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The challenge of the '90s: improving services while reducing costs

Canadians often feel that they are not getting value for their hard-earned tax dollars. Departments face the dual challenges of improving services to Canadians while dealing with continued resource restraint and reductions. Managing these challenges is likely to be a preoccupation of Public Service employees for some time. How can we provide improved services at lower cost?

The service standard initiative is aimed at improving the quality of service delivery by making Canadians more aware of the wide array of government services and their associated costs and by improving the client orientation of Public Service employees.

The 1994 Budget announced a number of initiatives for improving service to Canadians while addressing Canada's fiscal reality, including a pledge for more open and responsive government. The Budget stated that

...the government will establish and publish by 1995 standards of services for each government department....The government will issue by the summer of 1994 a declaration of quality service delivery standards to Canadians that all departments and public servants will be expected to honour.

A lot of experience in Canada and abroad suggests that services can be improved and delivered at reduced cost by

  • refocusing services on clients;
  • finding out what clients consider to be critical aspects of government services and service delivery;
  • giving managers the flexibility needed to respond to client needs;
  • developing proper incentives to promote innovation; and
  • monitoring and analyzing performance against realistic goals and standards.

Service standards provide a practical way for you to manage performance in an era of fiscal restraint and to help shape the expectations Canadians have about government services.

A public commitment to service standards was first stated in the Public Service 2000 White Paper of 1991, which called on deputies to establish service standards. The commitment was repeated in the 1992 Budget.

Canada is not unique within the international community in encouraging a client-oriented outlook among its public employees. The United Kingdom, under Prime Minister John Major, adopted the concept of The Citizen's Charter in 1991. This movement is now quite advanced. The second Citizen's Charter annual report (March 1994) identified some 38 published charters, covering the complete spectrum of national services. Since 1992, the Prime Minister has awarded 129 Charter Marks to organizations demonstrating exceptional service.

In September 1993, based on recommendations in the National Performance Review, U.S. President Bill Clinton signed an executive order requiring all agencies to develop and publish customer service standards. In September 1994, the President released Putting Customers First: Standards for Serving the American People, a progress report that describes the work done since the executive order was signed, how public services have changed and what is planned for the next year.

France has issued a Charte des services publics outlining the basic principles to which the government adheres when providing services to its citizens: transparency and responsibility, simplicity and accessibility, participation and adaptability, trust and reliability. In addition, many countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have service standard initiatives underway. The OECD itself sponsored a major conference in November 1994 on service standards and related service quality initiatives. Creating a client- or customer-focused Public Service is a key element of public-sector reform in most countries. Increasingly, this task includes visibly communicating service standards to the users of public services.

What are service standards?

Service standards -- a shortened form of the phrase "standards of service" -- are more than service delivery targets such as waiting times and hours of operation. Canadians are entitled to know what they should expect from the government, how services will be delivered and what they cost, and what clients can do when services they receive are not acceptable.

Service standards include five essential elements:

1. descriptions of the service you intend to provide and, where applicable, the benefits clients are entitled to receive;

2. service pledges or principles describing the quality of service delivery clients should expect to receive, focusing on such elements as openness, fairness, courtesy, professionalism, choice of official language where applicable, etc.;

3. specific delivery targets for key aspects of service, such as timeliness, access and accuracy;

4. the costs of delivering the service; and

5. complaint and redress mechanisms that clients can use when they feel standards have not been met.

While each of these elements can exist on its own, it is expected that, in most cases, service standards will eventually cover all elements. However, in a limited number of instances, every element may not be relevant to the situation. In enforcement areas, for example, it may not be very useful to inform the citizen of the cost of his or her arrest!

In many instances, clients for services have responsibilities as well as entitlements. In order to receive the quality of service delivery described in service standards, they frequently must provide required information accurately, present themselves on time, be able to explain their situation, etc. You can write service standards to reflect client responsibilities.

Principles in developing service standards

Federal government service standards should be

  • meaningful to individuals. Service standards should be responsive. In other words, they should be meaningful to the individuals using the service, relate to aspects of the service clients find important and expressed in terms to which clients can relate. Typically, standards should cover elements of service that are visible and measurable;
  • based on consultation. You should develop service standards in consultation with your clients;
  • attainable and challenging. Service standards should be realistic, based on analysis, consistent with program objectives and achievable, while at the same time they should provide a challenge to service deliverers;
  • affordable. Service standards should include user charges, if applicable, and should be attainable within available resources;
  • owned by managers and employees. Service standards should be an essential management tool in service delivery. You are responsible for setting and using service standards to continually improve the cost effectiveness of service delivery;
  • published. You should publish service standards and make them known to clients;
  • used to measure performance. You should monitor performance achievements against the standards, as well as client satisfaction with the service provided, and give clients that information. The performance measures you use should be comparable over time, across regions or with like services; and
  • reviewed and updated. You should review service standards regularly and adjust them to reflect new circumstances.

These principles are intended to provide useful guidance in the development of service standards in departments and agencies.

This guide is organized in five parts. Part 2 discusses a series of steps that you can follow to develop service standards. Part 3 examines each of the five components of service standards in greater detail, providing guidance and examples as appropriate. Part 4 discusses managing your organization based on service standards and service quality. Concluding remarks are presented in Part 5. The document also contains a series of annexes, referenced as appropriate throughout the text.


This section outlines key steps to consider when establishing service standards. The development of service standards should be integrated with any other program or service delivery renewal initiatives that you are undertaking.

