The Sunday Mail
Cresencia Marjorie Chiremba
“We don’t want to push our ideas on to our customers, we simply want to make what they want.”- Laura Ashley
Local authorities should treat ratepayers as customers. As such, customers have a right to demand quality, value-for-money services. The power of local authorities lies in their ability to swiftly attend to residents’ concerns.
Councils must remember that when it comes to service delivery, the customer comes first. This means ratepayers’ satisfaction is crucial, and this can only be achieved if local authorities fulfil their end of the bargain.
Council workers need to understand the importance of training and education. There is also need for them to be aware of the importance of cultivating good customer relations.
Ratepayers often have unpleasant experiences from council staff due to lack of training in customer care. Residents yearn for quality services that are provided timeously without having to pay a bribe.
Thus, if they call their council for assistance, they should be satisfied by the way they are treated. They should not feel as if they first have to pay a bribe for their concerns to be attended to. Councils must be customer-centric and expeditiously deliver services.
Some of the challenges most councils are facing include:
Human Capital/ Resources
The current brain drain, with professionals leaving for Europe in droves, has not spared local councils, especially clinics.
The gap is too big to cover since finding replacements with the right skillset is becoming one of the councils’ biggest challenges.
While some may argue that there are many graduates on the job market, replacing employees who have critical institutional knowledge is extremely hard.
Councils must strive to pay competitive salaries and reward hardworking employees.
There is also a need to create good working conditions for their employees.
A favourable working environment transforms an organisation into a just and reliable employer.
The outlook of some, if not most, district council offices, which invariably have old furniture and equipment, is quite discouraging.
This has an effect on staff performance.
I wonder if most councils have a digital strategy, because they seem to rely on paperwork and antiquated processes that are neither efficient for their staff nor convenient for their residents.
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, most employees were working remotely and this affected a lot of council operations because they did not have a crisis-resistant digital system.
Digital workflows and electronic storage of documents save employees’ time.
It also enables virtual project management.
Just a week ago, I visited council to pay my water bill.
To the best of my knowledge, I had arrears of about $35 000.
I paid $25 000 and was shocked to see a balance brought forward of $100 000.
I asked for an explanation but they kept referring me from pillar to post.
Unfortunately, the only way to communicate with the person was through a small window.
In this day and age, councils have not modernised their workspaces and still use windows to communicate with customers.
They, however, indicated that they did not manage to send their bills for February and March. The point is they have no reason for failing to do so.
In this era where information and communication technology is ubiquitous, bills can easily be sent through SMS, WhatsApp or even e-mails.
The worst part is that bills are increasing every month and they only communicate that to you when you go to their offices with a query.
Councils must learn to embrace digitisation.
Providing information is part and parcel of parcel of service delivery.
Things like checking your bill statement, applying for a council permit and disruptions to service delivery must be availed on digital platforms like websites, social media or special council publications.
*Cresencia Marjorie Chiremba is a marketing enthusiast with a strong passion for customer service. For comments, suggestions and training, she can be reached at [email protected] or on 0712 979 461, 0719 978 335