Local Government Magazine
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PUTTING CUSTOMERS FIRST: MUCH MORE THAN A MAKEOVER

Hamilton City Council is transforming its customer services experience to meet the changing needs of its community.


For visitors to Hamilton City Council, the customer services centre on the ground floor of the main civic building is welcoming and looks very different to other council service centres. The new look, with its neutral colours, open space and an enforced clear-site rule − there is no clutter, just clear, consistent branding and staff in new, bright coloured uniforms − is more reminiscent of retail banking.
Other additions to the space include an online services hub, meeting spaces, councillor contact information boards, and service centre staff who are multiskilled to carry out all transactions in a one-stop shop.
It’s a far cry from the small, unwelcoming and inefficient space which existed before the area had a major makeover earlier this year.
“The new space looks fantastic and we are delighted with the look and feel, but the physical appearance of the front-of-house area is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the changes that the council has made to the way it delivers customer services,” says general manager, customer relationships, Jason Dawson. “We’ve started on a journey of making significant changes as we strive to improve the way our customers communicate, transact and engage with us.”
It was important the council adapted its services to meet the changing face of its community. Hamilton is New Zealand’s second fastest growing city with around 150,000 residents, and 48 percent of the population is aged under 30.

The council’s customer service strategy is aligned to its organisational purpose ‘to shape a world-class city through smart thinking and exceptional service’.
Under this strategy the council aims to:
• engage: connect with customers and develop an authentic relationship
• grow: develop staff to ensure they are knowledgeable, friendly and passionate about delivering exceptional customer service, and
• simplify: design services and processes that make it easy for people to do business with the council.
The process of transformation began in 2013 with an external review of all its customer service activities. This review concluded the council had:
• inconsistent customer service standards and service levels
• a ‘poorly represented’ customer services area
• multiple customer contact points, and
• an inadequate view and management of customer service performance.
The review recommended establishing a centralised customer contact centre responsible for “end-to-end” customer service.
Jason says the first step in the transformation process was to bring rates, City Infrastructure and regulatory information − services that were previously on different floors throughout the building − to the ground floor, co-locating them near the new customer services centre and establishing a 24/7 call centre.

hamilton-council

He says part of the project scope is to increase the number of ways in which the public can do business with the council. As well as being able to phone the call centre at any time of the day or night, customers can also get in touch via email, Facebook or Twitter.
“It’s all about customers being able to choose the channel that is most convenient for them, and at a time that suits them, whether it is online, face-toface, via email or over the phone,” Jason says.
“Expectations have grown and we need to adapt to ensure we deliver exceptional customer service to all our residents. Our customer promise is to always take ownership, be responsive, accessible and approachable. We need to take action on what our customers are telling us, and use it to be agile and to drive innovation.”
The council also launched a range of online services − from dog registrations to licence renewals − in a shared services project with Rotorua District Council. A centralised service request management system was developed, along with a new council website. Customer service awards, which align to organisational initiatives, were also implemented.
Jason says the process of change has been a positive one. There was high engagement during the transition and a noticeable lift in organisational pride. The council also received positive feedback from its customers and visitors.
The next stage of the customer service transformation journey is implementing customer experience mapping and measurement.
“We need to drive the voice of the customer into everything we do, especially around the services we deliver,” Jason says. “We needed to address the gap of not having consistent and robust evaluation of customer service performance across our
organisation, whether that is externally or internally.
“Bringing the voice of the customer into the organisation is critical to help us challenge ourselves with what is really important to deliver.

We also want to leverage and use our existing customer promise as a mechanism to initiate culture change and process improvements with evidence-based data. “Gone are the days of customer satisfaction surveys, as these tell us nothing about how people feel, what value they get or what they want to see improved. It’s about their service experience and the level of effort they have to personally invest.”
Jason says the council already captures the metrics and data around service performance, but it also wants to measure the customer’s view of their service experience.
“By bringing these two elements together − by measuring as a service happens in real-time and in a way that suits the customers − we will quickly be able to identify some quick wins, streamline our services and shift the organisational culture, mindset and skills to deliver exceptional service. It identifies exceptional customer performance as a measure of excellence, not mediocrity.”
Other initiatives over the coming months include implementing a new visitor hosting system and programme, customer promise corporate training and service standards, developing more online services, optimising phone and email contact, increasing customer service through social media, scoping a customer relationship management system and implementing service improvements for business and commercial customers. LG

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