How are you experiencing what your customers experience?

Benjamin P. Taylor
3 min readDec 29, 2021

When leaders have no idea of the real-life experience of their service, finding out can be a hell of a shock.

That’s how the Smarter Borough Hotline nearly got me fired.

I called the ‘Smarter Borough hotline’, our high-profile, vote-winning new service, as a junior officer at the council, but part of the CustomerFirst Board, with the Chief Exec and the Leader.

I was doing mystery shopping.

I got straight through to a numerical menu, no mention of the hotline or the Smarter Borough:
‘Welcome to … Council Direct Services’

There were options for graffiti and ordering recycling bags — I chose ‘other’.

I was told I was in a queuing system. I waited through silence — no music, but was answered within twenty seconds.

‘Good afternoon, Direct Services?’

I asked, and they confirmed this was the Smarter Borough hotline.

I started to explain my issue, that a park was very untidy after a hot weekend.

‘What, the parks? We’re not responsible for cleaning the parks. We do the refuse collection.’

I was told I would be transferred. A few seconds silence, then I reached the main council switchboard. Then I was transferred to someone who answered ‘DSO2’.

‘Umm, are you responsible for cleaning parks?’

‘I can take the information, or you can speak to them direct?’

I asked to speak to someone direct.

‘Bear with me, I’ll just look up the number’.
They forgot to press the transfer button, so I heard the beeps of the extension number. Eventually, they put me through.

Silence then:
‘Good afternoon, Direct Services’

Wait, hadn’t I been here before? But I was told this was the right person to speak to about cleaning in the park. I explained it was absolutely covered with litter after the hot weekend.

‘Well, there’s a cleaning schedule, you know.’

‘OK — but it’s an absolute state this morning, I thought the smarter borough would like to know and clean it quicker?’

‘Are you talking about the grass area, or the hard standing?’

‘I… what?’

‘It’s a different department as DSO2 is different from DSO3 — the parks are split into two. DSO3 is responsible for maintenance, DSO2 is responsible for carrying out any work they tell DSO3 to do. We wouldn’t do anything extra as we are only contracted by DSO2 to clean and wouldn’t do beyond that’.

This was in about 2003, nearly twenty years ago, and I wish I could say things have changed.

When I reported my mystery shopping to the Board, the Leader actually banged his fist on the table, action on ‘transforming’ customer journeys was given the all-clear, and the chief executive to take me very quietly and politely aside and tell me to never, ever spring something like that on him again.

What’s the equivalent in your organisation?
How often is the connection from Board to ‘hotline’ made?