118 – Improving service operations. Why it doesn’t happen in local government.

Posted by Whistler                                                                                          500 words

 walking the plank

I have read Lancing Farrell and Colin Weatherby’s posts on characteristics of demands, redesigning operations and improving service operations through action plans and service redesign, with some interest. It is all good stuff and not too difficult to understand or do. The question I ask myself is why I don’t see it happening everywhere across the sector. The ‘special and different’ posts partially explain it but I think there is more to it.

To begin with, the motivation to make improvements doesn’t really exist. People say they want to improve the quality of services to their community, and in response to threats like rate capping they say they want to be more efficient. But they don’t really want to do either.

Most councils have the potential to improve productivity by 10-15% (more in some councils). Continue reading

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106 – Some of the seldom asked questions in local government. What are they?

Posted by Whistler                                                                                          390 words

the thinker

I am sure these are not the only great unasked questions. But they are questions that frequently come to mind when you are in one of those interminable meetings talking about the same old topics.

  1. How does this add value? This is a question that often runs through my mind but it never seems appropriate to ask it. It just doesn’t seem relevant. As much as we say that we are serving the community, we choose to do it in our own way. What the community sees as value, and how they want it to be delivered, isn’t something we question enough.
  2. Am I the best person to do this? I like this question and have regularly asked it of my direct reports and encouraged them to ask it. My Group Manager has never asked it. As officer, we seem to like spending time doing things that we know how to do well, or that make us feel good because we have ‘saved the day’, or because it is just easier than the effort required in getting someone else to do it properly. Looking for the work that only you can do, and then doing it, can take you out of your comfort zone.
  3. What can we do to act on the customer survey? Each year, councils in Victoria participate in sector wide customer satisfaction monitoring. The survey results are made public and daily media report on the state wide results. Through this process it is possible to be identified as the worst performing council and this places a high level of pressure on councils. But does it lead to serious questioning of what can be done to act on the survey and really make a difference? Not often. There will be discussion about the results. A lot of time will be spent discussing the shortcomings of the methodology. But really trying to understand the results and act to improve customer or community satisfaction by taking some risks to improve value? I don’t think so.

After writing them, I found that there was a theme to these questions – we need to question what we are doing to make sure that we are adding value by doing what needs to be done to satisfy purpose or meet need or create value. Call it what you like, just do it.

42 – How do you listen to the ‘voice of the customer’ in local government? It can be done.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                                              740 words

This post follows an earlier post Customer, client, citizen, resident or ratepayer. Who are we dealing with? It takes the concept of value further by proposing some tools that can be used to understand what customers expect and whether those expectations have been met.

I will start with Peter R. Scholtes and his views on the ‘customer-in mentality’, which he says is characterised by ‘thoughtfulness, responsiveness, empathy and altruism’. Customer-in thinking increases the likelihood that customers will get what they need – and need what they get. Listening to the customer is the beginning. Scholtes says we can start to do this by paying attention to what customers say when they contact us to make complaints, ask questions, or request services. Councils typically count the number of resident contacts. Some differentiate between service requests and complaints. Few actively evaluate what customers are asking about or saying to obtain qualitative data to guide service improvement.

Alternatively, or in addition, we can initiate contact with the customer to solicit information through surveys, interview or focus groups. Continue reading