The Power of Customer-Focused Leadership

Business process improvement efforts often emphasize new technologies and radical process redesign. While those can be essential and important tools, we often forget how much progress can be made just by thinking through a process from the customer’s perspective and making changes based on that. BKD’s recent work with the City of Atlanta’s Office of Buildings shows how a leader focused on the customer’s perspective was able to transform bureaucratic processes even without the latest technology.

Commissioner Tim Keane arrived in Atlanta in summer 2015. At the time, many building permit applicants were deeply dissatisfied with the quality and timeliness of the city’s construction permitting process. Consequently, the city lost potential projects and missed out on economic growth. The city made multiple attempts to improve service, but results were unsatisfactory. Employees were demoralized, and customers were frustrated.

Keane brought in BKD’s public sector practice to help transform the organization. BKD worked with the city to develop a strategic business plan that included an extensive customer survey, review of peer communities and detailed task list with steps for implementing 51 process improvement recommendations.

As solid as the plan was, it was Keane’s leadership that made the effort succeed. With the insight that a one-size-fits-all operation was inadequate for customer needs, he created customer-focused “work streams” organized around different customer types—self-service, express, residential, light commercial and commercial. That insight—along with the tenacity to implement it—made the difference.

Fewer than six months after transitioning to work streams, a customer satisfaction survey showed:

  • Perceptions of process timeliness rose 70 percent
  • Perceptions of the overall customer experience rose 49 percent
  • Perceptions of employee knowledge and effectiveness rose 33 percent
  • Perceptions of employee courtesy and professionalism rose 20 percent

In addition, 37 percent of the permit volume can now be processed through the express work stream, reducing the time it takes to issue permits to about 30 minutes.

This effort was accomplished without making significant technological changes that would have led to more automation. While that remains to be done—and much greater improvements are yet to be made—the effort showed that customer satisfaction can improve with a:

  • Solid strategic plan developed with insights from high-performing peer organizations
  • Willingness to engage with customers and hear their complaints and insights
  • Willingness to set and pursue an audacious goal despite resistance
  • Commitment to process standardization and transparency
  • Desire to see employees develop their skills and become experts in areas that benefit process efficiency and customer needs
  • Commitment to continuous improvement

Though much work remains in Atlanta, Keane has demonstrated that with the right plan and leadership, customer satisfaction can greatly improve even before investing in significant technology improvements.

Don’t think you’re stuck with dissatisfied customers until a new technology rescues you. Let BKD help you identify a winning long-term strategy that includes technological transformation as well as short-term steps to improve your processes and satisfy customers.

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Mike Brink

Mike Brink

Mike focuses on operational excellence and data analytics in the public sector. He has 20 years of experience working on public sector issues from positions within government, management consulting and the business process outsourcing industry. He has worked in a range of business transformation roles involving sales, quality, technology implementation, process re-engineering, managed competition, project management and sourcing.

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