Wednesday, 12 December 2007

December Cabinet. No mince pies.

I sat in on Cabinet as the Lib Dem representative last night. Our Group Leader will hopefully be back in action in the new year, so my stint at the high table will be over. Three members of the Cabinet were absent, which perhaps didn't make a good impression on the 20 or so journalism students packing the public seats.
I wonder what they made of it. The whole thing was over in an hour.
I spoke on Climate Change, particularly on the need to get our messages about recycling, energy conservation and sustainable travel over to those "hard to reach" groups who so far have proved resistant to these messages. I suggested, in line with some recent research, that Governmental bodies were not necessarily the best medium for this message, and that innovative ways have to be found to get this important message out into the community.
Cllr Scott for the Conservatives spoke on a few agenda items, particularly following up her comments in the press about whether the new Council complaints system being installed was necessary. It seems designed to streamline the complaints procedure, and to ensure there are dedicated and trained staff available to deal with complaints.
The important thing here, I think, speaking as the owner of a small business which (very)occasionally gets complaints, is that the new system must be used as a means of improving the Council's service, not as a means of fobbing off complainants. Any customer-oriented business knows that a complainant is potentially a valuable customer for the future. If you take their complaint seriously and recompense them promptly and appropriately, you may win the customer over and retain their loyalty. If your procedures are designed to delay the process in the hope that they'll go away, you'll lose the customer for sure.
I hope the Council's training regime for its new complaints staff stresses the importance of taking all complaints seriously. At the moment there is no doubt that the response complainants get is varied and very dependent on who you speak to. All complaints must be dealt with promptly, efficiently and curteously, and there must be procedures in place to ensure that any weaknesses in the Council's performance highlighted by complaints are fed back to the department and individuals responsible, so that improvements can be made.
It is important that when anything goes wrong, or a complaint is made, that the first response should not be to find someone to blame. Under a positive management culture, things going wrong, like complaints, would be treated as an opportunity to improve by learning. It is hard to improve if employees are frightened of being blamed for their mistakes.

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