Where are we heading?
Here are a few lessons from the last few months. Parking Complaints Online has been reviewing the responses that it has received from councils.
The majority of organisations mentioned did not want to be named and were not 'pleased' with the focus on their operations. One or two asked for references to them to be removed. A few others felt that we should have asked for permission before mentioning them in this blog. Does this mean that Councils will only respond to hostile criticism in the local Press? Or are some media categories more important than others? This blog has chosen not to feature the contentious aspects of parking - the repetitive complaints, appeals and hard luck stories. We will continue to address principles, startegies, policies and issues. There are others who want to deal with specific cases of service failure.
The second issue is the response to requests for information or most often, the lack of response. How does one interpret this? Consider the combination of the following factors:
Requests for information from the media puts leadership and officers on the defensive. Does it pay to ignore requests? Even more important, does it pay not to be prepared? The next time it could be the local paper with tight deadlines.
Without exception, Council staff will not respond to requests for information. They are not allowed to write to the Press. This code of practice for employees is fully understood and has its purpose in local goivernment. However, it is interesting that some officers do write privately. This blog will always protect their identity and follow their instructions for maintaining confidentiality. However where officer contribution can be detected when reporting on an issue, we would rather drop the subject altogether.
Parking services are high volume transactional services. Despite stringent quality controls and efforts to work within the law, there is always scope for human error and mistakes will be made by both the customer and service provider. Our vehicle entered the London Congestion Parking area with a fully paid permit. But, there was an error in the registration number- the permit stated LV07 when the actual number was LB07. We decided that there was a good case to send in an appeal or a represenation. We had paid the congestion charge in full and on time. It was considered likely that the first four letters and numerics LV07 did not even exist. On a computer keyboard the letters 'v' and 'b' are situated next to each other and the possibility of an error can be recognised. Our appeal was accepted by London Congestion Charging but with a warning that this error will not be entertained again. The permit must be checked at the time of issue. There is no problem with this warning.
The impact and importance of online media is not, perhaps, being taken seriously. The most likely reasons are a) the council decides that circulation is likely to be low, b) local residents will not be reading the blog anyway c) the cost and benefit of responding does not warrant any effort, d) blogs are a nuisance and e) blogs must be ignored.
Finally, customer service complaints do require special expertise. Many a parking manager spends a lot of their time dealing with customer complaints when this task, with proper training should be carried out by staff who are three to four grades below the manager. It would be most helpful to investigate how efficient and effective departments deal with customer service complaints. Examples of good practice are worth reporting on.
Given all these concerns, what lessons can be drawn from our experience of reporting on the management and delivery of parking services? More on this next time.