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Anyone who has ever tried to get a building permit in the City of Los Angeles can attest the fact that city agencies are not renowned for their stellar customer service. Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander says city services lack training and aren't business-friendly and he's on a mission to change that.
The councilman said on KPCC’s Patt Morrison's program that even he can't evade bad service. Upon calling one of the city's departments, Englander says he was forwarded to an answering machine and presented with this recording: "I'm sorry, our voicemail system is full, and it's probably a Friday which means we're on furlough, so we won't be able to answer your phone anyway."
Englander said that after contemplating the city's highest responsibility,he has determined that service is its top duty. He compared the city to an eatery to illustrate the point.
"If the food is fantastic but the service is terrible, you won't go back to that restaurant. Unfortunately with the city of Los Angeles, you don't have a choice. You have to use the city," he said.
Englander proposed implementing new systems to up levels of efficiency and respectful behavior.
"There's no reason, when you can order a pizza online, and you get a tracking number to tell you what time it's going to be at your door, that you can't through on your cellphone, or calling 311, your local council member or your city, get the same type of response," he said.
Some have welcomed the councilman's motivation to correct a long-standing problem, but some feared he might meet financial hurdles. Back in 1996, former Councilman Joel Wachs proposed a plan to get city employees smiling, but the $500,000 plan was deemed too expensive.
Still, Englander thinks he's up to the test with the help of organizations like JD Powers and Associates, a customer satisfaction research firm currently working in Anaheim to create customer service models. But this is just an idea; the councilman has not yet proposed bringing anyone in.
"I've talked with a lot of out-of-the-box thinkers who are looking at these same types of initiatives. It really starts not with an application but a culture change," he said.
Richard Close, the president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association, thinks Englander is right on point. He said plenty of concerns revolve around the feeling that "we speak to a city employee and it's like we're bothering them."
"Residents and businesses in Los Angeles pay a lot of taxes, and they deserve some respect if they have a problem," Close said.
Close disagreed when the councilman said Los Angeles residents don't have a choice but to bear the bad customer treatment. He said that he has seen people and businesses leave the city because they are too fed up.
"Unless the city gets serious about solving problems and taking care of its residents and businesses, we'll continue to see a decline in the city," he said.
The Councilman feels that he can turn the boat around without spending precious dollars. Is it possible? Can you imagine a world in which you're greeted by a smile at city offices?
Mitch Englander, Los Angeles City Councilman (representing CD-12, North West San Fernando Valley, includes Northridge, Encino and Van Nuys)
Richard Close, president, Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association