Cobourg’s Customer Service May Look Different

In City Hall

By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
While the Town of Cobourg remains committed to top-of-the-line customer service, the way they will deliver it is likely to change.

Lacking a specific customer-service strategy – and with an eye toward a policy that takes into account growth, technology, changing customer needs and evolving best practices – the result was a report from CX Advisory Customer Service Professionals Network director Shawn Ashley at Monday’s council meeting.

If all recommendations were implemented, it could save as many as 9,800 staff hours, result in up to $505,000 in savings and cost as much as $225,000 to implement.

The central recommendation is to streamline customer-service needs through a Service Cobourg centralized customer-service desk instead of allowing people to approach staffers directly from the applicable departments. Other recommendations that will support this approach include closing off individual department service desks within Victoria Hall and removing employee contact information from public facing.

The result, Ashley said, would be the right person taking charge of this service instead of other employees who should be doing other work having to step away from their duties.

Virtual contacts will be encouraged, and information can be disseminated proactively through social media.

He also called for a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system, “a very common kind of best-practices tool” that tracks and manages customer-service information to develop such initiatives as time-saving Frequently Asked Questions documents and learn what problems seem to cropping up most often.

“The idea is a single repository of tracking customer information,” Ashley said.

Councillor Miriam Mutton commented that “more than 80% prefer phone or e-mail yet, as I understand it, the long-term plan is to push electronically – social media and so forth.”

“There are people that do want to have that low-touch self-service option – and it’s available, but it’s a lot more expensive,” Ashley replied.

Town staffers expressed enthusiasm for the report.

“I think the beauty of this opportunity in front of us is that we get the chance to take this phenomenal report and really Cobourgize it when staff come back with their report,” Chief Administrative Officer Tracey Vaughan said.

Vaughan characterized the information-desk staff as “concierges for the organization. Whether you contact the town by phone or e-mail or by walking in, you get the same level of service.”

Director of Legislative Services Brent Larmer, often called from his duties to answer enquiries, finds that 89% of the questions are general in nature. A sizeable percentage involve questions of garbage collection – which is provided by the county and not the town.

Besides, Larmer added, an enquiry to a proper customer-service desk can be given a number and a file and tracked to ensure best outcomes.

“That’s another missing piece,” he noted.

“The ideal is that we are no longer the point of reference,” Mayor Lucas Cleveland said.

“Members of the community could come in for customer service and have 99% of their questions answered without having to reach out to council members and staff members who should be working on other things.”

Council passed a motion directing staff to review the information and provide a report back to council with an implementation plan, based on available financial and staff resources and corporate priorities.

Cleveland asked Vaughan if she could pin a timeline down more specifically. She anticipated working on it through the summer months and having a presentation ready by early fall.

“I think it’s really important this is done prior to any budget deliberation, as there are some significant costs,” the mayor said.

While Vaughan characterized the move as “the beginning of a really exciting journey,” Councillor Randy Barber expressed concerns.

“What happened during COVID – understandably – but there was an inability and it was an excuse not to perhaps react as quickly as we could have, and I am anxious, I think, to eradicate the COVID hangover, if I can call it that, to customer service generally,” Barber said.

“I assure you, as a senior leadership team, we are not waiting for this strategy to be endorsed or implemented to enhance and reinvigorate our customer-service approach,” Vaughan responded.

Cecilia Nasmith
Author: Cecilia Nasmith

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