The process of establishing service standards is evolutionary. It is part of a continuous improvement strategy. You should regularly review and revise standards as your service becomes more efficient and as delivery methods change.

1. Know your business

Know your business
Knowing your business entails

  • identifying your clients;
  • identifying your services;
  • identifying your partners;
  • knowing what is being done now; and
  • knowing what is affordable.

a. Identify your clients

Who are the clients for government services? All those who have dealings with the government. There may be several different clients for each service, each of whom has different perspectives and expectations. Public management is the art of balancing these differing expectations.

Clients are individuals, groups and businesses who deal with government.

At least three types of clients can be identified -- the direct client, who receives the output of the service; the general public, which receives a collective benefit from government services; and the taxpayer, who pays for most government services. The following diagram illustrates these different perspectives. You must consider them all when delivering services.

The Citizen and Government Services

Clearly, in many cases, the expectations of the direct and indirect clients of services differ and sometimes conflict. Decisions concerning levels of service must take into account the public policy objectives of the program as well as the needs and expectations of direct clients. For example, consumers and taxpayers expect safe, reasonably priced food in the stores. They are not particularly interested in the inspection process itself, other than that inspections be done well and cheaply (so as not to affect food prices). They care about the result: safe food. The food producers, on the other hand, do care about the inspection process and want inspections to be done fairly, quickly, efficiently and at the least cost to them. They also want to know to whom they can complain if the service they receive -- that is, the inspection -- is unacceptable. They want service standards. The food inspection process must meet the public policy objective of safe food while, at the same time, providing a quality service to food processors.

Similarly, citizens want to get new passports quickly. The public policy objective, however, is to ensure that passports are issued only to eligible people at the lowest possible cost. In seeking to provide a quality passport service to Canadians, service standards must also respect the public policy objective.

b. Identify your services

A service is provided every time a client deals with government

Canadians deal with the federal government in a wide variety of ways. They may receive a social benefit cheque, ask for information and advice, or be required to comply with certain laws and regulations. In all these cases, there is a transaction or interaction between the government and the citizen (or business). In all these interactions, the government, using this broad definition, is providing a service. Annex A discusses the types of services provided by the federal government in more detail.

This broad perspective on what constitutes government services is the one adopted by the PS2000 Task Force on Service to the Public and is quite consistent with the latest thinking about public management practices. Appreciating the extent of government services is part of the cultural change required to develop a client-centered Public Service.

In addition to conventional services, where the direct client receives a benefit, the government also provides services when it regulates and when it purchases goods and services. In regulation, while it is the public that ultimately benefits, the interaction with the regulated person or organization should still meet a service standard. For example, taxpayers deal with the government through Revenue Canada. They have the right to expect that their dealings with Revenue Canada will meet a certain quality standard. They expect, for example, to be treated with courtesy and respect; to be served in the official language of their choice where applicable; to be dealt with openly and honestly; to be made aware of their rights; to have good information available on how to comply with the law; and to be dealt with efficiently and promptly. Revenue Canada has responded to these expectations through the service commitments contained in the department's Declaration of Taxpayer Rights, and service standards have been or are being developed for all the department's services.

The key to identifying your services is to identify the various interactions or dealings you have with the public (Canadian residents, businesses, organizations and others having contacts with the government). The list of these interactions is the list of services you provide. It shows you where you should develop service standards.

The focus so far in this guide has been on interactions outside the government with third parties. However, all government departments provide services to their own staff and management, and many provide services to other government departments. These internal services, while not the primary focus of the service standard initiative, can also benefit from the development of service standards. Most departments have quality management initiatives that typically entail some form of service standard development or enhancement. Public Service employees will find it more difficult to provide quality service to external clients if the internal services they receive do not also meet a standard.

c. Identify your partners

Service Standards - The British Columbia Experience
Increasingly, federal services are being delivered in partnership with other federal departments, other levels of government and the private sector. These types of arrangements have two primary objectives: to increase the efficiency of service delivery and to provide more rationalized service delivery from the point of view of the client. Thus, knowing your partners in service delivery includes knowing what other related services are being delivered to your clients, so that you can seek out rationalization and efficiencies.

Where joint delivery exists or is under consideration, you will want to arrive at mutually agreed service standards that can serve as performance contracts with other delivery organizations.

d. Know what is being done now

As well as developing service standards to meet fiscal realities and clients' expectations, you must assess these standards in light of your current ability to meet them and your past performance. To determine your current level of service delivery, you will need an appropriate performance measurement and monitoring system. Monitoring performance, which includes assessing client satisfaction, is essential if you want to establish and work to service standards.

Suggestions for monitoring service delivery can be found in Line Managers and Assessing Service to the Public, published by the Office of the Comptroller General in 1991.

Many organizations are rethinking the way they do business. Re-engineering your services can often produce significant resource savings and result in improved services for your clients. In such cases, service standards should not simply mirror current performance but should be sufficiently challenging to encourage the achievement of the benefits of re-engineering. Consulting with staff and clients to establish service standards is a useful step in the re-engineering process, because these people often have valuable suggestions for improving service.

e. Know what is affordable

Before consulting with your clients to find out what aspects of service delivery are most important to them, what needs to be improved and what is working well, it is useful to know both the costs of existing service levels and the major cost drivers. This knowledge will enable you to provide a reasoned response in client consultations on possible changes to service delivery.

In addition, you must plan service delivery in light of current and future budgets. Service standards may have to be adjusted to meet future budget levels. Understanding current costs and the potential for re-engineering will help you to know what is affordable.

Costing of service delivery is usually not a simple task. Section 4 of Part 3 discusses costing in further detail.

2. Consult with clients and staff

a. Consult with clients to find out what is important, how satisfied they are with current service delivery, what's working well and what needs to be fixed

By consulting with Canadians about the services they receive, making them aware of the costs of delivering services and inviting them to select from different delivery approaches, you will find it easier to match your clients' expectations with what your organization can afford. Clients should be partners in the delivery of services. In his 1993 John Manion lecture, Marcel Massé said:

...the consumers of government services will have to act less as recipients and more as partners. They will have to be partners in the substantial decision-making about the kind and quality of services being offered. They will have to be partners in devising the necessary changes in delivery mechanisms, and they will have to be partners in the graduation process from a number of government services.

Canadians are both the clients for government services and the source of funds, through taxes and user fees, for the services. All government programs and services have, as a part of their raison d'être, a public policy objective. Thus, all citizens relate to government services as direct clients, as indirect clients or beneficiaries, and as taxpayers. Government services represent a partnership between the government, the citizen as client and the citizen as taxpayer.

Consultation with clients is important for two reasons. If you form your own ideas of what clients want, you run the risk of being out of touch with what your clients actually consider to be the most important aspects of service delivery. As well, client satisfaction depends not only on the quality of the service, but on clients' initial expectations. You need to know these expectations so you can try to change unrealistic ones -- a tough challenge in situations where clients don't pay for the service directly. In addition, such consultations will indicate where you can improve service to provide the greatest pay-off in terms of increased client satisfaction.

You can assess client satisfaction and expectations by providing suggestion boxes, monitoring the volume and nature of complaints, and conducting surveys, focus groups, client panels and site visits, among other methods.

Your Guide to Measuring Client Satisfaction, intended for line managers, was developed by the Office of the Comptroller General in 1992 to help departments design a client satisfaction monitoring strategy.

b. Consult with your front-line staff to find out how they think service can be improved within existing resource levels

Front-line staff are directly linked to program clients through the program delivery process and can often generate innovative ideas for improving service at no extra cost. Through open and honest consultations, such suggestions can be aired and examined. In addition, to gain their commitment to any new processes and new service standards, it is essential to involve front-line staff in their development. Front-line staff see their job as providing quality service to their clients. Service standards must enable them to do so.

3. Set client-sensitive service standards

Research has shown that clients regard the following factors as critical to good service:

  • responsiveness;
  • competence;
  • easy access;
  • courtesy;
  • good communication;
  • credibility;
  • reliability and accuracy;
  • security;
  • appearance of staff; and
  • attractive physical facilities.

Keep these characteristics in mind when you develop service standards. In addition, you should consider feedback from staff and clients, and your staff's capabilities.

Service delivery targets (dealing with responsiveness, reliability, accuracy, etc.) and complaint mechanisms should be openly displayed or available to clients. Some organizations may undertake pilot projects to get a better idea of how their standards work in practice. Others may implement standards, monitor them and then adjust them as necessary. Service standards are meant to be monitored, changed and improved over time. They are not cast in concrete once they are set.

Service standards may not be uniform everywhere for a given service. Regional, local or case-by-case decisions on level of service (e.g., based on cost-benefit analysis) may be preferable to across-the-board national standards in certain cases where local circumstances vary.

More information on developing each of the five elements of service standards (description, pledge, delivery targets, costs and complaint mechanisms) is provided in Part 3.

4. Empower and train service providers

a. Train staff in techniques and skills for improving quality and client service

Program clients will not notice an improvement in service delivery unless front-line staff are appropriately trained in techniques for dealing with clients. According to many surveys, government clients perceive that the provision of good service is not important to Public Service employees. While many Public Service employees have extensive experience in dealing with clients, the Canadian Centre for Management Development and many departments also offer service training.

b. Empower the emplyees who serve clients

Front-line staff should have the authority and accountability to make the decisions that matter to clients. They should be properly trained and equipped to make those decisions, and should have access to the tools they need to deliver quality service. Staff cannot be responsive to clients if they are overly restricted by rules and regulations, if the information they need to deliver good service is not readily available, or if they are not encouraged to be innovative and to take measured risks.

5. Communicate service standards and report to clients on performance

Service standards are intended to let your clients know what to expect when they deal with you. They can help to moderate clients' unrealistic expectations for service. Reporting to your clients on your performance against standards is critical if you are to make service standards credible. However, you can only do so if service standards are readily available to your clients either before or when the interaction takes place, and if they are clear and easy to understand. The following principles will help you decide the best way to publicize your standards and report your performance against those standards.

a. Make communication clear and effective

Communicating standards and reporting on performance
To be effective, communication must capture the audience's attention and be easy to understand. Use "plain language." See, for example, Multiculturalism and Citizenship Canada's publication Plain Language Clear and Simple (Supply and Services, Ottawa, 1991). Write your standards using words and language that are familiar to your clients. Pilot test them to determine how well clients understand and receive them.

b. Build upon current communication methods

Look at the way you are communicating with your clients now and use those methods to start communicating your service standards and performance against them. If you are already letting your clients know about the types of services you offer, you can add value to that information by also communicating your standards for those services. Building on existing methods also reduces the costs of a service standards communication strategy.

