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.

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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

58 – Performance appraisal in local government 4/4. What else could we do?

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                              650 words

optimus prime transformer

This is the last post in this series. It is also where things start to get interesting. There are alternatives to performance appraisal the way we have always done it. The difficulty is that most are quite different to the current approach and pursuing them will involve the risks that always accompany change. Are we up for it?

We could just stop using performance appraisals. As Peter R. Scholtes writes in The Leaders Handbook, this would require us to start thinking differently. In essence, this would involve adopting a ‘systems thinking’ approach to managing the organisation. This is likely to require systems to support employee development and promotion, providing feedback for improvement, determining training needs, and performance managing the poor performers.

Scholtes proposes what he calls ‘debundling’ of performance appraisal to focus on each benefit that the performance appraisal system supposedly provides. Continue reading

56 – Local government performance appraisal 3/4. What can you do in response to the issues?

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                                              530 words

apple and orange

Choices are necessary regarding the role of performance appraisal and how it will be done. I don’t think anyone thinks that performance should not be measured. It is a matter of how you do it.

Peter R. Scholtes points out the fundamental choice facing every organisation very clearly in The Leaders Handbook. What is most important to your organisation – controlling the behaviour of people to the satisfaction of management, or understanding, controlling and improving processes to benefit customers? Continue reading

52 – Local government performance appraisal 1/4. What are the issues? (or 5 reasons it doesn’t work)

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                             700 words

performance - rowing

This is the first in a series of four posts on performance appraisal. The central idea is that current performance appraisal systems are not effective.

To begin with, the annual performance appraisal process (sometimes called the performance development plan (PDP) or staff development scheme (SDS)) is often not carried out in local government. When it is, people have usually been compelled to do so or they are simply ‘ticking the boxes’ and being compliant. I have often thought that this is important evidence that the process is not helpful. People ‘vote with their feet’ – if they thought that performance appraisal was useful and that it added value, they would be doing it.

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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

34 – Middle managers in local government: the ‘scrapers of burnt toast’?

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                        620 words

burnt toast

This is the phrase used by Peter R. Scholtes in The Leaders Handbook to describe the work of many middle managers as ‘expediters or troubleshooters’ in organisations that have yet to eliminate waste and create ‘efficient, smooth, uncluttered flows of work’.   He says that in a ‘flat’ organisation the layers of middle management have been removed as part of the focus on eliminating waste. In an efficient system, they are unnecessary and non-value adding roles. I am sure he doesn’t think that middle managers aren’t required.  You just need less.  It is an interesting idea.

Scholtes says that removing layers as part of improving organisational performance reduces opportunities for promotion. As a result, people leave to find less efficient organisations where their skills in ‘expediting and troubleshooting’ are required to deal with inefficiencies and waste to make the system work. I started thinking about my role and the role of colleagues in middle management, and what we spend each day doing. What do we talk about when we meet in the corridors? Are we mostly adding value or just spending our time making dysfunctional systems work? Continue reading