efficiency of the recruitment process which will improve internal customer satisfaction as staff member time is freed up to complete other work-related tasks, and will also improve the effectiveness of the recruitment process by allowing recruitment conversations to occur with companies who are genuinely interested in the venture and reduce the volumes of correspondence being sent to companies who are not interested, thus increasing customer satisfactions.

Key Actions for implementing this strategy.

Integrate elements of social media into recruitment and promotion processes for trade missions - Currently DBI rely on websites, email (including a newsletter), print media, phone calls and face to face conversations to recruit for trade missions. However, a largely untapped resource are DBI's associated LinkedIn groups, Facebook groups, twitter accounts, as well as the official accounts of senior government representatives (the Premier included). Social media is widely accepted as a power tool for government customer service delivery (DBI 2011). The utilisation of these resources can potentially promote the benefits of trade missions to key external customers through an approved campaign developed in partnership with the marketing team who have social media expertise. The effectiveness of this action could be measured by an extra checkbox in the section on the application form to indicate that the referral source of the customer was via social media, and not via traditional means.

Better utilisation of GEMS - Whilst GEMS is a treasure trove of data on customer needs and complaints, it is utilised like an email database when it comes to recruitment. Customer lists are created via their sector groups and mass mail outs are sent informing them of the trade mission. However, more targeted communications could be crafted to customers that specially tagged on GEMS as being interested in the trade mission opportunity. BDMs or any other teams within DBI can collect information on which customers are interested in the upcoming trade missions, and work with the GEMS team to develop a specialised tagging system on GEMS so the central coordination team can identify them during their recruitment process. This would increase customer satisfaction as a direct request to DBI to keep them informed on a particular trade mission is being fulfilled.

Strategy for increasing Chinese literacy of staff for the organisation and during delivery of missions

This strategy is targeted towards better training of staff to handle china related questions both prior and during trade missions.

Key Actions for implementing this strategy.

While comprehensive information is provided to external customers prior to their travel on the trade mission with respect to the general activities that will take place as well as sector-specific market intelligence, little training is provided to internal customers beyond business conventions. If moderate language training is provided to all involved DBI staff, then the skills of the workforce will be boosted, and may spark interests to pursue further study. Given the importance of the Asian market to Victoria's future economic prosperity, incentives to study an Asian language will boost internal customer satisfaction and confidence to engage with the target market and assist more external customers do the same.

Given the proud history of the Chinese language and the Chinese people, it is also important to have on-the ground DBI mission leaders who have Chinese language skills in addition to the Victorian Government staff who are based in China. This will increase consumer satisfaction of the Chinese stakeholders being engaged, the Victorian companies travelling on the mission as they will be able to be supported better in market, and internal consumers as well as there will be less reliance on interpreters in market, which gives DBI staff more control over what conversations are happening between clients. DBI recruitment policy does not currently have any explicit provisions with regards to hiring of multilingual staff, although those candidates are most likely scored higher than monolingual applicants.

Strategy for delivering improved on-ground support for internal and external customers

Whilst a number of activities are streamlined during the course of a trade mission to minimise the number of things the delegates need to be concerned with, much of those are only finalised at the very last minute (hiring of interpreters for example), and there are a number of things which DBI staff on the ground end up being concerned with when their first priority should be providing high quality assistance to customers on-ground.

Key Actions for implementing this strategy

Develop a project delivery plan from the outset during the planning process and set timelines for the finalisation of key services required in market such as interpreters, events venues, appropriate gifts for Chinese stakeholders etc. The quality of these services should be verified by a DBI staff member on the ground prior to delegate arrival. This would significant reduce the amount of time that DBI need to spend during the course of the mission on finalising these items. This would in-turn increase the amount of time that DBI staff can spend interaction and developing relationships with external customers, rather than with service providers in China. From experience, these small tasks take up a large number of resources if they are left to the last minute and greatly reduce satisfaction by both internal and external customers.

