Are residents being well served by the new Customer Service Response system?

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

December 20th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

More than eight years ago during a conversation with then Mayor Rick Goldring he remarked on how surprised he was when people would approach him in the supermarket or at some event and chat him up. It wasn’t something he expected when he was elected Mayor.

Goldring

There were different views on Rick Golding’s effectiveness as a Mayor – but there was never any doubt that he cared passionately about his city. See him in a Santa Claus parade collecting loonies and twonies in a sock.

But it is what people expected of their elected representatives. In Burlington people want to keep that small town feel and know that they can approach their member of city council to talk about a problem or a concern. The practice then, for many of the council members, was to give the citizen their business cards and ask them to call their assistant, explain the problem and the Councillor would follow up and make sure it was taken care of.

Then something changed. Not sure where the change came from. We recall conversations a number of years ago from a General Manager (when Burlington had General Managers) about installing a CSR (Customer Service Response) system – this was supposed to handle all the communications problems.

The Gazette is in touch with members of Council frequently – the level of response varies, most get back quite quickly. There is one who said he had been told “not to talk to you” when we approached and asked a question.

We recently sent a note to a member of Council and used the new system – the one where you enter the ward number – ward4@burlington.ca – if you wanted to reach Shawna Stolte.

Here is what came back to us:

CRM notice

Being referred to as a “case number” didn’t strike me as all that customer friendly.

Maybe times are changing and it will all come down to each of us being a “case” with a number from which all our questions will be answered.

How much did the city spend on the system that assigns me my case number and are we getting value for those dollars?

Perhaps the problem is the Councillors just don’t have the time needed to respond to all the calls.

There is a solution to that problem – add more Councillors.  But that is not likely to happen for one reason – it would impact on the financial interests of the current members of Council.

Burlington has seven seats on the Regional government Council.  If we added Council member they would not get a seat at the Regional level and not earn the $50,000 +/-

Oakville solved that problem by having members of Council that are Regional Councillors as well as town Councillors and some who are just town Councillors.

Council ALL 2018

There are seven members of council in Burlington – are they able to meet the needs of the people they represent?

It is a direction Burlington should at least be looking at – soon, so they can be in a position to approach the electors in the 2022 municipal election with a council structure that meets the needs of the citizens.

Don’t expect the current council to put that kind of initiative on the table.

Salt with Pepper is the musings, reflections and opinions of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette, an online newspaper that was formed in 2010 and is a member of the National Newsmedia Council.

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8 comments to Are residents being well served by the new Customer Service Response system?

  • David

    Sent an enquiry to ward2@burlington.ca yesterday after reading this article….Nothing….This isn’t the first time.
    I think Iv’e been black listed for asking awkward questions.
    Im not sure who is ignoring me, Lisa is it you? I have no way of knowing.

  • Joe Gaetan

    And that my fellow citizens is one more reason why we need the Burlington Gazette and an independent media.

  • Elan

    Re Anne– “Most Lucrative for Burlington Councillors ever made”, You seem to infer Councillors are overpaid. That they get free money for attending Regional council. They should be earning 60k per year only as City Councillors.

    In terms of the previous Council, where I have heard one member who shall remain nameless (Ward 4, 24 year incumbent) spend the maximum number of months each year during his elected term residing in Florida and not serving his residents), I would agree liberties were taken.

    Fast forward to today. Truth is, residents should be comforted I believe Councillors are earning all of their salary and more just for their City responsibiliies alone.

    No one would do that job unless they were ready to give up all their free time, all their family time, all their sleepless nights, all thier holiday time, every day to deal with constiuent issues, every night in Council until 10:30pm, to care enough to lead issues for their constituents. For example, The Councillor for my Ward is always available to meet, always accessible, always empathetic to the complex issues that affect residents. And always works hard to deliver. Never runs and hides.

    Your conspiracy theories that everyone is on the take is better targeted towards Councillors of the past, or towards Provincial MPPs (what exactly does Jane McKenna do every day to earn 170k per year? She is not in cabinet, unlike her Liberal predecessor and current Federal MP).

    Heck, I have heard a rumour that many Coucillor assistants, on an hour by hour basis, make more than the Councillors they support! If true, that truly is nuts. As is your deep state premise.

    Anyway, Back on Pepper’s topic. I have heard the CRS system is a disaster. I think the problem is many resident inquiries are not getting to the Councillors, or their support staff. I have heard certain Councillors have asked to opt out of the system, as and they are frustrated to learn there are swaths of emails waiting for response for which they have no knowledge of. There is no deep state here. Just another failed IT infrastructure initiative, which designs the system first, then scrambles afterward to find a customer.

  • david barker

    Just the other day there was an article published here questioning the expense outlay for buses and other services which are aimed at improving the quality of services provided by the City. The tone being the City Council maybe is becoming “a tax and spend” administration.

    Now, it seems it is being advocated here that it might be the right thing to do to add an additional member to council (or plural), so as to improve service to residents. The number one benefit to flow from incurring the very substantial cost for incurred would be the avoidance of having a service issue referred to as a ‘case number”. WOW !

    During this past summer I had the need to use the new CSR system. A local developer was ignoring the maintenance of the boulevard adjacent to the property being developed. As a result of my registering my concern, I received a notification providing my “case number”. The notification provided information City staff would require to located the file should I find the need to follow up at a later date I also received notification from my councillor’s office (ward 2) advising my councillor would be on top of the matter.

    From CSR

    “Thank you for your Weed and Long Grass By-law (Private Property) request. The information regarding the case that you reported is documented as follows:

    Description: Concern about the vacant lot (grass/weeds) on the southwest corner of Lakeshore Road and Green Street.
    Case Number: CAS-11330-C5W5T3
    Reported By: Barker David
    Date Created: 6/27/2019 9:48 AM
    Assigned to: Building Department

    The department will be following up regarding your request. You will be informed when the request has been completed. Please include the above case number on future follow up communications.

    If you have any questions pertaining to this case or any other concern, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

    Thank you”

    From Councilor Kearns’ office

    “Good afternoon,

    On behalf of Councillor Lisa Kearns and resident David Barker, can you please provide us with an update on this request?

    Thank you so much.

    Francine Grimshire
    Ward 2 Assistant”

    The matter was attended to, and I received notification from the City after it was dealt with.
    It was a great experience from a customer service/communication perspective.

  • Penny Hersh

    My question when this new service was introduced was “who sees this email”? Does it go to a customer service clerk who then decides who could best answer it, or does it go to the Councillor it was intended to?

    Initially, I was told that this was going to a Customer Service Clerk. I explained that perhaps I didn’t want anyone but my Councillor or their assistant to see my email. Also perhaps the Customer Service Clerk could simply delete the email or send it to the wrong department.

    I got an email with a case number for an email that I hadn’t sent. I sent it back and indicated this, I eventually got a reply to say that it had been a customer service clerk error.

    So much for privacy.

  • Our position supported at Council several years ago that did not fly for the reasons you cover in this article. The reduction from town Councillor’s and region Councillor’s was the worst decision for residents and the most lucrative for Burlington Councillor’s ever made. The biggest negative was far less eyes on what was happening that was not in the best interests of residents. We have documented many of these situations over the years for submission to the Audi committee, a good plan in terms of residents knowing what was going on that shouldn’t but the last city manager, Audit Committee and then Council buried the first audit and put a stop to the rest. We are confident, however, the secrets they buried will make it out of the dark locked file cabinets where they have been placed for safety. And if they were shredded we have our files and the webcasts cannot be destroyed without consequence.

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