Identify all current communication methods you use. These may include posters, pamphlets, brochures, newspapers, association circulars, videos, audio tapes, telephones, meetings, letters, mail outs, press releases, ministerial speeches, internal newsletters, training sessions, orientation packages, e-mail, bulletin boards and suggestion boxes.

Then determine if any of these are cost-effective ways to communicate your standards and your performance against standards. Always look for innovative and cost-effective ways to communicate with your clients, taking into account their characteristics and needs.

c. Determine how you are going to communicate the various elements of service standards to your clients

Service standards have five elements. Different communication methods may be appropriate for different elements of the service standards. For example, you may use a pamphlet to describe the services available and a poster to publicize delivery targets and complaint mechanisms. Remember, however, that your clients must have ready access to all the elements and that you have to report on your performance against the standards.

d. Make service delivery targets and complaint mechanisms clearly visible

Linking service descriptions with the other aspects of service standards is sensible. However, make sure that your clients can focus on the standards, such as delivery times and complaint mechanisms. Avoid distracting your clients with long descriptions of the services themselves.

e. Prepare a long-term communication strategy

Communication about service standards and performance against those standards is a long-term process. You may decide, for example, to announce standards through a news release or in one of your minister's speeches. However, you must make information on your standards and performance readily available to your clients on an ongoing basis.

The communication strategy should include a long-term action plan for keeping clients informed. You might use formal publications, such as the Citizen's Charter in Great Britain, to communicate service standards. Alternatively, you might make service standards and your performance against them part of regular communication with clients. Departments may use different means at varying times to communicate different elements of service standards.

6. Manage to service standards and for service quality

If you are actively involved in quality management and using service standards to manage your organization, , you will be

  • measuring your performance against your standards;
  • striving for continuous improvement; and
  • developing a quality service improvement plan.

Further details on managing to service standards, including a set of TBS expectations for managers, is included in Part 4.

Implementing Service Standards

Service standards should be implemented in a deliberate, planned manner, building on experience. Initial standards for major services should be published as soon as possible and then improved on over time.

Establishing service standards and making them integral to management will take time. You need to develop a careful, well-thought-out strategy that recognizes

  • the different types of services and clients you have;
  • your knowledge of your current delivery performance and your ability to monitor performance against standards; and
  • the visibility of the services you provide to Canadians.

However, rather than wait until complete and "perfect" standards are developed, you should develop standards progressively. Publish standards in service areas most visible to Canadians first. Initial standards may be incomplete or embryonic in some aspects. As you gain experience, you can improve these standards and extend the range of services they cover.

Several of the elements of service standards are straightforward. Service descriptions generally already exist in some form. Service pledges can draw on the Declaration of Quality Service. Complaint and redress mechanisms exist for many services, particularly in the regulatory area. In other areas, it may be necessary to revisit existing complaint systems from the client's perspective and make them more visible to clients. In some cases, simple complaint procedures can be established. In all instances, you should have a coherent and consistent strategy for dealing with complaints from clients.

In most cases, difficulties in establishing standards arise in the areas of delivery targets and complete costing information. Where service delivery targets have been or can be developed, they should be part of the initial service standard publication. In instances where departmental information systems may not be capable of providing the required information and more time and experience is needed, you can use qualitative delivery targets as part of the service pledge. ("We will provide a prompt, reliable response to requests and try to minimize your waiting time.") Hours of operation and service location are certainly already available and should be published.

Appropriate costing of specific services may not be immediately feasible in some cases. You should try to provide clients with cost information that makes sense to them in a practical and feasible manner. Departments -- and areas within departments -- have different levels of cost information, expertise and experience available. You can approach the costing of service delivery in an incremental fashion, using the principles discussed in Part 3. In some cases, this may mean publishing the costs of the particular service transaction (what it costs, for example, to deliver a cheque), while in others, clients may prefer a more aggregate cost that reflects the cost of a collection of services (the cost, for example, of operating a museum). Alternatively, you may use expenditure rather than cost information. Common sense is required. In some situations, informing clients of cost information may not be meaningful or sensible (such as when arresting someone). In others -- for example, when the costs of services are fully recovered -- cost information is redundant.

You should give priority to the more visible interactions with Canadians and to those with a high volume, such as transfers to individuals, income tax, customs, unemployment and training. In the difficult areas of health and safety, you should proceed prudently and in conjunction with the regulatory reviews being carried out.

In most cases, work to establish service standards will not be separate from other related initiatives, but part of a department's integrated strategy for improving services and their delivery. If service standards are not made part of actual service delivery, then efforts made to prepare them will likely be wasted.


As noted in the Introduction, service standards typically have five separate components:

1. descriptions of the service you intend to provide and, where applicable, the benefits clients are entitled to receive;

2. service pledges or principles describing the quality of service delivery clients can expect to receive, focusing on such elements as openness, fairness, courtesy, professionalism, choice of official language where applicable, etc.;

3. specific delivery targets for key aspects of service, such as timeliness, access and accuracy;

4. the costs of delivering the services; and

5. complaint and redress mechanisms that clients can use when they feel standards have not been met.

This section provides additional information on each of the main components of service standards, as well as some guidelines for drafting standards in light of the potential for Crown liability. Examples of actual departmental service standards can be found in Quality and Affordable Service for Canadians: Establishing Service Standards in the Federal Government (Treasury Board Secretariat, 1995).

