CRM was never intended to be a replacement for personal contact and commitment.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

April 27th, 2019



There is a little more in the way of an understanding as to how city hall wants people to communicate electronically with members of council.

We got a note from Andrea Holland who manages what is referred to as Service Burlington; that is the location where all the answers to the questions you have are supposed to be answered.

Holland explained that:

Service Burlington is overseeing the implementation of the new Customer Relationship Management System (CRM).


Keeping all the points of contact in one place – conceptually, a good idea.

Service Burlington was initially created in 2013 to provide counter services for multiple departments in one location for customers. In 2015 the corporation engaged citizens, council members, staff and citizen advisory groups to develop a customer service strategy. Through that engagement it was identified that the corporation needed to make improvements and use technology to better serve and respond to customer information and service requests.

Up until March of this year, all calls received at the reception desk were transferred to departments to respond to customers. With a centralized system in place staff are able to continue working on customer inquiries or service requests and, more importantly, track how long a customer may have been waiting for a response and ensure it is completed in a timely manner.

By using a CRM system, it is our goal to answer the majority of questions and enter service requests at the first point of contact with staff, rather than transfer, and to ensure that customers are notified that their enquiries are being addressed by the appropriate department.

The Clerk’s department is the first department to start using the system and we are making adjustments along the way to make continuous improvements to the way we are providing customer service and our use of the new system. Implementing a system of this size is a large undertaking and the implementation of the system into the Clerk’s department is only the first phase of the implementation. The project team will be implementing the system into more departments this year to help make it more seamless and consistent for customers.

When the system is fully implemented, staff answering calls or emails will be able to provide customers with the right information using the system and provide customers with an email response (if they wish) or a case number for customers to follow-up with staff at a future date if they choose.

Callers will be asked to provide their name, contact numbers and address. This information is only used for the purpose of fulfilling a request and will not be shared without your consent.

If a caller wishes to remain anonymous, or withhold certain information, they are free to do so. By using this new system, customer inquiries and requests for service will not be lost regardless of the channel (phone, visits, email). Staff will be able to better monitor customer service levels and make adjustments accordingly.

A few observations:  Andrea Holland is both professional and personable. There is the making of a Clerk in the woman.

But the problem with much that comes out of city hall is that it is a city hall viewpoint with little in the way of real public input.  The concept of a centralized Service desk makes sense; what one has to be cautious about is how bureaucratized it gets.

There is a sensitivity that is missing which is seldom available when the level of engagement is limited to “council members, staff and citizen advisory groups to develop a customer service strategy”.

Many of, but certainly not all, the people who serve on the Advisory committees fail to understand that they are there to hold staff accountable – not to become their chums.

Shape Burlington logoThe need for a better way of communicating with city hall originally came out of the Shape Burlington report – the document that was the beginning of a new look at the way the city should engage its citizens.

The 2010 city council adopted the report unanimously, several senior city hall staff wanted parts of the report re-written with one not wanting the report released at all.
Once Council adopted the report it quickly forgot it existed. Two members of council who were first elected in 2010 were members of the Shape Burlington committee – both had terrible records in terms of how they served their constituents. It was our view that both neither liked nor respected their constituents.

There is nothing wrong with the idea of a centralized Service – concern is how it is implemented that matters most.

A Gazette reader commented that


“City hall needs to open up.”

“There is nothing inherently wrong in a Customer Relations Management System (CRM) but it needs to be coupled with a customer service philosophy that permeates through the organization and gives staff energy and focus. CRM can make operations more efficient if used properly but it can never replace personal contact and commitment; it was never intended to be a replacement. The City of Burlington needs to ‘open up’.

“It needs clear and understandable program descriptions with accountable staff identified and contact information clearly displayed. Accountability and visibility go hand in hand. It needs performance dashboards with metrics that are measurable to report on commitments and progress against plan. It needs transparent citizen engagement instruments so that the public actually contributes to decision-making and can see how operational and strategic directions evolved. And to ensure that the process is not merely cosmetic, it needs a comprehensive customer service program with an executive lead and compensable performance metrics that are in every staff contract and commitment.

“There are established and successful models for true Customer Service Management in operation in other municipalities and levels of government. Seek them out, adapt and adopt them.”

Related new story:

A service or a system

Shape Burlington – the report.

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