Survey shows decline in customer satisfaction in calls to City Hall

A new survey of Prince Albert residents shows increasing dissatisfaction with customer service at City Hall.

City administration surveyed 110 residents about their experiences with City Hall staff. The results show a 64 per cent customer satisfaction rating, which is down from the last review conducted in 2015, and well below the gold standard of 85 per cent or better.

Despite the decline, City of Prince Albert Corporate Services Director Ken Leclaire said he’s confident staff members are doing their best. He said inefficient technology and poor training are the most likely reason staff aren’t meeting the gold standard.

“I believe we have the right people who want to do the right thing within the city and on our staff, and we’ll get there,” Leclaire told council during Monday’s executive committee meeting. “We’re not there yet. Can we get there? I believe we can.”

Most of the problems were confined to phone users.

Customer satisfaction was quite positive for residents who had face-to-face interactions with City Hall staff. Roughly 73 per cent of those surveyed said they were ‘very satisfied’ with costumer service they received. Those who weren’t satisfied blamed things like long lines and a lack of chairs for seniors more than anything else.

However, the trend was reversed for phone conversations. Roughly 60 per cent of residents who completed the telephone survey said they were not satisfied with the level of customer service they received. The survey attributed that dissatisfaction to staff’s attitude, a lack of empathy, or from calls not being returned promptly, or answered at all.

“(Callers) are going to be put into the queue. It’s how fast we can get to them that’s going to really make the difference,” Leclaire said. “I believe in the staff that we have here, in our systems, (and) that we can get better.”

Leclaire added that the nature of the calls meant most residents were already dissatisfied when they phoned. Those complaints were often about utility bills, parking tickets or problems with city infrastructure. Leclaire said that could explain some of the survey’s poor results, however he emphasized that there’s still room for improvement.

An internal audit found that almost half of all city voicemails did not meet basic standards, such as staff identifying themselves to the caller. Other problems included too many calls being dropped during transfers and calls where residents had to be transferred more than once before getting to the right department.

Leclaire said the city’s VOIP phone system has been a problem, although he added that staff might not be familiar enough with it to take advantage of it. He added that there was an “inconsistent adherence to the customer service standard policy,” something he attributed to lack of training for new employees.

“We’re finding that a lot of people have been hired over the last four years and haven’t been updated on the policy, so we’ll ensure that that will get into the orientation,” he said.

City administrators already have some temporary measures in place, but long-term adjustments won’t be implemented until 2020. Administration plans to introduce the necessary short-term adjustments by the end of July, with a follow-up report due back at council sometime in October.

Leclaire said larger changes will have to wait until 2020 budget discussions because of the large cost.

Reaction to the customer satisfaction survey was mixed. All council members who spoke during the meeting said they were troubled by the trend, however blamed staff members for the problem.

A few, like Mayor Greg Dionne, took aim at the VOIP phone system as the main source of the problem. Dionne said it’s one of the most common complaints he hears about, however he’s willing to give staff a little more time to work though any issues with it.

“It’s been in (use) for only a short time,” Dionne said after the meeting. “Maybe we’re not using it correctly. That’s why we’ve asked for another report this fall, to see if it has improved or not.”

The customer satisfaction survey only measured interactions with staff at City Hall. It did not include interactions with staff working at facilities or construction sites throughout Prince Albert.