It's time we do away with 'good enough for the likes of you' when it comes to customer service, and demand that when we call the City, we get the right answer, the first time.
By Jason Allen
Published October 07, 2014
In my platform about changing the culture at City Hall and creating a customer service environment, I tell the story of a neighbour who wanted to build a wheelchair ramp for his mother-in-law who was going to be moving in with him.
He called the City, where he was bounced to several different departments. Finally he was told the City had no guidelines for such a thing, and he was free to build it however he liked.
So he looked up some guidelines on ADA.gov, the website for the American Disabilities Act and headed to the lumber store. Then he got out his chop saw and started work.
When he was halfway through, an inspector showed up and said his ramp wasn't to code, and that he'd have to redo it.
Hamilton in recent history has had a pattern of settling for less than the best. Whether the stadium debacle, or our persistent attempt to short sell ourselves on a rapid transit investment, Craig Burley's famous tweet about things being "good enough for the likes of you" seems to ring true.
Nowhere is that more true than in the service we expect when we deal with City Hall.
There is a solution. Hamilton is the largest city in the GTHA, and indeed in all of Canada, without a dedicated 311 service.
A 311 service is a one-stop call centre at City Hall for all of your questions and concerns. Have a complaint about your neighbour's weeds? Call 311. Have a question about putting an extension on your porch? Call 311. Need to inquire about a permit for a coffee shop? Call 311.
Staff would be trained in customer service, and equipped with the knowledge to give you the answer you need, preferably on your first call.
Right now when you call City Hall, chances are you will get a friendly, helpful person in the contact centre who can answer basic questions around issues like garbage pick up.
But to get any other problem solved, you will be transferred somewhere. This is often when the problems start. If you've been transferred to the wrong dept, or to a voice mail with no reassurance of when you will hear back.
A 311 service is quite different. When you call, you reach someone who has the ability to answer a much greater range of questions, and has an escalation path to follow to get the more complex ones dealt with.
More importantly, the person who answers your call, and to whom you describe your situation, will then own that problem - as we say in the customer service world - until it is resolved.
This one-call solution may be the answer to an awful lot of frustration with city hall. Of all the issues I'm campaigning on, this is the one that crosses all age, gender, and socio-economic boundaries.
Virtually everyone has had a frustrating experience trying to get an answer from the city - through no fault of the front line employees - but because of the structure of the city, and the way concerns are handled. A 311 would fix all of that.
It's time we do away with "good enough for the likes of you" when it comes to customer service, and demand that when we call the City, we get the right answer, the first time.
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