Proactive, comprehensive approach to complaint handling to enhance citizens‘ satisfaction with tap water service
The “Arisu Total Service” is a platform by which the Office of Waterworks analyzes data related to tap water usage to use them in predicting what citizens are concerned about and what kind of complaints they may lodge. With such innovative service, we are responding more proactively to civil complaints and providing comprehensive, integrated service to all citizens. The Arisu Total Service was first initiated to resolve widespread mistrust in tap water among many citizens. Despite the advancement in quality of Arisu both in terms of production and supply, the public continued to voice their dissatisfaction and lodge complaints every year. Therefore, we launched this system so that we can provide tailored service to each and every citizen and even reach out to citizens with the solution before they lodge complaints.
During the planning stage of this innovative system, we listened to all stakeholders through various forums and reflected their valuable input on designing the Service to prevent any and all conflicts in the future. Our focus was on the training of staff, the most important element in the service level.
Therefore, we utilized various resources including extensive training sessions to minimize trial and error. As a result of such efforts, the total number of water-related complaints dropped by 19.6% compared to the year before, and complaints related to the Arisu Total Service decreased by 35.9% during the same period.
Overview of the Policy
<< Taking preventive actions against civil complaints by adopting various data analyzing techniques
<< Taking a comprehensive approach to complaint handling; instead of simply responding to complaints, we reach out to take care of other possible inconveniences
<< Providing additional services such as cleaning of sink and hygiene check on chopping boards to create a good impression and truly move the hearts of our citizens
<< Having high-level officials make a “happy call” personally to check how the complaint is handled and to give feedback to complaint managers
Despite the advancement in water supply infrastructure, citizens continue to complain about tap water.
Great strides have been made in Seoul’s tap water. For example, the quantity of water production grew in the 1980s, and production level stabilized in the 1980~1990s; In the 2000s, with quality rather than quantity as the new focus, Seoul raised the revenue water ratio to a whopping 94.4%. The growth did not end there. Since 2010, many facility infrastructures also saw great advancements, especially with the “Advanced Purification Facility” and “Chlorine Re-dispersion System.” As such, Seoul has endlessly worked to reach world-class quality in terms of health and taste. Note, however, that the number of civil complaints on water was as high as 473 cases in 2013 alone, and public satisfaction level continued to drop over time.
A completely new, innovative, customer-centered complaint handling system was necessary.
We realized that, to resolve civil complaints on tap water and eventually improve the satisfaction of customers, the focus has to shift from water production/supply to excellent service provision. It became clear that the answer lies in greater administrative capacity and completely new, innovative approach to civil service.
To this end, in 2014, Seoul committed to providing reliable, clean, and tasty water anytime, anywhere to anyone (3 As) and to providing the best service to citizens. Against this backdrop, the “Arisu Total Service,” which is known for its comprehensive, proactive nature, was adopted in Seoul before any other city in Korea.
Process of Policy Implementation
We used various communication channels to ensure the success of policy implementation.
• Feb. 5, 2014: meeting with staff and labor union representatives
- Discussed the current status of civil complaints and sought ways to resolve conflicts caused by the heavy workload of staff
• Feb. 5 ~ 10, 2014: collected extensive opinions of all employees and staff regarding the future plan
• Feb. 12, 2014: advisory council meeting held with civil groups, citizens, CS instructors, etc.
- Agreed on the need to train staff and nurture specialist
- Agreed on the need to expand the scope of the service to touch the hearts of our citizens
• Feb. 6 ~ 16, 2014: invited the public to propose ideas
• Feb. 13, 2014: workshop for public officials (over Grade 5)
- Discussed the future direction, goal, and action plan for the Arisu Total Service
• Feb. 20, 2014: Action plan presentation for each branch office
• Feb. 24 ~ 28, 2014: training on communication capabilities, an important element in providing the best service and enhancing the service satisfaction level
Previous efforts to enhance civil service improvement
Since it was given the water supply task, which was previously handled by the district government, in 1989, the Office of Waterworks has implemented various measures to resolve civil complaints.
∇ 1990 – Call Center (#121)
This is a complaint handling system wherein anyone can call when a water-related accident takes place. This measure was established as part of the leak-free water supply project. When a citizen places a call to 121, an operator at the Office of Waterworks HQ will receive the issue first, and then escalate it to the department or branch office in charge of the matter, who will then take immediate action.
∇ 1993 – Water supply patrol team
It was launched to reduce water-related inconveniences such as water shortage and interruption. What was unique about this team was that, instead of driving cars, the agents rode motorcycles, which would give them better mobility when navigating through the small alleys of the city.
∇ 1998 – Water bill management system
Developed within the city government itself, the system computerizes operations related to billing. The system is equipped with 465 screens and around 700 programs, sending bills to about 1 million households every month.