1. Descriptions of the service

Part 2 examined the definition of service within the government context. Additional information is provided in Annex A. In describing the services and outputs or benefits that clients can expect to receive, you should use clear, simple and familiar language. Standards should be written in a positive tone that speaks directly to users. Information should be well organized so that users can find important information quickly. Finally, all written text should be understood the first time it is read and should be available in both official languages.

2. Service pledges

In consultation with departments, the Treasury Board Secretariat has developed a draft Declaration of Quality Service outlining general service delivery principles that all departments and Public Service employees are expected to follow in their dealings with the public. The current draft Declaration is included in Annex B.

The Declaration includes the following principles for quality service delivery :

  • accessibility, dependability and timeliness;
  • clarity and openness;
  • fairness and respect;
  • good value for the tax dollar;
  • responsiveness and commitment to improvement.

You may wish to refer to the Declaration when establishing your own service pledge (e.g., "This department will follow the principles for quality service delivery outlined in the Declaration"), or you may use it as a starting point in drafting pledges that may be more directly applicable to your particular clientele and circumstances.

The Declaration provides guidelines for developing specific service pledges and the framework for delivering quality service.

3. Specific delivery targets

Delivery targets represent the quantifiable aspects of service, such as timeliness, accessibility or responsiveness. Clients do not always agree with program deliverers about what constitutes quality service, even where quantifiable measures are available. Research shows that, in some cases, clients prefer accuracy in the processing of their requests over speed. In other cases, they want to deal with the department just once instead of participating in several speedy transactions. Without client consultation, you cannot uncover these different preferences. Making program adjustments in the wrong areas not only fails to increase client satisfaction, but also wastes resources and disillusions staff.

The following material is intended to provide guidance and should not be taken as definitive. Rather, it outlines current thinking. It provides a test pad for those of you who are currently drafting service delivery targets.

Timeliness: This refers to the time required to complete the service transaction. It is an apparently simple concept, but one that is filled with subtleties, as discussed later.

Accessibility: This refers to the availability of a service to a client. It includes the number of contacts, locations, or people involved in completing the service transaction; hours of operation; clear language (both spoken and written); convenience, ease of access and design of service location; and the number of service delivery methods available (such as telephone, mail, in-person visits or electronic methods).

Reliability: This refers to the quality of information provided during the service transactions. How do clients perceive the knowledge and competence of the staff? Do they get correct answers? Is information consistent from one employee to another? Do staff protect clients' confidentiality?

Responsiveness: This refers to the way you handle the service transaction. It includes your ability to communicate clearly and easily; your courtesy and helpfulness; your understanding of clients' needs; the pride you take in your work; and your ability to handle diversity.

Service standards grow from these four fundamental service qualities, but you must be more specific when establishing delivery targets. These targets may include the following goals:

  • physical accessibility (i.e., ease of getting there);
  • availability (i.e., hours of operation);
  • waiting time;
  • waiting environment;
  • waiting response time (i.e., once served);
  • accuracy;
  • satisfaction (i.e., giving clients what they expect).

Many federal departments have set these types of standards. The Passport Office's standard is to have a client's passport ready for pick-up in five working days or mailed to him or her in 10 working days after receipt of the application. Western Economic Diversification is committed to making a final funding decision on projects valued at less than $500,000 no later than 30 calendar days after all required information has been provided. The topographic information section of Natural Resources Canada will respond to enquiries within 48 hours if the response is needed by phone or fax, and within five days if a letter is required.

Several principles guide the writing of delivery targets:

  • delivery targets must relate to those aspects of the service transaction that are important to the client;
  • delivery targets must be clear to the client. A delivery target that states, for example, that a service will be delivered " five days..." is not clear. A client may well ask: "Will I receive service in five calendar or five working days?" or "Will it be five days from the date I mailed it or five days from the date you received it?";
  • delivery targets must be meaningful to the client. How meaningful is it to tell the client that "We serve 85 per cent of our clients in 20 minutes or less."? If you were subject to this claim, wouldn't you wonder: "If I don't get served in 20 minutes or less, am I part of the 15 per cent that would not normally be served or am I part of the 85 per cent that should have been served?";
  • delivery targets must be measurable. How else will you know if you are achieving them? Therefore, use exact delivery targets whenever possible. For example, it is easier to measure your success in meeting a goal that states "We will serve you in 20 minutes or less" than a goal that proclaims "We will serve you promptly." Besides, exact targets let you manage client expectations; vague targets let client expectations manage you;
  • short, simple delivery targets will be more effective than long, convoluted ones. "We will process your claim in five working days" yields a more powerful standard than "We will process your claim in three days, unless one of those days falls on a weekend, in which case we will normally process your claim in five days"; and
  • delivery targets should be closed rather than open. A closed delivery target, for example, declares, "We will serve you in 20 minutes or less." By way of contrast, an open delivery target would say, "We serve 85 per cent of our clients in 20 minutes or less." The type of information needed to set closed delivery targets comes from an analysis of service times. In attempting to close a delivery target, however, it is not always desirable to choose a target that is so low that it can always be met. Service standards should be attainable, but also challenging. If you are concerned about the target levels set out in standards, you can close a delivery target by using a two-stage or sequenced standard, such as "We will attempt to reply to all correspondence within 15 days. Where we cannot meet the 15-day standard, we will send an acknowledgement within five days. The acknowledgment will include an explanation of why the standard cannot be met and a commitment to a new day for reply." Alternatively, clients could be divided into classes with separate delivery targets for each, as in the following example: "If visiting our office during the hours of noon to 2:00 p.m., you can expect to wait 40 minutes for service. At other times of the day, we will see you in 20 minutes."

