Getting to the heart of customer service

Customer service is sometimes just thought to be the one-on-one personal interaction between a customer and the person providing the service.  The quality of this experience is critical but not sufficient for exceptional customer service.  The efficiency and effectiveness of the system backing that service provider is also vital.

What do I mean?  Someone wanting to raise a community flag at City Hall shouldn’t have to go to three or four exceedingly helpful people to make it happen. They should be able to submit the details of their request to one exceedingly helpful person and that person should be empowered to deliver on that customer’s request. What happens in the back office should not be the concern of the customer.  My Executive Assistant recently described it as the difference between “owning” the process to make something happen and just being a “tenant” in that process.

Council’s Planning, Building, Engineering and Environmental Services Committee reported on the Integrated Operational Review (IOR) today.   The goal of this review is improve the development approvals process for the business community while protecting the rights of people to engage on planning and development matters and ensuring strong city building.

Good customer service. 

This is not the first time there have been efforts to “streamline” the development approvals process.  The development business is not for the faint of heart.  It is a tough industry heavily regulated by all levels of government to ensure the safety of people and the community.

In my opinion, efforts to improve the process in the past have amounted to little more than tweaking the existing system.  That’s not to say they have not had merit.  However, the IOR is different.  It is a commitment to re-engineering an exceptional complex system.  It is a massive undertaking. 

If this work is real then it is going to take time and sustained leadership to succeed.  As Council we can support management through recognition, not public criticism, and a focus on performance measurement. 

While the re-engineering of a complex system is challenging enough, the more tenacious task is unravelling the behaviours that are interwoven with the old way of doing business so a culture can be built to support a new way of doing business.

In the same way that ensuring the quality of the one-on-one personal interaction is not sufficient, neither is stopping at the re-engineering of the system.  Simultaneously, you must build a culture where individuals are empowered to “own” the process on behalf of the customer and not just be a “tenant”.  To support such a culture, there must be clarity around roles and responsibilities and leadership. 

When the environmental engineer, heritage planner, infrastructure engineer, architect, structural engineer, consulting planner, development planner, transportation engineer and others sit down to consider a development application, there must be someone in that room empowered to facilitate practical solutions to  conflicting professional mandates – solutions that are respectful of the developer and the community.  And the City’s executive leadership and Council need to have these leaders’ back.

With the right developer, perhaps it is possible for everyone to take their hats off at the door and roll up their sleeves to build a great city.

About Karen Farbridge

An unwavering change maker seeking a just, democratic and sustainable world.

View all posts by Karen Farbridge

Connect with the City of Guelph

Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

One Comment on “Getting to the heart of customer service”

  1. David Michael Joseph Schaller Says:

    When I contact the tax department, I am talking to a different human.
    I am replying to your latest post.

%d bloggers like this: