We’ve been listening to council customers talk about their experience for a while now, across a number of ongoing Customer Experience Management (CEM) programmes, and we see the same key themes recurring – the drivers of a good experience for local government customers. These are the things that make the difference between a customer having a great experience that leaves them pleasantly surprised, or a terrible experience that they then relate in gruesome detail to their friends and family.
According to our research, the number one thing a council can do to improve its customers’ experience is to be easy to deal with – reduce the amount of time, hassle and effort a customer has to expend in dealing with you to get what they need. Let’s be honest, very few people really want to get in touch with their local council to organise a building consent, register their dog, or report an issue with a flooded stormwater drain. So, in contrast with some businesses in the private sector, council customer experience is often less an opportunity to delight customers, as it is an exercise in minimising hassle and effort.
Anything you can do to speed things up, reduce friction, reduce the number of times a customer has to call/email/visit a contact centre to get what they need will go a long way to improving their experience. As this recent council customer said “[This issue] should be able to be sorted with one notification to council, I shouldn’t have to make multiple calls.”
And, since we also see a direct link between people’s personal experience in interacting with their council and their overall trust and confidence in the council’s performance, being easy to deal with will help not only your customers and make it easier for your teams to do their job, but also keep the Executive Team and your Elected Members happy as well.
Obviously however, making it simple and easy for the customer is easier said than done. So, these are some things we’ve noticed that can help.
Do what you say you will.
Keep your promises. If your online form says they will be contacted within 10 days, then it really makes a difference to deliver to this expectation. If you tell the customer that their request has been logged and their rubbish bin will be collected the next day – then make sure this happens. If you have committed to resolving their issue, then make it happen. In our experience customers usually understand that council process can take time, and provided you deliver what you said you would within the expected time frame, they’re happy – so it’s better to set realistic expectations, under promise and over deliver. And, when the inevitable happens and something goes wrong, see the next tip…
Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Call them back, reply to messages and follow up. If the customer leaves a message requesting a call-back, then call them back (sounds simple, but we see this issue pop up frequently across our programmes). If there’s an issue with their application, be proactive and let them know. If you’ve resolved their issue, tell them – even if this is just a really simple txt or email. If the process has stalled for a while because one team has had to pass it on to another team, let the customer know.
This is a big one that we see pop up in customer comments all the time. They raise a request or log an issue, and don’t hear anything back – sometimes for weeks or months. While we know that there are (usually) really good reasons for the timeframe, and progress is (usually) being made behind the scenes, from the customer’s perspective if they don’t hear anything back, they assume that nothing has been done and their issue has been lost in the machine. So, it reinforces the old stereotypes about ‘inefficient, bureaucratic bungling councils’, they get increasingly frustrated and then call you back in a furious rage to register a complaint. On the other hand, customers who do receive a follow-up to let them know how their enquiry/issue is being resolved are often surprised and delighted by this simple act, and very pleased with the council’s process.
Be friendly and helpful.
As my mother often told me “A smile is free”. Council Customer Service Representatives are obviously trained to be friendly and helpful and tend to do an outstanding job, however we find that this customer service ethos doesn’t always extend to other parts of the organisation. Customer feedback is often along the lines of “The person in the call centre was lovely but when I got through to Jim in the XX team he acted like he really didn’t want to know and that I was just getting in the way of him doing his job.” Does this sound familiar to your council?
Make it easier to get in touch.
Simplify online processes and forms, go digital where possible, reduce jargon, allow multiple ways of contacting you and dealing with a situation, to suit the customer’s needs. As per a session at a recent Local Government conference I attended (credit to Vaughan at The Goat Farm), your customers’ expectations are set by their interactions with Uber, Amazon and Air BnB, not by their dealings with other councils, so to keep pace councils need to offer multiple, simple customer touchpoints.
Go the extra mile – the Grandma test.
I heard this fantastic, powerful analogy from a council staff member at a recent workshop – imagine the customer is your Grandma and treat them the way you’d want your Grandma treated. Listen, empathise, treat them with respect and really try to help them. This is the magic formula that elevates a good customer experience to an amazing one.
To finish, imagine two very real scenarios:
- In the first, the council sets realistic expectations, does what they said they would, communicates with the customer throughout the process and is easy to deal with – average customer rating is 5/5.
- In the second, the council doesn’t meet promises, fails to communicate when there are delays and the customer has to call back multiple times to see any progress – average rating is 1/5.
Which result would you rather have? How would you treat your Grandma?
In our experience, if a council receives feedback on these factors through an ongoing CEM programme, and takes action to improve these things, it really does make a big difference to customers.