∇ 2000 – Water supply customer
Service Charter: To realize higher customer satisfaction, the following elements are necessary: scientific and safe water quality management system, highest-quality administration, best customer service, and civil engagement. To this end, we adopted the Charter by which we promise to deliver the best possible service to citizens.
∇ 2000 - Happy Call System
A “happy call” is placed within an hour to the person who lodged a complaint to check the person‘s satisfaction with the service received. If dissatisfied, the person receives another visit the next day to resolve any persisting issue.
∇ 2005 – Customer Support System
First introduced to the general public in June 2006 after thorough analysis of the previous system, the new system lets citizens view the process of complaint handling from application to completion online. The system has enhanced transparency in the administration process. In addition, each branch office opened a customer support department that handles complaints; the staff were trained to be service-oriented instead of being authoritative and inflexible. With this, we separated works between the civil complaint handling department and billing department, which enabled both to be more specialized and stabilized.
∇ 2008 - 120 Seoul Dasan Call Center and 121 Tap Water Call Center
From 1990 to 2007, the 120 Seoul Dasan Call Center took care of every issue related to water supply. Today, the 121 Tap Water Call Center took over this work so that it can provide comprehensive, speedy, one-stop customer service.
Details of the Policy
The “Arisu Total Service” is a completely new approach introduced to Seoul before any other city in the country. The service covers all steps of complaint handling; it proactively responds to complaints by anticipating them, handles complaints comprehensively, and provides additional services even after handling complaints.
Minimizing inconveniences by proactively handling complaints
If the meter reading of a household has dramatically surged outside its previous consumption pattern, then we first check if there was any high water-consuming event such as addition of family member and special family rituals requiring high water consumption. In the absence of such, then we dispatch our agents to check leaks before the household in question lodges a complaint.
Integrated civil complaint handling service
With the comprehensive, integrated service packages, our staff not only responds to the issue in question but also asks the caller to check if there are other issues that may cause inconvenience. When visiting the caller‘s home after taking note of the complaint, our staff (sometimes accompanied by a specialist) handles all issues at the same time. During the visit, our staff once again checks for any and all additional issues they can help resolve; anything that has been identified is handled by our staff on the ground or directed to the government agencies concerned.
Providing additional services to touch the hearts of our citizens
Our service is not limited to simply resolving complaints regarding tap water. We also deliver services beyond expectations. For instance, our services includes hygiene check of chopping board and other kitchenware, endoscope inspection of pipes, cleansing service for faucets and washstand, etc.
• High-level officials personally make a “happy call” to check the result of complaint handling and give feedback to complaint managers.
Analysis of water supply-related complaints
In 2013, 8,910,000 cases were lodged through the 120 Call Center in Seoul; of those, 687,000 or 7.7% were related to tap water. As the tables suggest, 653,000 of the water-related complaints were simple enough to be handled by the Call Center themselves, and 34,000 or 5% were forwarded to 8 relevant branch offices under the Office of Waterworks.
The number of complaints handled by the Office of Waterworks HQ-run Customer Support System stood at 473,000 in 2013; this is about the same as the number handled by the 120 Dasan Call Center. These also largely constitute simple complaints that can be resolved by the call itself, but some are complicated issues.
Complaint Filing Methods
From 2011 to 2013, 87% of complaints were lodged by phone call, 9%, by physical visits, and 2%, by fax; another 2% were referred by different agencies.
Water interruption impacts everyday life and work immediately and directly. For example, just a few minutes of water interruption means no cooking, toilet, heater, and laundry, which is why many people are prone to filing a complaint via phone call, visit, or fax, through which they can expect to get quick response as opposed to email or other written means, which relatively takes longer.
The nature of complaints can be categorized into administrative (85%) and direct impact (15%). The administrative nature of complaints includes (temporary) water construction, change of name, and request for automatic payment (direct debit/automatic withdrawal), whereas the direct impact nature includes leak check, meter replacement, water quality check, and other issues that actually cause inconvenience to users. Seoul plans to reduce the latter by 50% by 2018 with our “Arisu Total Service.”
Know-how & Insights
Diverse ideas from different stakeholders were gathered to reduce trial and error.
From the very beginning and at the planning stage, we listened to complaint handling staff and labor union, including getting opinions from Seoul’s civil groups, housewives, and many others who would be using the “Arisu Total System.” By doing so, we could prevent any and all conflicts among stakeholders and listen to users as to what issues bother them the most, etc.
We also held a workshop participated in by 130 high-level officials of our Office to find the best ways to solve complaints with little trial and error.
In addition, the “Arisu Total Service Action Plan Presentation” participated in by those on the front line and who handle complaints themselves was held to share best practices, compare services among 8 branch offices, and learn insights from experienced complaint handlers and their creative ways of dealing with complaints.
