CIO

Tauranga City Council pioneers Net Promoter Score in local government

“We want to learn from the thousands of little interactions that occur with the organisation every day,” says chief digital officer Allan Lightbourne.
'Customers’ expectations of experiences with all organisations are in the same realm, so we must not compare local government to just other government services, but the wider experiences across commercial organisations as well'

'Customers’ expectations of experiences with all organisations are in the same realm, so we must not compare local government to just other government services, but the wider experiences across commercial organisations as well'

“Tauranga City Council is embarking on a journey to build the culture, capability, and tools to put people at the centre of our city and what we do,” says Allan Lightbourne, the council’s chief digital officer.

“Given its widespread adoption in the private sector, we considered the Net Promoter Score (NPS) as a good option for understanding if we are actually making a difference and letting customers give specific feedback so that we can adapt to meet their needs over time,” says Lightbourne.

The organisational strategy has some key themes around customer service which include being a “customer focused organisation,” and creating “positive experiences” says Lightbourne on how the project came about.

“Ultimately cities are for people, making sure that we keep people at the centre of what we do is critical,” says Lighbourne, who took on the inaugural role at TCC over a year ago.

Making sure that we keep people at the centre of what we do is critical

Allan Lightbourne, Tauranga City Council

“It’s easy therefore to get focused on the latest news story, or topic of the day.  And while these will be important, we want to learn from the thousands of little interactions that occur with the organisation every day,” he explains, on the business driver for using NPS.

NPS asks customers to rate, using a 0 to 10 scale, how likely they would recommend a brand to a friend or colleague.

The first email surveys were sent early this year to customers and builders/developers for different stages of the building inspections and code of compliance process.  

Since then we’ve moved on to other services the council provides, says Lightbourne. These include roaming and barking dog complaints, land information memoranda and property files, and land and water rates queries.  

“We will continue to roll this out across most council services over the coming months,” he adds.

Tauranga City Council chief digital officer Allan Lightbourne and some members of his team at their weekly standup meeting
Tauranga City Council chief digital officer Allan Lightbourne and some members of his team at their weekly standup meeting

Advocacy and feedback

Lightbourne joined TCC from Mighty River Power (now Mercury) where he was head of ICT.

In industry, he says, the focus of NPS has been on loyalty. “With the council, we are more interested in advocacy and feedback.”

“We started this NPS journey with a small trial, that trial achieved all of our goals within the first two weeks,” he says.

For our initial trial, our goals were to ensure that customers wanted to engage with us, customers provided feedback, that the feedback was actionable, and that the platform we selected provided the tools and experience, both internally and externally.

He says NPS also had added benefits over traditional customer satisfaction surveys. For one, the response rate was double compared to that of their previous multi-question surveys.

“There are many NPS benchmarks both globally and for New Zealand across industries that we believe are relevant for different segments of the organisation,” he adds.

“With the single question survey, you get results in quicker, thus can adapt sooner,” he says.

Moreover, NPS provides a clear goal for the organisation. “We need more promoters and fewer detractors.”

Do not view the customer feedback programme as market research...It is an operational management tool for continuous improvement and closing the loop with customers

The use of NPS also provides the council with a baseline to work against for a continuous improvement and feedback loop.

“NPS is ultimately a measure of a customer’s satisfaction with our services,” he says. “High satisfaction generally leads to increased levels of trust in the service or product an organisation is offering.

He says they also note that the email open rate to the NPS survey has been better than expected.

The response rate has been at the top end of what would be expected for NPS survey, which is over 36 per cent to date, he says. “Customers are keen to give feedback.”

The scores have been better than expected in some but less than expected in others, notes Lighbourne. “This shows the gap between what we believe customers think of us compared to what they actually think.”

“Don’t be surprised if your NPS is lower than you expect.”

He says a second question provided customers an opportunity to provide feedback or reasoning for the score they gave.  

“That has been tremendously worthwhile and has triggered small changes that have already improved subsequent Net Promoter Scores,” he adds.

He says they also saw positive NPS results in the case of complaints due to the way the issues were handled.

“Managing customer expectations - so you can meet or exceed them - is a key driver of good NPS results,” he points out.

Lightbourne believes TCC is one of the first, if not the first council, to implement NPS in New Zealand.

NPS has been extremely valuable and including the ability to comment on their score has provided actionable feedback, he says, on a key message he can share with other government agencies that would like to consider using the system.

“Customers’ expectations of experiences with all organisations are in the same realm, so we must not compare local government to just other government services, but the wider experiences across commercial organisations as well.”

“Given its simplicity, it has a relatively low cost of implementation,” he adds.

So while there are limited government benchmarks for NPS, it should not deter government agencies from using the service.

He points to the oft-repeated quote from management and marketing consultant Peter Drucker that “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

He advises against viewing the customer feedback programme as “market research”.

“It is an operational management tool for continuous improvement and closing the loop with customers,” he states.

Allan Lightbourne, chief digital officer and Scott Oehm, head of delivery of Tauranga City Council
Allan Lightbourne, chief digital officer and Scott Oehm, head of delivery of Tauranga City Council

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