My mom: Chief Director of Customer Service

With all the talk about increasing “customer service” in Toronto, you would think that our own City Hall would have a couple of full-time receptionists who can help people find their way.  In fact, you would think that in a city of 2.5 million people, our City Hall would have three or four receptionists! Hey, why not even go a step further?  We often hear that we should run the city “like a business”.  Well, the smartest businesses are the ones that have swarms of customer service reps and ‘greeters’ who are readily available to offer assistance.

But here at City Hall we have one part-time receptionist on duty, sitting behind an enormous desk.  Often, her chair sits empty and there is simply a sign that says:

Here’s a story that illustrates how under-serviced the building is: a few months ago,  I was setting up the Fourth Wall exhibit in City Hall lobby.  I was running behind schedule, so a few friends came by to help out with the installation including my buddy Shaun, my buddy Evan, my buddy Ben ….and my mom.

While we were setting up, a strange thing happened:  We had a table which served as our project headquarters and my mom was sitting at the table gluing placards, cutting wire and peeling stickers. But every time I looked over to see how she was doing, she was talking to strangers who had walked up to her asking for assistance.

One woman was literally in tears, pleading for help with her utility bill.  She had been overcharged, and couldn’t pay the amount shown.  There was a language barrier, and no one was at the reception desk to offer any advice.  So my mom spent about 25 minutes with her and ended up talking with her son on a cell phone, who acted as a translator.  Finally, my mom was able to direct her to the appropriate office and get her bill adjusted.

Now, I suppose the woman could have called 311.  Perhaps there would have been a translator available to help.  But the person on the other end of the phone wouldn’t have been able to look at the utility bill, wouldn’t have seen her tears, wouldn’t have been able to give her a reassuring smile, and wouldn’t have been able to walk with her to find the office she was looking for.

311 is not a substitute for customer service.  Otherwise, when you walked into an Apple store you’d see this:

…instead of this:

Greeters at City Hall would provide a valuable service: informing visitors, making people feel welcome, increasing efficiencies, bringing some smiles into a building that needs more smiles and helping people engage as citizens.

I’ve been pitching the idea around City Hall for a few months and yesterday it caught the attention of Councillor Doug Ford.  He’s moved a motion in favour of the idea and hopefully we’ll see some progress in the upcoming months.  I’ll keep you posted.  (Or you can call my mom).



Toronto SUN: Wal-Mart-style greeters for Toronto City Hall? 
NATIONAL POST: City Hall should have Walmart-style greeters: Doug Ford
CityTV News: Coun. Doug Ford wants Walmart-style greeters at city hall

PS: Take a moment and VOTE on the Toronto SUN poll!


2 responses to “My mom: Chief Director of Customer Service

  1. Thank you for the work that you do. It is so important. I live in SF and I called a phone number at City Hall on five different dates, at different times of the day. Nobody ever picked up, even when it rang for an hour or more. :( I love your idea of modelling City government more like a business.

  2. Dave, there is very little in Toronto that has been looked at from a citizen’s standpoint from the TTC to signposting of tourist landmarks to the excellent examples you have given. Intelligent observations are wasted without getting the attention of people who can actually change things for the better. You appear to be capable of doing both; well done.

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