Magazine article CMA - the Management Accounting Magazine

A Direct Line to Improved Customer Service

Magazine article CMA - the Management Accounting Magazine

A Direct Line to Improved Customer Service

Article excerpt

How one government branch managed to wed new technology and human resources planning to improve customer service -- and develop a new consumer product

Shrinking resources, growing workloads: sound familiar? Facing these pressures, one branch of the Ontario government has used new technology and strategic human resources planning to improve service to existing clients and deliver a new consumer protection product. The results? With 29 per cent fewer staff members, the branch has managed to expand its client base and expects to increase profits by more than 200 per cent.

The Personal Property Security Registration (PPSR) branch of the Ontario Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations (MCCR) holds public information on all registered security interests, or liens, on personal property. Through registration with the PPSR system, a lender can publicize the existence of the loan and its accompanying collateral. Through the system's inquiry service, individuals buying personal property or accepting property for security as collateral for a loan can determine whether a lien already exists on the property, meaning that the owner has already pledged the property as security. Each year, the branch receives about two million financing statements registering new liens, and fields almost one million search inquiries from individuals and financial institutions for existing liens in its database.

By 1988, the branch was encountering several problems: lack of consumer understanding of the system; the system's lack of user friendliness; increased workload pressures for branch employees; and the squeeze of the economic recession.

Most consumer complaints registered with MCCR stem from used vehicle purchases. About one million used vehicles change hands each year in the province. Purchasers said they lacked easy access to a documented history of the vehicles' registration. Because the PPSR public database remained a relatively obscure service, many people failed to undertake a search for existing liens before buying a vehicle, occasionally resulting in surprise repossessions. Individuals who did call the branch for information had to maintain a PPSR account with sufficient balance to pay for all requested searches. Others had to make personal visits to a branch office or mail in their request -- clear evidence of a customer service gap. A 1990 study of focus groups among used vehicle purchasers confirmed the following problems with the system:

* customers generally viewed used vehicle transactions with distrust and confusion;

* few purchasers knew that vehicle histories were available from a public database;

* even fewer purchasers knew they could obtain lien information;

* few purchasers knew they could be liable for liens remaining on a purchased vehicle; and,

* most customers favored a more customer-focused product with a "self-service" approach.

Overworked and understaffed

If consumers were experiencing difficulty with the system, the branch's employees were having their own share of problems, thanks to increased workloads. For the PPSR branch, information accuracy and timeliness are key. Besides ensuring the accuracy of the information in its database, the branch should achieve rapid registration of financing statements coming from across the province (48-hour file currency) and quick access to the database (three to five minutes' wait in a telephone queue for inquiries). In order to achieve these service levels in 1991, the branch required 40 data entry/inquiry operators working over two shifts to transfer data from the more than 8,000 registrations arriving each day. Ten more operators were needed to answer more than 1,160 daily telephone inquiries on existing liens registered on the PPSR system. (The job of the branch's operators is production-oriented: daily tasks vary little (single form, scripted dialogue) and require little discretionary decision-making. …

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