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Customer Service: What It Is & Why It’s Important

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Planning officials are now finding themselves interacting with a smarter, more sophisticated, sometimes hostile public. People like this new emphasis on service and expect the same from local government. Unfortunately, for this reason some planning programs have lost their credibility.

After twenty years of planning, people are looking around and asking what difference planning has made in their lives? In some cases none, and people have begun to doubt if it ever will. In response we are seeing a resurgence in demand for advocacy planning. Not the advocacy planning of the 60s, but advocacy that puts people in charge of their destiny and environment. Planning that gets results.

These changes have occurred in an environment of declining federal, state, and local resources. In response, communities are tightening their belts. Services and capital investments are being reduced and in some cases people are being laid off. Yet with these reductions come demands for more effective service delivered in a timely fashion to match the community’s rapidly changing agenda of issues. Unfortunately, people do not care about declining resources, they want the same service they get from Federal Express. …

Perhaps the most frustrating thing for a citizen to face is the bureaucratic “shuffle” — that is, when you can never seem to find out what you need to know because some other department or office is responsible. Citizens in Arlington, Texas (population 249,000) faced this problem because the city’s planning and building services have been split between two different departments. All too often, citizens would be routed back and forth between departments while trying to get questions answered and obtain various approvals.

In response to complaints, Arlington opened a “Development Services Desk” providing a one-stop location for a variety of permit and application needs. The desk is staffed by two people knowledgeable about such things as building permits, certificates of occupancy, zoning board of adjustments requests, zoning change requests, and plat approvals. The staff’s mission is to quickly meet a citizen’s need. …

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