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
- Googled “how to get a block party permit in Philadelphia.”
- The first result that pops up, from the Streets Department, has the answer here.
- 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
- Decided the Department of Parks and Recreation must be the right city department to issue block party permits.
- Called the general information number, which immediately led me to 311. A live person answered immediately.
- Asked the woman who answered my call where the Parks and Recreation Department was located. She put me on hold for about four minutes.
- 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.
- 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.
- At 1401 JFK, I signed in, and went up to the 7th floor, where the main Streets Dept. office is located.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Called the Philadelphia Water Department to request water be turned on at my new house, a foreclosed property in West Philly.
- 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.
- Philadelphia Gas Works turns on gas.
- 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.
- 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.
- Fourth time’s a charm. PWD arrives on time, and turns on the water.
Time Spent: Three weeks
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.
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