Just a little effort


Today I got a phone call.  Not in and of itself an exciting event admittedly; in fact it was nothing to do with my day job at all, and was someone who was trying to get through to the rent office to pay their bills.  I work nowhere near this team and have never even encountered them, so had to rely on the vagaries of our intranet and internal phone list to find a suitable person to put them through to, which I did.  I also gave them the number I was sending them to, just in case they got lost along the way.

Normally that would be that and I’d go about my day, forgetting about them as surely as a politician forgets a manifesto pledge.  However, today I decided to take a leaf out of my own book and do something a bit extra.  We have new fangled phones in the office which record the phone numbers of incoming calls, in case you miss them or want to call someone back easily.  So I did a little research, found out a few more rent-related numbers in the borough and called the person back in the afternoon to check whether or not they had got through to someone and sorted out their issue.

Okay, so I got through to an answerphone, but I left a message and my number along with a message to explain that I wasn’t stalking them.  All of this took an extra couple of minutes, but I’d like to think that it might have had the dual benefit of helping that person out and also giving them a good experience of calling the Council.  In the grand scheme of things it was no hassle, and had the added bonus of making me feel like I’d done at least one good turn for the day.

In life it is the little things which make a big difference to how we perceive a service, event or interaction.  For example, at events it isn’t the content being discussed which is remembered, it is more often the food and whether or not there was tea and coffee.  When people meet a Council official it isn’t whether they are efficient in their work that is noted and remembered, it’s whether they are friendly and smile.

On the excellent QI, Stephen Fry revealed that waiters and waitresses who draw a little smiley face on receipts tend to garner far higher tips than those who didn’t.  Also well remunerated were those who introduced themselves, who told a joke or who just smiled.  With the advent of the proposed ‘happiness index’ this may very well be something that we all need to start to think about: how to make sure people are happy with their public service.

I know there will be plenty out there who rail against the need to even consider this.  Surely people will be content with receiving efficient, cost effective services?  Well, partly, and stop calling me Shirley (sorry, couldn’t resist a paraphrase of the late, great Leslie Nielsen).  Efficient, yes, in that we all want things done properly and at the first time of asking.  Cost effective, well, this only comes into focus when we are looking at the bigger picture; my Mum for instance doesn’t care how much it costs to process a rent payment, all she cares about is whether it gets done.

That being said, according to science (and who could argue with that) only 17% of people respond positively to advertising, whilst 82% respond well to recommendations from friends.  If this is true then a small fraction of people will believe the news pumped out through local papers, websites and ‘official’ channels about how well a Council is doing and how, despite the cuts, services are still being well delivered.  A huge majority however will accept those messages if they are told about it by a friend who themselves has had a good experience.

I have no idea if that person calling about their rent got through to the team or individual that they needed to, but I do know that I did my bit to make sure that the public service they received was what they needed.  If they listened to my message and felt good then I trust that the next time they encounter a Council officer they might treat them a little better than perhaps they did in the past, and perhaps they might even tell a friend that we’re not all dictatorial pen-pushers with no hearts or common sense.

All for just a couple of minutes extra effort and a phone message.  I’d call that good value for money.

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