Integrating Public Libraries and Council Customer Service Centres: The South Taranaki Library Plus Experience

Article excerpt

Integrating public libraries and service council centres can be contentious. When a council has a main office, seven libraries and four service centres serving a population of only 28,000 people in a large area it also has major service and cost implications. Discussed are the concept, implementation and progress of Customer First at South Taranaki District Council in the North Island of New Zealand and the effect it has had on its public library service since 2002. Customer First was a project to improve South Taranaki District Council's customer service and the Library Plus initiative was one of three major parts of the program. It has proven to be effective in delivering library and other council services and has increased the profile and reputation of the library service

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The South Taranaki District in the North Island of New Zealand covers a large area, which spreads from Okato in the north to Waitotara in the south. It comprises six recognised towns, a number of villages and is relatively sparsely populated, with 28,000 people. Libraries are maintained in the towns of Hawera, Eltham, Opunake, Manaia, Patea, Waverley and the village of Kaponga.

In February 2002 the South Taranaki District Council (STDC) launched a multifaceted project under the brand of Customer First. There were three main initiatives required to meet the needs of the new legislative environment and cement the relationship between the legislation, council officers, elected members and most importantly the people of the South Taranaki District. The need was seen to deliver the most efficient customer service for the available funding.

The three main objectives were to

1 Refocus the four service centres. This was designed to reduce duplication, effort and confusion and increase standardisation of basic administrative functions.

2 Improve customer services across the board. It was important to ensure all frontline facilities actually met the customer service charter and that accolades came from the customers, rather than the organisation.

3 Increase capability in the new community development unit, from three to six staff.

1 Refocus service centres--Library Plus The first initiative was to combine the service centres and libraries in the towns of Eltham, Opunake and Patea as these facilities were in separate buildings in the three towns. This meant two trips for customers wishing to make an enquiry or pay a bill and then having to go to, in some cases, the other end of town to use the library.

Manaia was operating out of one building but the council and library services were not combined. Kaponga and Waverley were already operating under a combined agency model. The Hawera Council office was the administrative centre of STDC and the Hawera library had recently been upgraded and operated as the main district library.

This initiative meant a cost saving in staffing and building operations while enhancing the levels of service at all Library Plus outlets. Library Plus now offers a comprehensive one stop service for all council services. All staff in every facility are multiskilled and able to do these tasks in a diligent and welcoming way.

2 Improve customer service--contact centre

The creation of a single council contact centre was a key element in the effort to raise customer service responses. The previous system did not manage complaints well. Often there was no record of a complaint and the complainant certainly had no idea of what was happening regarding their complaint. Nor was there any uniformity of process, or reporting of, complaint management.

The new centralised system uses a toll free 0800 number making access free to all and means that the complaint is recorded and goes straight to the person who can action a response. The major function of the contact centre is the management of the customer request management system. …