Strategy for more effective and inclusive feedback

Current feedback collection policy has two main processes for trade missions. The first is an online evaluation form which is completed by all mission delegates once they return from the target market. This completion of this form is compulsory should the customer wish to receive their $3,000 grant for their travel. The second is an internal review process which involves the collection of internal customer feedback - primarily of those in the central coordination team and staff members who accompanied external customers during the mission. This feedback is then provided to the Deputy Secretary's office, who then takes them into consideration in the planning of the next trade mission in consultation with the central coordination team.

Key Actions for implementing this strategy

Better use of trade mission mobile application - At present this mobile application named "Mission Capture" is only used to disseminate information regarding trade mission activities during the mission. However, it is the ideal tool for trade mission customers to 'capture' feedback to the central coordination team during the mission and addressed when issues arise in-market, rather than waiting until their return and certain issues have already escalated. Should Mission Capture be more interactive and used for this purpose, customer satisfaction would be greatly improved. This can also be used to target feedback from internal customers. Information collected via the application can be directed to the DBI email inbox which is secure in the DBI network and subject to DBI privacy and data policies. After resolution, the information can also be included on GEMS for future reference.

Make feedback loop more inclusive - The Internal customers currently targeted for mission feedback are the central coordination team and staff members who accompanied external customers in-market. However, this cuts out of the loop the large number of BDMs who interact with external customers on the daily basis and support staff based in China. Including these staff members in the feedback process will increase customer satisfaction internally, but also allow BDMs to provide suitable information on the review process to external customers which will present a progressive image of government, which is often lost in the bureaucratic requirements associated with trade mission follow-up.

Make recommendations more transparent - Currently all feedback are provided on an individual basis to the Deputy-Secretary's Office and the central coordination office. However, should a group de-brief be staged and allow staff members to share their experience of the trade mission process openly, more strategies may be developed and staff will feel like they have more of a buy-in into the process. Final recommendations to the Deputy-Secretary's Office for future mission improvements should also be available to all related DBI staff. This will improve customer satisfaction on the level of inclusivity and the need to feel appreciated for work outcomes achieved by internal customers.

Strategy for improving grants administration efficiency

This strategy requires improved resourcing for the central coordination team for three month period following the conclusion of a major trade mission. Currently, the grants condition stipulates that DBI has up to 6 weeks to pay external customers who travelled on trade missions should they have been pre-approved. Especially for smaller companies who have limited cash flow, an early payment would greatly increase their customer satisfaction. This strategy aims to reduce customer dissatisfaction with the inefficiencies of a mostly paper based acquittal system for hundreds of grant payments, and increased resources in the short term for improving grant payment times.

Key Actions for implementing this strategy.

Develop online acquittal process - While companies submit grant applications online, the grant acquittal process is mostly manual with only the evaluation form submitted online. Once the evaluation form has been submitted, the customer has to send via paper mail a signed statutory declaration, expense form and physical receipts. The central coordination team should work with the same IT team within DBI who developed the online grants application for to develop an online acquittal form. The online acquittal form will be attached to the evaluation form, and contain a series of upload requests which will be the information required for acquittal as listed above. Companies can still have the option of sending in paperwork if they do not have a scanner, but majority of customer will benefit from this digitised process. The information collected from this process will be uploaded directly to the secure GEMS environment - similar to the application form information. Approval and checking of the information provided should be much faster and reduce the large amount of time spent by the central coordination team on follow-up with external customers who have not submitted the right paperwork - the online process will mandate that they attach all relevant documents prior to submission.

Hire more short-term resources to manage acquittal process - in addition to the potential time savings of online acquittal process, temporary resources being added to the central coordination team should be added to reduce processing times. These staff can be seconded from other trade related areas, or be hired under current contractors' recruitment policy which requires only management approval, and not senior management level. Two new resources will add 50 per cent more capacity to the processing capacity of the central team which should reduce wait times down to 4 weeks at a minimum. Once all the invoice have been paid, these temporarily staff members can also check that the appropriate data have been updated on GEMS as per the GEMS Protocols and Rules policy which mandates that all company information must be kept up to date. This is a strong business case as this process is not currently undertaken, and as such, there are a lot of inconsistent data on GEMS with regards to trade mission outcomes.

