Contractor handing your service? Here’s how to screw your customers.

When you farm out a service to a Contractor, the fastest way to screw your customers is to wash your hands of the service.

When you farm out a service to a Contractor, the fastest way to screw your customers is to wash your hands of the service.

Delegating anything to a Contractor adds customer service burden. It does not remove it! I’ll explain why, below.

The attitude that you can wash your hands and divest responsibility is especially problematic in local government (local Council).

Recently I’ve had several interactions with my local Council that demonstrate how not to do things. The stories are helpful for you, so I’m about to tell them.

And in a move different from my usual perspective, I am going to name and shame today. I’m choosing to do so because City of Marion Council publicly pretends to be all about its residents.

Use a “process” that fails over and over again

I first lodged a No Spray request with Council in September 2023. This was via phone call and via Snap Send Solve, a complaint lodging app used by many Australian local government organisations.

After complaints, I began getting calls directly from the Contractor, without my consent and without any interaction at all from Council. This meant that my details were passed to a third party without someone having asked me first. And each time, a failure to solve the issue occurred.

When finally someone deigned to inform me that there was a No Spray Register form online, I filled in the form. This form was supposed to solve the problem, by enabling Council to inform the Contractor of the No Spray requirements; sprayers are held to account against the Register.

But, guess what happened? Failure.  Demonstrated by someone hoofing poison from a vehicle into my property.

It wasn’t until I threatened to present this at a Council meeting that the issue was apparently resolved. “Apparently”, because we have yet to see whether sprayers bypass the property as directed.

It transpires that the internal process had failed, from every dimension. The No Spray Register form process had failed also, which is a damning indictment of failure internal to the workings of the organisation. Once the form had reached the apparently responsible person, where did it end up? Who knows!

When finally a person with authority got involved, she was shocked at how poorly her team had acted on the issue. But she shouldn’t be if she was involved in any kind of quality improvement program.

That process took six months instead of one day.

Factoring staff time, Contractor time, and handling, you might say that this one simple issue cost Council an estimated $200, if the handling time is factored at $34/hour. (Plus on-costs. If the Contractor charges more like $120/hr than $34, it is more in the order of $600). It doesn’t sound like much, but if this is representative of how residents’ requests are being handled, multiply this by many thousands and you have an absolutely dire picture of where ratepayers’ money is going.

In terms of customer aggravation and staff panic, the cost has been immense.

Fail to maintain information about your own services to handle simple enquiries

My favourite failure lately has been the handling of simple enquiries, because it’s endemic. I’ll stick to my example for today though.

This Council, like all Councils, delegates waste management to a Contractor.

But instead of maintaining simple information for its customers, it completely washes its hands of all customer enquiries. They make customers jump through many hoops just to get a simple answer, as if Council were a signpost instead of a service provider. (They can’t be a switchboard unless they actually do something.)

When I phoned City of Marion to enquire about the price of an additional bin, I was told to call the Contractor.

It took me 15 minutes on hold before I was offered a call-back.

The call-back came about an hour later.

The call-back told me to phone someone else. No phone number was offered to me. I would have to go and search for the number, spend more time on hold, and effectively waste half my day.

This could have been solved by having information at reception, and the receptionist saying, “it’ll be $80/year”. Or whatever it is.

Bam. Half a minute longer on the phone, happy resident.

Now, imagine what would have happened if the receptionist had not only provided this information but asked if I wanted one. The Council would be up some dollarbucks, and everyone would be far happier.

When your customers phone you, the confidence and knowledge your staff members have about your organisation and its services is reflective of how the entire organisation functions. A receptionist who won’t even go a little bit beyond a literal question is therefore a liability, not an asset.

Service failure is a key indicator of a Quality system breakdown

In terms of Quality indicators in accredited organisations, this type of simple service failure is a key indicator of a system breakdown.

Take, for example, high call waiting times. Sometimes this is unavoidable, such as times of staff shortage. But in this particular case I’d suggest that it’s more likely due to rubbish service delivery and high complaint levels.

When I was re-emerging into employment after closing down my first business, I manned a frightfully busy switchboard for a a furniture company for about a fortnight (I was temping). Call volumes were high; but call bounce-back was also high. After a few days, I decided to track the nature of the calls. It transpired that the call volume was a direct result of unhappy clientele: The vast majority of calls were complaints! Many of those complaints were about the chosen delivery contractor. When I presented the data, complete with charts and extensive notes, to the appropriate management bods, I was given a surprised and tight smile. Then, the next time they requested a temp, they asked for a junior. The company went bankrupt soon after, and I for one was completely unsurprised.

Customers are a key pillar of any Quality Management System for many reasons. Customers are the lifeblood of your business, and a customer interaction triggers your systems.  How your organisation handles all types of customer interactions demonstrates whether or not the organisation is committed to quality output, quality function, and continuous improvement.

That commitment is integral to ISO 9001. Without it, you cannot achieve certification.

And when your commitment to your customers fails, so does your business.

In summary

If your organisation provides a service, it is your organisation’s responsibility to handle that service effectively from start to finish.

This means:

  • You can answer any question that comes in, easily and quickly. (Or, if not easily and quickly then at least on behalf of the customer.)
  • You are responsible for problem-solving, out of sight of the customer.
  • You close the loop for the customer.
  • You reduce the burden of effort for your customer in every way possible. And no that doesn’t mean telling them to go to your website. Probably they’re calling you because using your website is untenable right now, or it’s failing them in some way (website is the first port of call in 2024, not the last).

In all cases, the quality of your service is indicative of your leadership’s attitude.

If your service treats customers with disdain, then I will bet you $100 that your leadership’s attitude is all about itself.

In any organisation, that’s simply a fast track to failure.

And as a final, personal, aside, I genuinely hope the City of Marion doesn’t have an ISO 9001 certification! If it does, I’ll be wondering who is certifying them and what they’re not checking.

Xx Leticia

2 thoughts on “Contractor handing your service? Here’s how to screw your customers.

  1. Excellent article on a fundamental quality issue, Letiticia. May we republish this ‘Quality Business’ the quarterly magazine of the Australian and NZ Organisations for Quality. With due acknowledgement, of course). I am the editor (and based in Adelaide). Thanks!

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