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The City of Philadelphia literally wrote the book on customer service all the way back in … October of 2015.  Hopefully now that they’ve written it, they’ll take the time to read it.

Citizen Mystery Shopper (Part 1)

Throwing a block party and getting the water turned on at a newly-purchased house

Citizen Mystery Shopper (Part 1)

Throwing a block party and getting the water turned on at a newly-purchased house

Last week, Citizen editor Larry Platt asked, “When was the last time you encountered the city bureaucracy and said to yourself, ‘Wow, what great customer service?” As a result, we’ve taken a page from private industry and unleashed a team of mystery shoppers to interact with city service providers and report back on their experiences. The good news so far: Online services appear to be stellar. Face-to-face interactions? Not so much. Here are the first couple of reports. Stay tuned for more.

Mystery Shopper Test #1: Securing a block party permit online

Steps taken:

  1. Googled “how to get a block party permit in Philadelphia.”
  2. The first result that pops up, from the Streets Department, has the answer here.
  3. Forms printed.

Time spent: 10 minutes

Result: Process to get permit started. (Still requires signatures from neighbors.)

Takeaways: As long as I have Internet access—and know-how—the city makes it easy to get a block party permit.

Lightning bolt rating: ⚡️⚡️⚡️⚡️⚡️


Mystery Shopper Test #2: Securing a block party permit offline

Steps taken:

  1. Decided the Department of Parks and Recreation must be the right city department to issue block party permits.
  2. Called the general information number, which immediately led me to 311. A live person answered immediately.
  3. Asked the woman who answered my call where the Parks and Recreation Department was located. She put me on hold for about four minutes.
  4. Over the course of the four minutes, she checked in a couple of times saying she was struggling to find the address also. She asked what I needed and I told her I wanted to get a permit form for a block party. She then advised me that block party requests go through the Streets Department.
  5. She told me the Streets Department office was located in Fairmount. In fact, the department is in the municipal building at 1401 John F. Kennedy Blvd, across from City Hall.
  6. At 1401 JFK, I signed in, and went up to the 7th floor, where the main Streets Dept. office is located.
  7. When I arrived at the 7th floor, I was obviously lost. A super helpful employee saw me staring blankly at the sign, and showed me to the office. She asked what I needed, and when I said I wanted a request for a block party permit, she and a coworker quickly directed me to the 9th floor.
  8. After arriving at the 9th floor, I was stopped by two swinging doors that were locked and said the hours to apply for permits were from 12 pm to 2 pm. 
  9. Was unable to get a permit.

Time spent: 2 hours

Result: No permit.

Takeaways: Everyone was very friendly, and tried to be helpful—even if they were not successful.

Lightning bolt rating: ⚡️


Mystery Shopper Test #3: Having water turned on at new house

Steps taken:

  1. Called the Philadelphia Water Department to request water be turned on at my new house, a foreclosed property in West Philly.
  2. A few days later, PWD employee arrives on schedule. He says he cannot turn on the water because I have not yet had gas service turned on.
  3. Philadelphia Gas Works turns on gas.
  4. PWD returns and installs meter. Does not turn on water because it had to be done from the street. Leaves without telling me this is the case, I have to call the switchboard again to understand why water was not turned on.
  5. PWD arrives an hour after the four-hour service window that was promised. By that time, I had to leave the house. Water was not turned on.
  6. Fourth time’s a charm. PWD arrives on time, and turns on the water.

Time Spent: Three weeks

Result: Water!

Takeaways: No one is going to tell you any information; it’s up to you to get your ducks in a row. Stay attentive the whole time the service representative is at the property and don’t let them leave without checking in.

Lightning bolt rating: ⚡️⚡️

Have ideas for our Mystery Shoppers? Let us know.

Photo: Flickr/r. nial bradshaw

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