A city’s data tell stories — of potholes filled, new jobs created, how long it took to clear the streets after the recent snowstorm. A lack of data also tell a story.
In Riverside, California, when it came to tracking how long it took a businessperson to get a permit for a new enterprise, the numbers were silent (while business owners’ complaints were loud and clear). In a city intent on attracting new businesses, this was a problem—and one that was hard to resolve without data to help pinpoint solutions.
“We weren’t collecting data at all,” says Business Manager Steven Coffey. “Our data consisted of a three-ring binder and a piece of paper and a pencil. We needed a way to make it easier to collect data and make adjustments on our end.”
Coffey, part of the seven-person committee that drives the City’s new One-Stop Shop for permitting, describes how it worked in the recent past, when getting a permit to install solar paneling, for example, would require a permit-seeker to make about six different stops between three floors in City Hall, as well as two stops at buildings about a block away. Or sometimes, a customer might wait hours in line to speak with one department only to discover they actually needed a different department altogether. Needless to say, customers weren’t very happy, and the repercussions were being felt throughout the business community.
It was immediately evident how much things had changed during our recent visit to Riverside. A Director of First Impressions was ready to greet us as we exited the express elevator from the ground floor of City Hall to the One-Stop Shop. Every detail had been considered there, in the bright, modern facility that brings together the seven departments involved in the permitting process to one floor, under one roof.
The Director of First Impressions triages the reason for a customer’s visit, letting them know exactly which steps to take and which departments to talk to in order to obtain their permit. Then they’ll get an estimate of the time until they’re served. While they wait for their name to be called, they can make use of any of the facility’s charging stations or work areas, or head outside and receive a text message when it’s their turn.
The changes are heralded as a significant improvement by the business community. As a longtime customer of the center, Andrew Walcker, Vice President of Engineering at Psomas and Chairman of the Board for the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce, worked with the City to propel the changes. After hearing about some Arizona cities known for the ease of their permitting processes, he and other members of the Chamber, as well as the Mayor, City Attorney, and City Council head, got on a bus and went to Phoenix, Tempe, and Tucson. There they spoke mayor to mayor, chamber to chamber, department to department, gathering the insights and establishing the relationships that would help Riverside go on to conceive of the concept for its One-Stop Shop. “Instead of reinventing the wheel, we saw someone else’s wheel and tried to improve upon it, and I think that put us ahead,” says Walcker.
As Coffey and other members of the committee set out to realize the vision for the new center, nearly eight months of planning were centered around not just enhancing the customer experience but also measuring how it improved. For starters, they implemented a queueing software that helps with monitoring the number of customers seen each day (currently around 300) and the length of their wait times from arriving in the lobby of the One-Stop Shop to the completion of their visit. The center has also installed a HappyOrNot kiosk, which allows customers to rate their experience by pressing an emoji button as they leave.
By combining HappyOrNot data with other data being collected, Coffey and his colleagues can identify trends and change practices accordingly — for example, addressing times of day when the center is under- or overstaffed, thereby increasing efficiency while better serving customers. So far this year, the center has had a 96% happiness rating. “Riverside is the pinnacle of municipal service,” says Walcker, “and they’ve got the stats to prove that with HappyOrNot. It’s not that people are getting the answers they want; they’re getting the answers they need.”
Coffey, who wants to get the center’s satisfaction ratings up to 100%, is busy crunching the numbers as he strategizes on how to aim for perfection. Meanwhile, Walcker — who says “the center equates to absolute years of putting Riverside ahead in the development world” — is busy taking advantage of the One-Stop Shop to promote economic growth in the city.
“The last year that the shop has been up and running has been a game-changer,” he says. “I have a lot of clients who are working in other cities, and I’ll say, ‘Please develop in the city of Riverside; you’ll love me for it.’”