201 – A response to Essay No. 4 – Local government and customer service.

Posted by Whistler                                                                                          250 words

direct action

Lancing Farrell has written an engaging essay that reveals many home-truths in customer service in local government. It is a bit on the long side but worth the effort to read. I have a few comments to make about what I think you can do to act on the ideas.

To begin, make a list of the services offered and who can receive them. Some councils call this a service catalogue. It doesn’t matter what you call it, make it. Once you have this list your strategy is becoming explicit. The choices made in developing the list reflect the strategy of the organisation in delivering services. For many councils, this will formalise custom and practice.

Next, re-design the systems for customer service so that there are fewer escalations and fewer requests channelled through councillors. It is expensive to handle normal service requests through a ‘councillor request’ system that has been designed to provide high level information to support councillors in decision making.  Improve website information, online payment, and online service requests.  Manage expectations and make services as convenient as possible.

Then, train and support Customer Service Officers in understanding the different capacities in which people present and to separate (and manage) private and public value expectations. This is easier than it sounds. Telephony companies do something similar when they train customer service staff to identify different customer types and to then treat them differently according to their characteristics. They even have special names for each type of customer.

Lastly, re-design services to ensure customers get what they need and that the value is visible.

194 – Essay No. 4 – Local government and customer service.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                              4500 words

basil fawlty

Customer service is, and should be, a major concern for local government. After all, councils are service organisations. Sometimes there is confusion about exactly what customer service means, how it relates to public service delivery, and what aspects of service are most important to get right in local government.

This essay focuses on three hypotheses:

  1. That ‘customers’ in local government are different to the customers described in most customer service literature and encountered by most service organisations.
  2. There are six main opportunities for local government to improve service to customers.
  3. There are simple tools available that can assist councils in getting service delivery and customer service right.

Continue reading

168 – A series: Managers as designers in local government. Part 1.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                              800 words

empathy hand holding

This is the first in a series of four posts on managers as designers in local government. It might seem like an esoteric topic and hardly relevant, however, every day managers make design decisions, often in ignorance. There is now a body of work on how managers can use design-thinking to improve the customer experience and organisational decision making. I challenge you to say it is irrelevant to your council.

Some years ago I read a book called ‘Managers as Designers in the Public Services’ by David Wastell (Professor of Information Systems at Nottingham University Business School). It made a lasting impression on me. Continue reading

166 – Long read: Understanding the customer experience in local government.

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                                         260 words

service guarantee

There have been a number of posts on services and customer service, with the most recent by Lancing Farrell . Each post has explored a different aspect of service or customer service. This post looks at customer experience using two excellent articles from the Harvard Business Review as a guide; the first is ‘Understanding Customer Experience’ by Christopher Meyer and Andre Schwager, and the second is ‘Lean consumption’ by James Womack and Daniel Jones.

In their article, Meyer and Schwager describe the customer experience as encompassing

“… every aspect of a company’s offering the quality of customer care, of course, but also advertising, packaging, product and service features, ease of use, and reliability.’

They make the point that in many organisations few of the people responsible for each of these activities have thought about how their separate decisions contribute to the overall customer experience. Worse still, if they do think about it, they all have different ideas and there is no one senior who oversees everyone’s efforts to bring agreement on what needs to be done.   This is local government’s problem with service delivery in a nutshell.

Womack and Jones define ‘lean consumption’ as ‘minimising customers’ time and effort and delivering exactly what they want when and where they want it’. They see it as transforming consumption in the same way that lean production transformed manufacturing. It involves customers and service providers collaborating to ‘reduce total cost and wasted time and create new value’.

How are these two ideas relevant to the local government customer experience? Read on …

158 – Customer perception. Why is it important in local government services?

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                              670 words

customer service gaps

Image adapted from Slack, Chambers, Harland, Harrison, and Johnston 1998, Operations Management, 2nd Edition.

There have been a number of posts on aspects of customer service – who are our customers, customer-introduced variability, how do you listen to the ‘voice of the customer, internal customers , what Gordon Ramsay might think about council customer service, and captive customers. If there has been a thread through these posts, it has been the need to look at services from the customers’ viewpoint and to understand constitutes value for them.

The posts on value have discussed how to understand both private and public value – why do we provide the services that we do, the private-public value continuum, applying the public value scorecar , public value gap analysis, local government and commodity services, value-led management, and a series on a new theory of value creation in local government. The idea that people seek private value and councils set out to create public value is at the heart of a lot of customer service problems.

One aspect of customer service that hasn’t been discussed is the role of perception. Continue reading

157 – Captive customers. Why are they so special?

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                         850 words

captive

The idea that our customers (i.e. the ratepayers, residents, businesses and citizens in the community) are captive to our services is not new, however the implications are seldom discussed in local government. What does it really mean for service providers when their customers are forced to pay for services they may not use, or for service levels that may not meet their specific needs?

The idea that we will have choice in matters affecting our lives has become sacrosanct in western society, especially if we are paying. Customer service standards today are unrecognisable from those of the last century. Nobody expects to wait. If what they want isn’t available, they expect the service provider to get it – and quickly. If service falls below the normal standard they expect compensation. Social media is giving voice to unhappy customers and putting pressure of organisations.

In this environment, getting customers to pay for services in quarterly instalments and then receive standard services designed to suit ‘everyone’, leads to obvious conflicts. Continue reading

105 – Some characteristics of services demands that are important.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                              1100 words

operations typology 2

Image from Operations Management, 1998.

Some time ago I posted on high performance job design using four characteristics or spans; control, accountability, influence and support. At the time I linked the concept to the operations typology describing four characteristics of design of operations for high performance. This post picks up that discussion to look at the characteristics of demands that it is essential to understand if you want to design and manage your operations for high performance or excellence in local government.

A number of recent books on public sector management have discussed demands and how it is essential to understand them in public services because payment is not made at the time of service consumption and, therefore, price does not directly influence the amount and nature of demands placed on the system.

In his Vanguard Method John Seddon describes the importance of fulfilling purpose if failure demand is to be avoided. He also talks about understanding flow in relation to how work enters a system. Both of these ideas relate to demands. If purpose (i.e. the value sought by someone or their demand on the system) is not correctly understood the work system will not meet their need. They will come back.

Mark H. Moore includes operational capacity in his ‘strategic triangle’ concept linking decisions from the authorising environment to the public value provided. An organisation must have the operating capacity (or capability as Moore describes it in his earlier book Creating Public Value) to deliver on the political commitment to create particular public value. Continue reading