A Q&A with Bevan Smith of Wellington City Council

BevanSmithOver 200 staff at Wellington City Council have gone through the “Excellent Customer Service” programme – a programme designed to improve the council’s customer service strategy. Bevan Smith, learning and development advisor for parks, sport and recreation at WCC, created the programme after identifying a need to have a well-defined customer service strategy due to the size and diversity of the council.

We sat down with Bevan to discuss how he created this personalised customer service programme using TetraMap’s Why is the customer like that? and by using the values of the organisation as a base.

Describe your “Excellent Customer Service Programme” that you’ve introduced to Wellington City Council staff.

It’s a day-long learning programme that starts off with a more generalised Why are you like that TetraMap session. We use the TetraMap instrument to grow individuals’ understanding of the Elements and how they interact. Using this learning about themselves and others, we then focus on Why is the customer like that? to take it further. In the first half of the day, we tie it in with the council’s values and start to look at value proposition. We pose the question to participants, “If we were to write a customer service philosophy or set of expectations about how we were to interact, what would our values tell us?” We then turn our council values into expectations. It’s really quite cool – as all of our values divide into the four Elements.

How do you transition into focusing on the customer?

We spend time considering our different customer groups and identify their needs and expectations. Then we break the answers into Elements to identify what our customers are expecting based on Elemental preferences.

We then play a highly challenging game which puts each group under a level of stress, with the debrief uncovering how each Element responded to that challenge. Referring to WICLT, we explore how to respond to challenging customers under stress. Then we spend quite a bit of the afternoon role-playing realistic and challenging scenarios which involve an Element in distress and responding to them in line with what our values say we should do.

Can you give us an example of a customer situation you’ve role-played?

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One example is a customer who has had their car damaged badly in the car park but there is no way to know who caused the damage. Depending on the Elemental preference, the response is likely to be quite different, but a customer with a high Earth Element may come in demanding compensation. We do not have control over the car park, so it could be easy to say. “It’s your problem, you deal with it and leave us to do our job,” however one of our values is ‘aim high’. In this example, it may mean wanting our customers to have a great experience with us, so having a blanket ‘no’ answer is not an appropriate way to respond to customers. We discuss how we can still provide some value to customers, such as calling the police, offering to let them to sit inside while they wait, passing CCTV footage to police, even if we can’t deliver on what they ask for.

What changes in staff behaviour have you noticed?

Our staff have reported that at the end of the programme they feel a lot more confident dealing with those tricky customers. They feel more positive and optimistic about coming to work because they have new challenges and new learning to try out. I can’t attribute the change in morale directly to the course but I have certainly noticed an improvement. I believe changing morale and changing culture isn’t just one thing but TetraMap has certainly helped us understand each other better and reduce conflict. The great thing, in general, about this programme is that people across the business come together and spend a day building a better level of understanding as to what we’re trying to deliver as a unit.

Our staff has reported that at the end of the programme they feel a lot more confident dealing with those tricky customers. They feel more positive and optimistic about coming to work because they have new challenges and new learning to try out.

What makes a good customer service team?

Firstly, people that are passionate about what they do and are passionate about wanting to provide an exceptional experience for customers. Those things alone can make a massive difference. The second thing is for staff to feel empowered that their ideas and suggestions are being listened to and regarded as important so that they can exert some authority with a customer before having to go to a manager to make it right.

What aspects of TetraMap’s customer workbook appeal to you?

What appealed to me is the philosophy that if you’re going to serve the customer well you have to be able to understand yourself and others first. I like TetraMap because it’s a model that people are able to quickly understand and use to make connections between themselves and others. TetraMap is also a framework for other things. We can use the Elements to think about our responses and frame our expectations of behaviour around those areas. We also consider our internal and external environments and how they can influence a customer’s experience.

How has this programme become integrated into ‘business as usual?’

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We’ve made this programme a core requisite for our customer staff to attend within their first few months of training. This year we’ve already had 100 people go through the programme and will train another 70 in the next few months. We’ve also tied in our changing pay structure to reflect our core training requirements. Once staff attend the core training we’ve identified then they will be eligible to step up to the next pay grade.

Can you give an example of this training in practice?

Staff have tried out their new skills with customers they have found challenging in the past. Previously they were responding to how they would expect to be treated. Now they’re realising the customer has different Elemental preferences and are changing their responses to how they feel the customer needs to be treated. It’s a quick win so soon after training.

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