Many of the above proposed strategies such as language training and inclusive feedback serve to minimise the variation in the ability of various client facing teams and individual team members to provide quality customer services to both external customers and colleagues internally.

All five of these strategies will need to be reviewed following implementation, and that process will be discussed in more detail in the section on Performance Controls later in this essay.

Risk Management

Risk management of these new strategies will need to be undertaken in consultation with the appropriate levels of management of the central coordination team and the Deputy-Secretary's Office, but also in line with DBI's Risk Management Framework, which contains the following elements:

Establish Context & Goals

Identify Risks

Analyse Risks

Evaluate Risks

Determine the Treatments for Risks

Monitor and Report on the Effectiveness of Risk Treatments

Stakeholder Consultation / Communication

(DBI 2012f, p.21-23)

The context of all the strategies are within the delivery timeframes and environment of large scale trade mission which are highly politically given their high visibility, involvement of private sector customers and high level government representatives.

This below table contains an evaluation the risks associated with the development and implementation of these new strategies and nominate ways to mitigate them.

Table 4: Recommended Customer service strategy risk mitigation



Identified Risks

Risk Mitigation Strategy

Strategy for improving recruitment efficiency and effectiveness by internal customers

Integrate elements of social media

Better utilisation of GEMS

Greater exposure of government activities to scrutiny given the speed of social media feedback.

Develop social media messaging and responses in line with DBI social media policy (DBI 2011) and experts within the Department.

Seeking relevant approvals internally before campaign launch.

Strategy for increasing Chinese literacy of staff for the organisation and during delivery of missions

Language training for existing staff

Hire more staff with Chinese language skills

Claims of discrimination should staff with language skills be hired widely over staff who are monolingual

Ensure that any changes to hiring policy are developed in conjunction with the Corporate Services and ensure changes are in line with the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities and the Commonwealth Government's Equal Opportunity Act 2005 (DOJ 2012).

Strategy for delivering improved on-ground support for internal and external customers

Develop and enforce project delivery plan

Last minute changes to mission delegate numbers or itineraries which can occur pose a risk to the effectiveness of a plan developed well in advance.

Contingency plans for the delivery of services in the target market and keep all internal stakeholders involved in the process abreast of developments with relation to any on-ground arrangements so all internal customers know what to expect when they arrive in-market.

Strategy for more effective and inclusive feedback

Make Mission Capture more interactive

Make feedback loop more inclusive

Make recommendations more transparent

Too easy to leverage public criticism at Government in the heat of the moment during the mission


Given that it is an interactive process, any changes made to Mission Capture's functionality will need to conform to DBI's social media policy also.

Invite all internal stakeholders to partake in feedback process, and but only make it compulsory for a small number of staff.

Strategy for improving grants administration efficiency

Develop online acquittal process

Hire more short-term resources

Confusion between paper-based and online acquittal process.

Over-resourcing which could is an ineffective use of limited resources.

Ensure online acquittal process developed is in line with DBI Website Minimum Standards and Best Practice guidelines and the Victorian Government Website Management Framework (DBI 2011). Consult applicants at the time of application whether they would prefer online or paper-based acquittal processes, and then send them corresponding information.

Ensure resources are hired in accordance with hiring policies for contractors after reviewing of workload, and ensure internal customers who want the opportunity to develop skill sin this space are also given the opportunity to undertake a short secondment to the central team.


The budget for the implementation of these strategies can be sourced from a number of sources within the DBI budget cycle for 2012-2013:

The Victorian International Engagement Strategy (Premier 2012) budget which funds all the DBI trade missions at present could be leverage to fund social media campaigns (include new functionality added to mission capture), a project plan for delivery of a dedicated project delivery plan for in-market activities, as well as a wider and more transparent feedback process.

Budget allocated to GEMS development could be utilised to develop the target market interest tagging systems and the online acquittal system.

Business development manager training budgets could be leveraged to develop targeted language training programs for existing staff. The same can be drawn from sector team budgets for staff members who require the training.

Trade and Industry Development division general budget can be leveraged to hire more Chinese-speaking staff or short-term staff to reduce waiting times for grant acquittal.