Before starting to write delivery targets, you should define precise terms for service commitments. The definition of time, noted previously, is one such example. Most jurisdictions take care to distinguish between "days" and "working days." Where not stated, the norm is taken to be calendar days. Some jurisdictions achieve precision by stating an exact date for the service, as in: "We will reply by January 5, 1994."

Precision also plays a role in choosing the right action verb. For example, "to pay" differs from "to decide." Similarly, "to acknowledge" differs from "to answer" or "to see." There is also considerable difference between "to initiate" and "to complete." In each of these cases, a different service is offered and a different delivery target is implied.

When wording a delivery target, you must carefully consider whether to frame the standard using the passive or active voice. While there is no right or wrong answer, the active voice (e.g., "This office will serve you in 20 minutes or less") sounds more like a commitment than the passive voice (e.g., "You will be served by this office in 20 minutes or less"). The commitment seems even more powerful when phrased in the personal voice (e.g., "We will serve you in 20 minutes or less") as compared to the impersonal voice ("Service will be provided in 20 minutes or less").

Finally, think about the degree of commitment contained in the delivery target. For example, the order of commitment increases from ''We aim to serve you in 20 minutes or less" to "We will serve you in 20 minutes or less" to "We guarantee to serve you in 20 minutes or less."

4. The costs of delivering the service

The cost of delivering the service
Without relevant cost information, service users' expectations may be unrealistic and their preferences for service delivery inconsistent with what you can produce. As taxpayers concerned about costs, they cannot modify their use of the service if they are unaware of service costs.

Routinely disclosing this information will make clients aware of the costs of government services and encourage departments to consult with their clients on less costly service delivery alternatives. Development of cost data will also enable departments to inform ministers of the effects of resource reductions and tell taxpayers what they are getting for their tax dollars.

By informing clients of service costs, you are trying to demonstrate government openness and transparency; modify clients' expectations so that they are more willing to understand changes in service delivery and, in some cases, modify their use of services; improve clients' (and taxpayers') understanding of user charges; and increase accountability of public managers through visibility and comparability of service costs.

The objective for costing services in relation to service standards is to inform Canadians of the costs of the services they pay for as taxpayers and receive as service users. The logistics and cost of producing such information are also important considerations. The principles below will help you balance the need to inform the public with the feasibility of determining and communicating service costs. A Guide to Costing Service Delivery for Service Standards has been prepared.

a. All elements of service cost should be included

All elements of cost should be accounted for at the departmental level. You should follow the full costing approach and methodology outlined in the Guide to the Costing of Outputs in the Government of Canada, originally published by the Office of the Comptroller General and now available from the Treasury Board Secretariat. This method is also the basis of the Treasury Board policy on external user fees.

The full cost of delivering a service is the sum of all costs, direct and indirect, incurred by the government, including services provided without charge by other departments (e.g., accommodation, employer contributions to insurance plans); costs financed by separate authorities (e.g., some employee benefits); depreciation of capital assets; and financing costs.

A key to accurate depiction of cost is to distinguish between cost and expenditures. Cost is the economic value of all resources used to provide goods and services. It is determined using the accrual method of accounting. Accrual accounting stresses matching or offsetting revenue with expenses. It recognizes the consumption of resources in the period in which the related benefits are obtained. Hence, in addition to annual cash outlays, cost includes non-cash outlays such as depreciation of capital assets. Expenditures are cash outlays incurred in a particular period.

Due to lack of data, full costing may not be immediately feasible in some departments. In such situations, you can often display expenditure information until such time as cost data are available. When you display expenditure information, it should include direct expenditures and all indirect items such as overhead and expenditures incurred by other government departments.

When you are using expenditure information rather than cost information to inform clients, you must clearly label it as such, You should also provide a brief statement identifying the excluded elements such as capital assets and financing costs.

b. Service costs should be relevant to the user

Published costs should provide a reasonable idea of the costs to deliver the service. As such, they should clearly state what is being costed and what the cost figures represent. The costs should apply to identified services or groups of services to which clients can relate. The aim is not to achieve auditable costing precision but rather reasonable, timely and informative approximations.

c. A sensible aggregation of services should be costed

Unit costing of each individual service transaction or even a single service line may not always be the most meaningful, appropriate or practical level of costing to use. Examples of aggregation levels include

  • a set of services being delivered through a single service delivery facility;
  • a specific service line or product over time; or
  • an individual service transaction, such as the issuing of a cheque, and custom services unique to each transaction.

To decide on the level of aggregation, consider the time and effort needed to gather data, the cost of gathering data and the usefulness of the aggregation. It should be noted that displaying the average cost calculated over a range of service outputs may produce a very misleading cost figure for the service in question. For example, the average cost per passenger-mile for the whole rail passenger system probably greatly overstates costs for some lines and understates costs for other lines.

d. Service cost information should be displayed along with the service outputs

Generally, you should state the outputs or benefits of the service along with service costs, to indicate what clients are obtaining for the costs incurred. If you are costing a service transaction, the output is probably clear to the client and nothing more is needed. Where you are costing a collection of services or service over time, you should provide a short description of the various outputs.

