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Management clinic

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Question

I hear a lot about councils carrying out 'customer satisfaction' surveys, and I think it's something that would benefit my council, but I'm not sure where to begin or what questions to ask. How do I go about getting useful feedback from the public about our services?

Answer

There is a vast amount of information you can tap into. One of the great things about local government is that usually there will be someone somewhere who has already done some fantastic work you can borrow.

As with all new ventures you need to think through what you want, why you want it and what you are going to do with it. You are then faced with the 'how'. Customer surveys can be designed in a multitude of ways covering either very specific issues, such as reaction to a new traffic layout, or to cover a much wider agenda.

The scope, the method, the size of the group surveyed, the level of detail and the format of the report will all have an impact on the cost. There is no harm in talking to companies who will do the survey for you. They will improve your knowledge of what is available as well as giving you an idea about cost.

Talk also to other councils. Find out what they did and see if they are prepared to share their documentation and experiences. I'm sure your regional Improvement & Development Agency colleagues would be happy to signpost you to those in authorities of a similar size and nature to your own.

Having gathered enough information to put together a specification, you can either test the market or decide to do it in-house. If you do decide to go in-house, customer surveys are not just about sticking down a few questions and then seeking answers. You need to look at statistical validity, demographic profiles, the way you ask questions and so on. A current hot topic is customer-led design.

Don't struggle on alone: get some advice, improve your own knowledge and then get on with it.

Alan Warner Director of people and property, Hertfordshire CC

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