Thursday, April 03, 2014

Customer Service

I got an email this morning from SunPass.com thanking me for my patronage and allowing them to serve my transportation needs.  They also wished me "happiness, joy and safe travels this holiday season."

That was nice of them, I guess, but it left me a little puzzled.  After all, I haven't gotten anything similar from the Garrison Bight, and I paid them almost $6,500 this year.  Neither did the good folks at the electric company acknowledge  me and thank me for buying all my electricity from them and paying them almost $1,000, and always on time.

SunPass is Florida's Turnpike's preferred method of collecting tolls from its users.  Over the past couple of years the turnpikes have eliminated pretty much all of its toll booths and switched over to an electronic combination of SunPass, and Toll-by-Plate for those not using in-car transponders.

The Florida's Turnpike self-identifies as Florida's Turnpike Enterprise, a term I don't remember seeing before.  They've also adopted the motto, "The Less Stressway".

This got me thinking about a conversation I had last night with a neighbor here on Marlin Pier who just recently sold the houseboat he and his wife have owned for several years.  Their decision to sell was motivated partly by some frustrations they've had with city management of the marina and experiences they've had in interactions with staff  up to and including the City Manager.

My neighbor owns and operates several large rental properties in other parts of the country, one of which is a very large campground (several hundred campsites) located in the midwest near the Canadian border.  He told me that he regards the people who rent from him as his customers, and that he owes them the duty of great customer service in exchange for the rents they pay to him.

My own experiences in dealing with employees of the city (and that includes members of the City Commission since they are paid for their services) have been decidedly mixed.  In general, I find that the higher one reaches into the hierarchy, the more authoritarian the interactions become.

Here's one example:

Several months ago, someone decided that the large Waste Management trash compactor that services the 90+ boats that are moored here, had to be turned around so it would be easier for the haul-away trucks to exchange the compactor when it became full.  At the same time, the city added four large recycling bins for paper, glass and other recyclable trash.

Over time, I noticed that people were leaving large items next to the compactor, things like furniture, appliances, construction materials, and the like.  I went to the marina office to ask what was happening  with those large things left on the ground, sometimes obstructing easy access to the compactor.

It just happens that I know,  from previous property management experience, both private and public, that Waste Management's contract with the city for residential waste includes a requirement that WM pick up what they call Bulk Trash from residences at least once a week.  WM provides that pickup with a large dump truck equipped with a hydraulically-operated clamshell bucket.

The Marina Manager told me that at present the bulk items are loaded by marina staff into a city-owned truck and driven to the Waste Management transfer station on Stock Island, where it is dumped for further processing.

I suggested that it might be more efficient and cost-effective to carve out an area near the dumpster as a bulk items area, and then to have WM pick it up on their regular routes around the city.  The manager agreed with me, and he called the local WM general manager, who also agreed that WM should pick up bulk for integration into the recycle stream.

However, when the Marina Manager told his chain of command manager, an assistant City Manager, of the budding agreement, the Assistant City Manager negated it.  I asked the Marina Manager if he knew why; he said that he didn't.

Meanwhile, the compactor sits in an area that's been excavated for several weeks and surrounded by barriers.  Bulk trash continues to be dumped around the compactor.

And so, coming back around again, it makes me wonder why governments don't interact with citizens as customers, but instead, do it as the Hoi polloi, the great unwashed, the public, the rabble.

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