To provide cost information to program clients at the point of service, you can use many vehicles, including

  • posters, pamphlets, videos, speeches, etc. that describe the services being provided;
  • service standards posted in offices, at entrances to parks and museums, in airports and at other points of service;
  • notices on the form, cheque, licence or ticket used in the service transaction; and
  • statements included in information provided in response to a request.

e. The service costs displayed must be clear and able to withstand comparison

You should expect -- and, indeed, encourage -- your clients and staff to compare service costs. Comparisons may be made over time, between different services, across locations, between different levels of jurisdiction or with the private sector. Comparing or "benchmarking" is essential to good management. The publication of costing data should encourage you to question your costs and those of other programs or services and, perhaps, learn by sharing experiences and practices.

Costs based on full costing will be comparable between services. However, at present, different costing systems are used across government departments, and experience and capacity in full costing vary widely. This could lead to the publication of what appear to be different costs for similar services across departments. To avoid that, the Treasury Board Secretariat will help departments ensure that similar services are costed in a similar manner. Through the interdepartmental service standards newtworks, departments with similar services will be asked to comment on the proposed cost information. You can then be ready to explain and minimize differences.

A list of publications that address the costing issue is provided in Annex D.

5. Complaint and redress mechanisms

Complaint and redress mechanisms should be seen as providing essential feedback that the organization needs if it is to focus on clients and quality.

Many government services have formal complaint mechanisms, particularly in the regulatory or purchasing areas where judicial or quasi-judicial bodies exist to deal with regulated entities or bidders who believe they have not been treated fairly. While the service standard initiative is intended to include these types of complaint mechanisms, it is also aimed at improving more informal complaint mechanisms. These informal mechanisms can often deal swiftly and effectively with complaints from those who might feel they lack the specific and detailed knowledge required to effectively complain.

The United Kingdom's Citizen's Charter Complaints Task Force has produced a number of principles for effective complaint mechanisms1. The principles below are based on this work.

Organizations should define what constitutes a "complaint" and ensure that all staff clearly understand this definition. Whatever definition they use, organizations should deal with any expression of dissatisfaction positively and constructively.

Complaint systems should

  • be easily accessible and well-publicized. Anyone with a complaint about a public service needs to know how to make a complaint, and to whom;
  • be available in both official languages. Services and their complaint mechanisms should be available in the official language of choice at designated offices. This is a legal right;
  • be simple to understand and use. Complaints should be dealt with according to clear procedures that are easy to understand. Procedures should, where possible, be consistent across different parts of the organization, and should apply to the entire organization. If a complaint cannot be dealt with on the spot, clients should be given a single contact point for their complaint. All staff who deal with complaints regularly should be appropriately trained to handle complaints and should be aware of their individual responsibilities;
  • allow speedy handling, with established time limits for action, and keep people informed of progress. Complaints should be dealt with as quickly as possible. This can frequently be done at the point of delivery, without formal complaint procedures. If this is not possible, clients should be told when they can expect a response, kept informed of progress and given an explanation if deadlines are not met;
  • ensure a full and fair investigation. All complaints should be thoroughly and objectively investigated. Procedures should include, where appropriate, independent review within the organization (i.e., review by someone within the organization but separate from the direct line management of the person or section that is the subject of the complaint). Clients should be told of the various stages of the complaint system and should be satisfied that they have been dealt with fully and fairly, even if their complaint is not upheld;
  • respect people's desire for confidentiality. In the interests of clients and staff alike, financial or personal details should, as far as possible, be dealt with in confidence during an investigation. Complaint systems should aim to ensure that clients who complain are not subject to discrimination or retribution;
  • address all the points at issue, and provide an effective response and appropriate redress. Complaints should be directly addressed and, where possible, the cause of complaints remedied. Redress should be readily available and appropriate to the nature of the complaint; and
  • provide information to management so that services can be improved. Information about complaints can be used to increase public satisfaction with the service. Trends in complaints should be analyzed and appropriate action taken.

Further information on complaint and redress mechanisms can be found in A Guide to Effective Complaint Systems (consultation draft prepared by the Treasury Board Secretariat, 1994).

6. Service standards in light of potential Crown liability

It is critical to examine the potential for Crown liability where service standards have been established for regulatory, licensing and enforcement programs as well as for such hands-on services as transportation. In such areas, public authorities that are required by law to perform certain functions like inspections are under a legal "duty of care." Thus, you must ensure that your service delivery targets take into consideration the level at which you are planning to meet your duty of care (referred to as standards of care), so that service standards are reasonable and attainable.

On the other hand, service delivery targets that describe in a precise or unqualified way the levels and kinds of service to be delivered could be used by a court to find out whether a department has been negligent. For example, if a department is under a duty of care to maintain a road and the service standard indicates that dangerous trees along the road will be surveyed within 48 hours after every major storm, that standard could be used as evidence in determining whether or not the department has met its duty of care.

Departments should not assume that the absence of service delivery targets, such as those that may be included in service standards or available in internal departmental documentation, will reduce potential Crown liability. In fact, the existence of rational service delivery targets, based on considerations of what constitutes the minimum standard of care needed to meet the legal duty of care and also on resources available to deliver the program, may provide evidence to the courts that such decisions were policy decisions (rather than strictly operational decisions) and, thus, fall outside the realm of potential tort liability.

When preparing service standards, you should consult with your Legal Services staff.