It is important to note that budget will need be set aside within each initiative's budget to communicate the changes to relevant internal and external customers.

Performance measures and controls

For the recommended strategies in the previous section to be implemented, there needs to be some broader consideration of how the effectiveness of the strategies can be measured and precisely what value these strategies add to customer's experience and opinion of the DBI services provided.

Across DBI, all staff work towards the achievement of the Government's mandated economic outcomes from the Department's export programs as part of the Budget Paper 3 commitments. This is the Department's key performance indicator (KPI) as a whole. Achieving or exceeding these KPIs means that DBI has fulfilled its mission statement and strategic objectives. Achievement is monitored through quarterly reports to senior management within DBI and to the Department of Treasury and Finance. Individual teams also report against these targets to their executives.

Table 5: Economic Outcomes from Engagement 2012-2013, BP3 Targets for DBI.



New Foreign Direct Investment

$1,440 million

New Jobs Derived from Investments


Exports facilitated

$1,000 million

Companies participating in export programs


(DBI 2012a, p.8)

Similarly, performance measures and monitoring processes need to be set in place for the proposed strategies outlined in this document.

Table 6: Proposed strategy performance measures and review processes


Performance Measure/s

Monitoring & Review Process/es

Strategy for improving recruitment efficiency and effectiveness by internal customers

Increased numbers of companies being targeted not as part of a mass-mail out to join the trade mission

Using the application form, monitor and review how many companies are recruited to participate on the next three trade missions through the new social engagement plan and the tagging system on GEMS.

Strategy for increasing Chinese literacy of staff for the organisation and during delivery of missions

Increased number of staff who have some Chinese language skills

Increased percentage of staff who can fluently engage with external customers in Chinese Mandarin or Cantonese.

Survey all staff at the end of any language courses undertaken regarding their confidence levels to engage with Chinese stakeholders or provide advice to clients on China

Survey overseas office staff and external customers on whether the increased number of Chinese speaking DBI staff members improved quality of customer service provided in-market

Strategy for delivering improved on-ground support for internal and external customers

Reduction of costs of amending plans last minute in market with regards to service providers such as interpreters and venue hire.

Positive feedback from staff with regards to reduced levels of stress associated with confirmation of minor details in-market.

Survey mission participants who have been on multiple missions whether the mission seemed better organised on the ground and DBI staff had more time for relationship building.

Strategy for more effective and inclusive feedback

Increased internal satisfaction with trade mission review process.

Increased number, improved quality, and increased diversity of feedback received by the central coordination team for review and implementation - overall greater engagement of internal staff.

Strategy for improving grants administration efficiency

Reduction of waiting time for external customer to receive grant payment

Increased productivity of staff in the central coordination team with less time spent on paper administration.

Reduction of resources costs spent on administration in the long term.

Greater customer satisfaction and reduced number of complaints with regards to the grants administration timelines and wait times.

Map the number of man hours spend administrating the paper based system versus the proposed online system.

As part of the monitoring and review process, changes should be made to the strategies as they are deployed for each different trade mission, depending on the market and the number of delegates travelling, as well internal considerations of budget and other trade-related priorities at the time.

Increased efficiencies and customer satisfactions can be mapped using a Pareto chart or a histogram over the course of a financial, including all the trade missions undertaken and compare ones who implemented the recommended customer service strategies to the ones who didn't. The results of these reviews should be presented to senior staff members as well as any other interested internal customers. Generic strategies such as better social media engagement, if successful, can be utilised in other DBI business areas.

Closing Statement

Given the high visibility and the wide spectrum of internal and external stakeholders which DBI engages with to plan, execute and review trade missions, it is important that the Department's level of customer is consistently of a high level. This paper has recommended five key strategies for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the customer service provided as part of this process, and outlined key risk and risk mitigation strategies, budgetary considerations and review processes required to implement them successfully.

With a further large scale trade mission planned for the same target market - China - later in 2013, it would be beneficial for DBI to seriously consider the proposals put forward prior to the commencement of detailed planning and stakeholder engagement.