Is this your CEO’s new office?

by Steve on August 8, 2014

On 15 th July 2014, Australia’s largest civil trial settled. This was a civil trial in relation to the 2009 bushfires in Victoria (Black Saturday), where 173 people tragically lost their lives. The parties being sued were SP AusNet, Department of Environment and Primary Industries, Country Fire Authority and Victoria Police. The settlement from the trial concluded with a $495 million settlement being reach between the parties, subject to court approval. Please refer to the Supreme Court’s article for further
information.

It is my belief that some Victorian local governments were lucky not to be included in this civil court case. This started me thinking about the inherit risks that many local governments unwittingly expose themselves to each and every day by their misunderstanding and neglect of the importance of a professional, modern, 21 st century
customer focus culture within their organisations, too long has customer service been seen as “the girls on the switchboard”. However, some CEO’s are beginning to see the light. Below, is a true account of how one CEO grasped this concept and made it apparent to himself and his staff. As someone who has worked with over a hundred local governments in last fifteen years, I’m urging CEO’s and executive management teams to take this issue more seriously to mitigate this appalling risk.

I was running a training and strategy session for Alexandrina Council’s Library and Customer Information Services team at the invitation of their Customer Service Manager,
Lee-­?anne Graham. The main purpose of the day was to get the team ready for the cultural shift to a true first call resolution environment. As part of the day (held on a Saturday) we invited the CEO Peter Dinning to attend for an hour to show the team members that they had his full backing and support for this important cultural change, and that he valued the contribution they will make to the organisation under this new paradigm. Peter was only due to stay for an hour but he became so inspired and excited by the session he stayed much longer to everyone’s surprise and delight.

As I was speaking and giving my presentation about the reasons we need to make this important change, I came to the part in my presentation where I talk about the risks of not having an accountable culture, where every call comes into the service center and can be tracked from start to finish with proper record keeping. I gave the example many of you at the NLGCSN 2013 conference will remember about an extreme weather event such as a flood or fire, and a group of people ringing the council to
find a safe place to go and a staff member giving the correct information, but not making any note of the call or the information given. Then later when the people go to the wrong place and unfortunately some ended up losing their lives then in the aftermath of the event family members suing the council.

It was at this point that I asked the group; “what do you think would happen in this circumstance?” It was Peter the CEO, who looked me and his staff members directly in the eye and said with a sober and most serious tone “I would end up in jail serving many years”. His tone and body language struck a chord in the room that really affected everyone; they all suddenly realised that this is no joke and what they did for the organisation had consequences and was deadly serious.

So next time a senior person in your organisation thinks you’re just the ‘girls on the switchboard that transfer calls’, remind them you are much more than that, and unless the organisation gets real, understands the situation and gives customer service a much higher priority it’s possible and even likely someone very senior could end up in jail and or cost the organisation millions of dollars.

By Rum Charles
Senior consultant at Indigo Training

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