Waikato District Council

Instigating a customer-service programme and team-building approach reduces call-response times.

Getting the team on track

Waikato District Council logo.Improving customer service, particularly the time taken to answer telephone calls, has been a focus for Waikato District Council.

“We implemented an Integrated Customer Service Programme,” says Chief Executive, Gavin Ion, “in response to the poor response standards when people called.”

He says that, because of the poor response time, which was well below industry standards, the Council would lose calls from people hanging up, and the public were complaining about the service.

Having identified there was a problem, Mr Ion says they began to talk to staff. “We were very upfront about it, and pointed out the poor statistics, which stood out from other councils.”

Effective is doing the right thing in the right way. Efficiency is about delivering the best value for money.

Industry targets for such services sit at 80% of phone calls being answered in 20 seconds. The Council then set goals for the team to respond to 70% in 30 seconds. They aimed for a lower target because the district has recently become larger due to a boundary change and the addition of 15,000 people from Franklin. As a result, call volume had increased 30%. This extra demand was partially met by greater efficiency and by engaging some additional staff to deal with the increase.

There was also a high level of absenteeism among the team, particularly on a Monday and a Friday, and management has also focused on this.

“In pointing these things out, the staff realised it was a problem,” says Mr Ion “We haven’t come down heavy-handed on anyone in particular, we are not being big brother looking over their shoulders. We’ve said to the team, do you think this is appropriate?”

The Council has since accumulated performance metrics on phone response time and lost calls. “Now we have a good body of information we can work with.”

Team spirit has been improved through team-building exercises and increased communication with management. “We made sure they had a common goal and expectations were clear.” He says that, through monitoring their performance, staff members now know when things are going well and when they aren’t.

Every month, Mr Ion says the executive team looks at the statistics. Although response time improved after implementing the initiative in 2010, in the past 12 months it has stabilised above the initial target but still below the industry standard. Mr Ion says they are taking this issue back to the staff, although they did request funding for additional staff members. “We were partially successful – we asked for two and got one.”

As a result of more self-motivation among the team and the increased monitoring of the problem, absenteeism has decreased.

“Through culture changes and engaging with staff, we have seen our performance consistently improve. Our performance is still below where we need it to be, but at least we are getting better value out of our people.”

Mr Ion says he is pleased with this initiative and plans to use it again. “There’s a good model here and we could duplicate it.”

He says other councils could benefit from learning about it, and their experience is already being shared because the Waikato District Council is part of the Council Benchmarking Group (CBG).

Based on an interview with Gavin Ion, Chief Executive, on 19 June 2012.

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