Most public services provided by governments are public sector monopolies. A majority of these services do not generate revenues. The private sector will not offer these services. Where they do, they are either part of a brand-building exercise or are financed by corporate social responsibility budgets. The public perceives most of these services as inefficient and poor service quality.
Checks and balances are critical to prevent a complete breakdown of monopoly services. In democratic societies, opposition political parties, public interest groups, and the media as essential watchdogs that help keep the service delivery mechanisms alert and responsive to their responsibilities. Wherever these watchdog institutions are vigilant, service quality operates and continues to deliver services at optimal levels.
The service quality is poor in regions with no social or political challenge to government service delivery bodies. Communist Soviet Union was an example of monopolistic state control over the entire gamut of public service delivery bodies. The continuance of such a state was unacceptable to the people. The state imploded from within, leading to the break up of the Soviet Union. Indeed, what followed also did not provide an optimal service delivery model. That is more a political than a question of business.
The service quality of these services can be improved with the help of institutional reforms, staff training, automation, and eliminating physical interfaces with customers. Most complaints about service quality are related to staff behavior, unavailability, and delays. In countries like India, where the public sector still provides most services, automation of not just front-end but also back-end processes has greatly helped improve service quality.
Outsourcing services to private contractors is another mode that has helped show dramatic improvements in services. Securing a passport in India was painful, time-consuming, and difficult. The government decided to automate not just the customer interface; they also went about automating the back end. Dramatic improvements in service quality took place, and citizen complaints have vanished.
Competition and business excellence are critical pillars of quality service delivery. Monopoly services will need to innovate and develop appropriate models in which the public continues to enjoy quality services.