It’s time to stop talking about what good is (a good application? a good service?), and to start delivering it. It’s time to stop blaming ‘the other’, recognise that we are serving the same end customer, and recognise our own contribution to creating better quality applications and delivering a better service.
It means moving beyond the old battle lines; lazy developers sending in poor applications so that the planners will ‘sort it out’ (for free). Moving beyond the crazy validation schemes, inconsistency and non-value adding processes that tie us all up in knots. We’re not rewarded for how quick we are any more so let’s also stop this myopic obsession with speed. Customers are more interested in ‘can-I-do-it?’ certainty than a quick turn around.
We’re all responsible. Here are a few things to think about:
If we all agree that our customers are our (shared) priority, let’s listen to them. Any service guru will tell you that customer feedback, especially the bad kind, is your greatest weapon… if you listen to and act upon it. Our recent benchmarking work included a customer survey which told us a few of the ways that planning authorities upset their customers. Here are the things customers are telling councils. By addressing them, you will improve your customer satisfaction ratings overnight (this stuff is free – take it):
- Can planners please answer their phones?
- Can you remove that call centre thing; it doesn’t work?
- When the planners answer the phone can they tell me a consistent story?
- Once they’ve answered the phone and told me a consistent story, can they keep my application moving through the process?
- Can someone explain what benefit I got from that pre-application discussion?
- Is there a reason you slap all these conditions on me?
What? No process re-engineering, out-sourcing, change management? No. Just treat your customers well, do your job, and take a sensible, proportionate approach to things.
Fact – many, many agents get decisions quickly and consistently. But many don’t. There is nothing to tell a prospective end customer where on the spectrum of certainty / speed of decision their choice of agent sits. I am not aware of any research that tells me what makes a good agent, but I suspect the secrets of how to be good are just as simple/obvious as the ones above that show where and why councils upset their customers.
In the absence of research, it makes sense instead, to let the facts speak for themselves. We are working with councils to look at how to encourage better applications from agents. And, before you ask, no – I am not referring to an accredited agent’s scheme – these may serve a purpose somewhere, but need resources to set up and manage, criteria for accreditation agreed, and what do you do when a customer isn’t happy with one of ‘your’ accredited agents?
No, I prefer an idea that some council’s are thinking of trying that involves publishing information on how quickly agent’s get decisions and their success rate (link to previous blog). The publishing of real data like this would act as an incentive among agent’s to want to improve their ‘performance’. To my mind it’s a cheap, quick and non-judgmental approach, and allows the applicant to make an objective decision on which agent they use.
PAS (we accept our part too)
I recently published a blog on how PAS are helping councils improve all aspects of their service delivery. Our most recent round of benchmarking has necessarily focused on planning fees, but it never was just about that. I have, from the beginning said (and still maintain) that fee setting is the easy bit – wait until you’re customers start questioning your commitment to providing value for money, keeping prices as low as possible and doing the things that make them happy. So, we are working with a few councils to test out a model of service improvement that will help councils become more comfortable and confident about making decisions about how to improve and deliver the service.
This work focuses on:
- Benchmark data and performance metrics – focussing on what matters
- Considering alternative service delivery models
- Improvement planning – actions for change
You can’t plan to improve, change or innovate without considering all of the options available to you. Nor can you properly consider the different options of delivery unless you fully understand your present operation. Our aim is to equip the decision makers in planning departments with all of the information and data they need to be confident about making decisions, whether that be about choosing to change or a sound case for standing still.
So, some things for us all to think about. The danger of setting them all out like this is that we see them all as exclusive, when the reality is that they all work together to improve the customer experience.