Service standards prepared in the following manner should not increase the potential for Crown liability:

  • service standards should be realistic but challenging -- that is, you should establish reasonable standards that you expect to meet;
  • service standards should be carefully worded so it is clear that they represent the government's intended service levels to be pursued on a best-efforts basis rather than a guarantee of the minimum service to be delivered. However, vague and convoluted standards will not be credible to program clients;
  • appropriate complaint and administrative redress mechanisms should be outlined as part of the service standard, indicating the government's expectation that service standards may not always be met. Resources required to receive and respond to any complaints should be available;
  • where warranted, a "Rights and Responsibilities" section that outlines what program clients are expected to do if they want to receive the indicated levels of service (e.g., provide timely and accurate information, keep commitments, etc.) should be included;
  • where standards are posted in office locations, pamphlets that more fully explain the department's programs, service standards and complaint procedures should be readily available; and
  • performance against standards should be published along with the standards (e.g., printed in pamphlets, posted in offices, etc.), to indicate that the standards represent a best efforts approach to service delivery and may not be met all the time.


This section provides practical guidance on using service standards to help manage your organization once they have been developed. It also includes a series of Treasury Board Secretariat expectations for managers and employees that, typically, represent "best practices."

Develop performance measures

Develop ways to measure your performance against standards, and monitor performance constantly. Setting client-driven standards and measuring how well the organization is doing is a continuous process. It should quickly identify problems with client service. All parts of the organization should be involved in finding solutions to these problems and discussing these solutions with clients.

Identifying and developing appropriate performance indicators is a long-term process, particularly in large departments. Introducing a limited number of simple "field-tested" measures on a gradual basis may be the most viable approach.

Continually improve delivery systems and service standards

Review policies, procedures and forms periodically to ensure "client friendliness" and to find new ways to improve services through initiatives such as

  • using new technology where cost-effective;
  • cutting red tape;
  • using plain language;
  • re-examining and redesigning or streamlining work flow (re-engineering); and
  • simplifying or getting rid of unnecessary rules and forms.

Continuous improvement will allow you to set higher and higher service standards and maximize client satisfaction. By consulting clients, monitoring performance and encouraging innovation, you will be able to deliver better service.

Develop a service quality improvement plan

Develop and implement a service quality improvement plan, embodying the previous steps, that will

  • establish and make visible to the client the level of service that will be provided;
  • clarify the relationship between the quality and level of service, and the cost of providing the service;
  • indicate the degree of flexibility or discretion available in setting standards, and any associated risks;
  • outline alternate standards, and the consequences and costs of these alternate levels;
  • indicate stakeholder views of these alternate standards (derived from consultations);
  • outline the results that should be achieved; and
  • indicate how standards relate to program objectives and departmental objectives.

TBS expectations for managers and employees

The Treasury Board Secretariat has established a series of expectations that represent "best practices" for government managers who are managing to service standards. These expectations have been grouped under three categories: establishing services standards, managing to service standards and reporting on performance.

a. Establishing service standards

The Treasury Board Secretariat expects managers establishing service standards to:

  • assign clear responsibility and accountability for developing departmental service standards under agreed timetables;
  • identify who the clients are for which services and, through an effective public consultation process, learn what users regard as the most important aspects of the service;
  • consult with front-line employees who deal directly with clients to gather suggestions for service delivery improvements and to build commitment to the client-oriented culture;
  • obtain internal agreement on the quality of the service to be delivered within the available budget;
  • ensure that proper costing methods are used to support decisions and service standards, and that the costing methods themselves are cost effective; and
  • ensure that clients are informed of the service standards at the point of service.

b. Managing the organization based on service standards

Service standards are an integral part of good management, and the Treasury Board Secretariat expects managers to

  • behave in consistent and supportive ways that motivate employees to provide good client service. Managers should
  • clarify accountabilities for results and agree on fair performance measures,
  • establish clear autonomy limits and fundamental rules that define freedom of action for front-line staff,
  • ensure that staff are trained in consultation, risk-taking, collaborative behaviour and quality management,
  • take visible, credible steps that demonstrably shift the reward system towards serving clients,
  • communicate good practices to staff, and
  • accept well-intentioned errors by subordinates who take new risks in service innovation as learning opportunities;
  • regularly monitor the service performance of their units and costs using valid and reliable measures, including the costs of not delivering something right the first time;
  • know whether content, value and method of delivery of the services meet clients' needs; and
  • use performance and client satisfaction information to guide operational decisions and continually improve their service standards and actual performance.

c. Reporting on performance

In this area, the Treasury Board Secretariat expects that

  • managers will develop accountability frameworks for each service area that make clear who is accountable to whom and for what;
  • performance measures and reports will be readily understandable and useful for making decisions; and
  • managers will report actual performance against standards to service users and other interested parties.


Canadians interact with the federal government both directly (through specific transactions) and indirectly (by benefiting from a public good provided by the government).

When they deal with the federal government, Canadians have the right to expect that

  • they can find out what kind of interaction or service they should expect to receive;
  • meaningful information relevant to their concerns is readily available;
  • they will be treated fairly, courteously, promptly and in the official language of their choice where appropriate; and
  • they can respond if their dealing with the government is not satisfactory.

The service standards initiative is intended to fulfill these expectations.


1The Citizen's Charter Complaints Task Force (1993). Effective complaints Systems: Principles and a Checklist.