How happy are your citizens with the services your municipality delivers? If that seems like a strange question to ask, put yourself in the shoes of a business owner. Businesses of all sizes ask their customers all the time whether they are satisfied with the company’s work. They even encourage customers to provide suggestions to help them improve.
Why not do the same in your municipality? Think of the residents and the businesses in your area as customers and find out how happy they are with the services your team of municipality employees provides. Taking this approach will benefit the entire community. In this blog, we examine what citizen satisfaction means, why it matters, how to measure it, and how to improve your results.
What Citizen Satisfaction Means for Municipalities
Citizen satisfaction describes how citizens evaluate the services delivered by their local municipality. Like customers entering a store with a certain level of expectation of the goods and services they will receive, businesses and individuals approach their local government with similar expectations.
Residents may expect to apply for a building permit or a license for their pet in one single appointment. Business owners looking to move to the area may expect to find out about specific fees or taxes a municipality charges. They may also want to know about particularly favorable rates your community offers to help attract more business to the area.
How you meet these expectations defines the level of citizen satisfaction in your community.
Why Citizen Satisfaction Matters
Now, you would be right to ask why citizen satisfaction matters for a community. There are several reasons. In this section, we will examine the significance of citizen satisfaction for re-election, community atmosphere, employee performance measurement, and attracting business.
1. Securing Re-election
Most obviously, if you are an elected official in your municipality, your job security is directly dependent on citizen satisfaction. Deliver on your promises, and you’re likely to be re-elected. However, if you fail to deliver on those campaign promises without good reason, your chances of being re-elected grow smaller.
2. A Happy Community
Satisfied citizens also make for happy residents. While this may sound less like a necessity and more like a nice-to-have, think about the overall atmosphere in your town, village, or city. Would you prefer to have a general undertone of complaints about the municipality in the air, or would you prefer citizens to comment on how quickly the local government reacted to citizen and business needs?
Offering efficient local government services will increase citizen satisfaction and raise the level of overall satisfaction in the community. Gone are the days when citizens simply had to accept what a municipality offered. Today, citizens will not only express their concerns about services and expect improvements, but they might eventually leave your community if they feel that their needs are not met.
3. Assessing Employee Performance
Citizen satisfaction has also been used to measure the performance of municipality employees. Researchers are still evaluating the effectiveness and the value of citizen satisfaction as a criterion for judging performance. The results of existing research are mixed with some scientists questioning whether citizens are well positioned to evaluate the quality of the service they receive as it relates to the individual employee.
Of course, citizens can judge whether their problem was solved by a municipality employee. However, few of those citizens will know whether the employee had access to the right tools or was sufficiently trained to solve the problem. The result may be a low rating that is undeserved by the employee and should perhaps be targeted at the leadership team of the municipality. Citizen satisfaction is a useful way of measuring employee performance, but it needs to be put in a wider context to be effective.
4. Attracting Business
Businesses are another important ‘customer’ group of municipalities. Their satisfaction with municipality services is essential because it will help the community attract more businesses. Becoming known as a municipality that takes its service delivery seriously can contribute to significant growth in tax income.
Growing your reputation as a municipality that not only makes it easy for businesses to establish themselves but also takes code enforcement seriously will reassure companies looking for a new location. Granted, some municipalities offer incentives for businesses moving into the area. But those incentives may have limited effects if they are not necessarily backed up by professional and efficient service delivery.
How to Measure Citizen Satisfaction in Your Municipality
Municipalities have several ways of finding out how happy their residents and local businesses are. Naturally, you could start by taking note of visitors’ comments as they leave the local government offices. While that option would deliver some insight, it may not be easily measurable.
Measuring Satisfaction with Citizen Surveys
Satisfaction surveys are among the most commonly and successfully used methods to study citizen satisfaction in a community. Taking a quantitative approach allows municipalities to gather structured data, set and test hypotheses, and draw general conclusions from the information they gathered. Depending on the size of your municipality and your budget, this could be a suitable option.
On the other hand, these surveys can be a little too focused on numbers and lacking in context, or insight into attitudes and behaviors. Qualitative surveys on a smaller sample of the population tend to work better in that respect, especially if they contain open questions that allow citizens to share context-rich information. Your municipality would also need to choose between web-based, telephone, or mail-in surveys.
Measuring Satisfaction Through Frontline Staff
Your citizen-facing (customer-facing) employees will have a huge amount of insight into citizen satisfaction and potential pain points. Asking them to contribute their insight and understanding of citizen satisfaction requires a culture of openness and fairness. After all, as a municipality leader, you are expecting your employees to be honest about the shortcomings of their workplace.
Employees will only be willing to open up about those topics if they feel safe and are not afraid of repercussions. Creating this type of safe environment will be hugely valuable as it allows municipalities to gain unparalleled insights.
Mapping the Citizen Journey
Most municipality leaders will have come across the term ‘customer journey.’ In marketing, or business in general, customer journeys are used to map the path of a client from first becoming aware of the business to making a purchase.
In municipalities, the model can be used to visualize the way a resident or a business goes through a specific licensing process, for example. Mapping customer journeys can be extremely useful in identifying bottlenecks or other weaknesses in how your municipality is currently interacting with its citizens.
Improving Citizen Satisfaction in Your Community
Over the past sections of this blog, we covered the importance and potential impact of citizen satisfaction, and we looked at how local governments can go about measuring how happy citizens are with the service they received. In this section, we will focus on what your municipality can do to improve its relationship with residents and businesses.
Communities across the United States run on strong relationships between citizens, businesses, and local authorities. Working in local government usually involves a significant amount of personal contact between employees and their ‘customers.’
Technology Facilitates Connection
Still, implementing smart technological solutions is the key to improving citizen satisfaction. Technology has changed our lives dramatically over the past few decades. We are not interacting less with each other; we simply choose different ways to interact. Software built for municipalities like yours, such as Mitchell Humphrey’s FastTrackGov® (FTG), facilitates those interactions.
Take an application for a building permit, for example. Traditionally, residents or businesses would visit the municipality to collect the paperwork required for the application, take it home, complete it, and make another appointment to hand it in. With FTG, citizens have access to the entire application process online.
They upload and submit their data at a time that is convenient to them, without the need for appointments at restrictive hours. The municipality’s employees review the submission and provide feedback. Perhaps they need additional information or need to clarify aspects of the application. In any case, no one loses time because of incomplete applications. Instead, the entire process runs more smoothly.
Introducing software solutions like this is not about creating a boundary between municipality employees and citizens. Instead, the goal is to open new channels of communication and give citizens a greater amount of choice. Think of it as opening your municipality’s doors 24/7. Citizen satisfaction will improve (almost) beyond measure.
The impact of technology on our lives and our communities will continue to grow over the coming years. To deliver outstanding citizen services, municipalities need to improve this transformation now.