Training our staff to be service-oriented on the spot
Recognizing that the change of staff‘s mindset is the most important factor in enhancing customer service and better complaint handling, we had extensive training sessions for all our staff on how to deliver excellent customer service as well as the procedures for complaint handling.
The Waterworks Research Institute set up a curriculum focusing more on the theory, and the Guui purification station complemented this effort by establishing programs that focus more on practice on the field to train professional practitioners. In addition, highly experienced members of each branch office were chosen as instructors who would then hold training sessions for water-related complaint handling exercises. As such, much innovation and various efforts have been made to resolve complaints.
Utilizing the most experienced talents
For the “Arisu Total Service” to have the greatest impact, staff with 10 ~ 20 years’ experience is required. Most of the time, however, these highly experienced staff have either retired or have gotten transferred to different departments. We have solved such issue of shortage of professional and qualified manpower by employing experienced ones on fixed-term contracts. This was tested by a pilot run in 2014 and will be expanded in the coming years.
Providing a forum for honest communication to resolve internal conflicts
To minimize any and all possible conflicts or disagreements about the “Arisu Total Service” among the stakeholders, we provided numerous opportunities wherein all staff involved and labor union members can frankly voice their opinions, both in the planning stage and after implementation. Such open communication and constant efforts to respond to staff‘s concerns with regard to the Service have been conducive in building trust among all the stakeholders.
Upgrading the Customer Information System to raise efficiency
• Caller's previous history
The system allows our staff to view the entire history of the caller from the same address so that, when a staff is dispatched, he/she can double-check if previous cases were handled properly. Such personalized, thorough care can win the hearts of our customers.
• Rapid response through smart phones
We have dramatically reduced the waiting time and handling time by equipping our staff with smart phones to which a complaint is transferred immediately once submitted.
• Precise statistical analysis system
When building a database from the call center, complaints submitted by citizens themselves are categorized differently from cases proactively handled by our staff. Such precise categorization in database has helped with the statistical analysis and feedback.
Policy Outcome & Evaluation
The number of complaints submitted from March 12 to May 30, 2014 dropped by 19.4% compared to the same period in the previous year. The number of complaints regarding the “Arisu Total Service” dropped by 35.6%, suggesting the remarkable success of the service even in such a short period of time.
There are two ways to evaluate the “Arisu Total Service.” First, officials at branch offices make “Happy Calls” to get feedback from citizens. Second, the mystery shopping tool is used, in which case a civil monitoring group composed of 5 representatives from 423 dong (districts) in Seoul and members of civic groups measure using a mystery shopping program. The mystery shopping method is effective in objectively evaluating many aspects of the service. Mystery shoppers also recommend the best staff for recognition.
Using feedback to improve service quality
When citizens evaluate the “Arisu Total Service,” they are also asked to provide feedback such as areas of improvement. The valuable feedback, combined with our multi-modal analysis, has been used to improve any and all weaknesses.
Applicability of the Policy
In Korea, a similar level of distrust in tap water found in Seoul has been identified in almost all municipalities. The main reasons for such mistrust are the fact that the tap water service is mostly a government-led initiative, focus on water production and supply, spillage of phenol into Nakdong River, and green algal bloom, among others.
The answer lies in the shift of administrative focus from water production/supply to citizen focused service delivery. Along with this shift, we expect our “Arisu Total Service,” the first system to be implemented in any municipality, to solve the root causes of the water supply system and to be adopted gradually by other municipalities.
Developing countries that will inevitably go through problems similar to those of Korea can also benchmark our system.
What are the main features of the “Arisu Total Service”?
The main feature is that the service is a citizen-centered, comprehensive, integrated complaint handling system. First of all, the system allows us to predict potential complaints so that we can proactively respond to them even before actual complaints are lodged. For example, if the meter reading of a household has dramatically surged outside its previous consumption pattern, then we first check if there were high water-consuming events such as addition of family member; in the absence of such, then we dispatch our agents to check leaks before the household in question lodges a complaint. Second, with the comprehensive, integrated service packages, our staff not only responds to the issue in question but also asks the caller to check if there are other issues that may cause inconvenience. When visiting the caller‘s home after taking note of the complaint, our staff (sometimes accompanied by a specialist) handles all issues at the same time.
On the visit, our staff once again checks for any and all additional issues they can help resolve; anything that has been identified is handled by our staff on the ground or directed to the government agencies concerned.
What does the additional service include?
Our service is not limited to simply resolving complaints regarding tap water; instead, we are committed to delivering services beyond our citizens’ expectations. For instance, our services include hygiene check of chopping board and other kitchenware, endoscope inspection of pipes, and cleansing service for faucets and washstand. As such, our staff are devoted to providing services to our citizens in the most genuine, sincerest, and most effective way possible.