According to the dictionary, a city is simply defined as a center of population, commerce and culture. While the origin of cities dates back thousands of years, Foster City dates back less than 50 years and yet the complexity of our system has experienced unprecedented smart growth since its inception. For more than 40 years, whether we have realized it or not, Foster City has been engaged in a process of “urbanization.” Progress and grow. That’s what cities are challenged to do on a perpetual basis. And much like a business, it needs to continuously improve on its processes, find ways to more effectively achieve its objectives, communicate the quality of its service offerings, protect, maintain and grow its customer base and exceed the expectations of the market. The most profitable businesses are those businesses that continuously provide services or goods that people need or value and moreover, want. Foster City is in the business of customer service and our clients are the residents, businesses and visitors.
We as a city need to consider what we can do to improve or build upon our reputation for customer service. If we do nothing, our service level will atrophy over time and our “brand” equity, the cache associated with living, working and playing here, will diminish. We need to perpetually reinvent and reinvest in ourselves to bolster the experience economy. We must provide high levels of service and create a culture that fosters loyalty in all stakeholders, not just our residents.
In business, there is great effort to create and maintain such a culture. Many books have been written about the subject, however it can be distilled down to a simple philosophy. Successful businesses create a culture of innovation; the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs or existing market needs through more effective products, programs, processes, services, technologies or ideas that are readily available to markets, governments and society.
They do so to be able to offer the greatest experience to their customers as they know that that experience directly translates to the health and vitality of their organization. A good experience creates loyalty. A great experience creates referrals that drive new business opportunities. Average or negative experiences have an unequal and exponentially opposite effect. Cities are not immune.
Residents choose to live in a city for various reasons which manifest themselves in their experience — that perceived quality of life. Foster City provides excellent customer service in its departments of Police, Fire, Public Works, City Administration, Park and Recreation and City Hall staff. However, a city is not defined solely by what it does well but rather by what areas it needs to improve. In recent times, clear areas are emerging which require greater focus to provide the level of service we know we are capable of delivering.
The philosophy of a city needs to be sharply honed so that its governing documents reflect the policies, principles and priorities necessary for successful operation. As we look ahead to the next 10 years, the needs of our “customers” and the demands placed on our own business (the city) and its practices — the complexities associated with delivering the services associated with managing our infrastructure and enhancing our operating methodologies — will be taxed to a point of diminishing returns. A renewed commitment and revitalized focus on “customer” satisfaction, client service and relationship management needs to flow through all aspects of our community development services.
I believe there currently exists a need for us to review and better understand the policies that have guided us to date. Over the past years, we have enjoyed great successes, however we have experienced great challenges of late in particular areas of our city’s operations due to outdated policy and processes, many of which have truly outlived their useful life and which now are having a negative impact on the customer experience.
It would be easy to blame it all on outdated ordinance structures, but that would be disingenuous. We as a city must accept responsibility and take action to proactively; whether it is simple modifications to ordinances and codes or creating processes to allow for exceptions.
Perhaps this is an oversimplification of what lies ahead, but nonetheless relevant. Much like purchasing a car or a cup of coffee, at the end of the day, we take our business to who we believe has our best interests at heart. Our city staff is capable and talented. Together, we can raise the bar and achieve even greater successes through our commitment to excellence and service.
Herb Perez is a member of the Foster City Council. He can be reached at 468-3143 and firstname.lastname@example.org.