Does your organization strive to get customers involved in development services-related performance improvement?  Most communities have recognized that creating a public/private partnership with customers for managing services is essential for existence.  Customers want you to succeed, but they have to be involved to help you.  Experience has shown that creating a partnership, involving customers sincerely in your day-to-day challenges will create opportunities for support for resource additions, better communication, and at a minimum an appreciation for how hard your job is.  Yes, you read it correctly.  Development services is a tough business.

Given a choice, customers really don’t want to come in to see you for approvals.  Government employees get a bad rap in the political forums and there are multiple departments or agencies that are involved (not to mention the state and federal interventions) making it cumbersome to administer.

Why is it so hard to create the “partnership”?  Perhaps it is because the typical “partnerships” are spurned from bad service directives from elected officials or you are reacting to ongoing anecdotal nightmares from customers.  You may be desperate.  The net result when you are “encouraged” to meet with customers is that you listen to story after story of how it went wrong…basically a complaint or venting session.  Well, that is not a partnership from my perspective…that is a reaction.

So, how do we change that dynamic?  First, a partnership has to be initiated by you.  It has to be genuine, has to occur early in an improvement process, and it must be established without a directive from elected officials.  You should want to enlist honest and helpful input and see collaboration as useful for service improvements.  Stop…..take a leap of faith….you won’t be sorry with the results.

Where do you start? Build a customer advisory group to start the partnership.  Call them whatever you want…Development Customer Advisory Group (DCAG), Development Services Advisory Group (DSAG).  The ingredients for this group should include:

  • Include a cross-section of your customers that represent various industries, such as developers, contractors, consultants, builders, attorneys, etc.  Include some very vocal (even negative) members but be sure to include some supportive, constructive folks as well.  You know your customers.  My philosophy is that it is better to have your difficult and outspoken customers “inside the circle” than out there complaining to your elected officials.  Elect a chair/co-chair of the group to run things.  Let them take ownership and feel accomplishment.  After all, they are your customers and they have experiences to share.
  • Involve them from the beginning of an improvement effort, if that is the case.  Let it be ragged or messy, if needed.   “Bare your backside” because they will appreciate how hard your job is and respect you for it.
  • Have them focus on defining and monitoring success.  They know what success looks like, you may not.  Make sure they buy-in to the success factors and make it their “bill of rights”.  Don’t let them tell you how to meet the success factors.  That’s your job.
  • Include them in monitoring, piloting, and implementation of your improvements.  Don’t be afraid to let them tell you whether what you are doing to improve things is going to help them.  Remember…that is there role….monitor your work and ensure it meets their success factors.
  • Let them get involved in determining the right kind of performance measurements, appropriate level of fees, and if level of service is sufficient.
  • Let them advocate your improvements and fee proposals with elected officials.  Get them involved in presentations…assign them a part.  It will add credibility and remove the traditional “beat up staff” attitude.

With this approach, I have seen the most negative customers turn into the best advocates for your service improvements.  They want respect for what they have to offer.  As said before, they want you (development services) to succeed.  After all, it is in their best interest if you do.  Customers are like a diamond in the rough….just waiting to be polished.  Once polished, they gleam with beauty and provide pride for the bearer.  You are that “bearer”.  Don’t turn away from this opportunity.