Is Rob Ford’s commitment to customer service actually doing more harm than good?
The Globe and Mail put Mayor Rob Ford’s much-vaunted commitment to customer service—and his pledge to return all the city’s taxpayers’ many phone calls—to the test this weekend, exploring the mini-bureaucracy that exists within the mayor’s office, designed to filter and respond to the concerns of Toronto residents. The article tells a complicated tale of a committed group of pleasant-sounding staffers, phone records that get destroyed at the end of every business day and a procedure that exists solely for dealing with complaints about the mayor’s brother, Councillor Doug Ford. While we tip our hat to the mayor for responding to select calls himself, we’re starting to wonder if this ersatz 311 service really only adds up to, at best, a duplication of a function offered by other departments, and at worst, a distraction that may harm the mayor’s mandate to improve customer service city-wide.
Mr. Ford likes to maintain direct contact with “taxpayers” and famously kept a box containing the names and phone numbers of constituents he had spoken to during his tenure as a city councillor. It is politically astute, this promise of personal access, even if it’s now channelled through a growing staff. Individuals feel heard at the highest level of municipal government, contact they are unlikely to forget come election time.
When it comes to the formation of policy, however, the mayor’s claim to base decisions on voter feedback does not appear to be entirely democratic. Mr. Beyer says Mr. Ford likes to get “a sense of what the day’s calls were about” from his assistants, and his chief of staff will regularly drop by to see how many people have sent e-mails about a given issue (880 e-mails about Jarvis bike lanes, for example).
But calls to the mayor’s office are not formally logged into a centralized database, and Mr. Beyer throws his unofficial tallies away at the end of each day.
While we do enjoy the fact that there’s a literal checkbox for “Doug complaint” on the unofficial call tallies, we have trouble understanding why the current mayor wouldn’t want a database listing callers and their issues (especially given that the previous mayor logged “every call that required a response, creating a database searchable by name and issue”).
Ford’s office also breaks from established procedure with its refusal to refer calls to city departments or the well-regarded 311 service, which opened just two years ago to respond to service requests, comments and complaints. Instead, the mayor’s staffers follow up on all issues themselves. Sure, we’ve heard many a tale about Torontonians getting frozen out when trying to address an issue with a city department, but the small-scale call centre seems like a Band-Aid fix for city-wide customer service issues.
If we were to call that office, we might suggest the mayor put down the phone and spend more time fixing what’s broken. But then, of course, we suppose the record of our call might just end up in the trash bin with the others.