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Research Findings

Finding 1: Value

Staff pain

New customers don’t come in prepared with the information staff needs to give accurate guidance. When they offer general guidance, customers return upset when they find their requirements are different based on the particularities of their project.

Customer pain

Customers reach out for help on what they need to comply with and how for their project. But the city responds with restrictions, forms, and permit requirements, which leaves them lost.

Insight

Customers’ motivations and understanding are in terms of their own project, while the city’s are in terms of policies and ordinances. Customers are looking for help making decisions, not code interpretations.

Opportunity

How might we help staff and customers communicate more effectively?

Finding 2: Consequence Blindness

Staff pain

Staff receives a lot of complaints, and each employee makes personal efforts to reduce those complaints. Staff feel they do not have the authority to make certain decisions.

Customer pain

Staff decisions dictate the customer’s path through permitting. Staff indecision, conflicting decisions and decisions made without regard to potential downstream effects create roadblocks customers must resolve.

Insight

Most efforts to alleviate problems are reactive, solving for subjective cases that do not translate across the permitting service. Employees across DSD cannot see the effects of their decisions on the entirety of the customer experience.

Opportunity

How might we learn to make more cohesive, holistic decisions that work well for both the city and customers?

Finding 3: Expectations

Staff pain

Customers arrive to the office frustrated and direct that frustration at staff. Customers do not understand the complexity staff works in.

Customer pain

Customers struggle to get in touch with staff through phone and email and get answers online. Customers struggle to get the outcomes they expect from staff interactions- clear answers that make sense to them.

Insight

Customers’ inability to communicate and reach satisfactory outcomes with employees heavily affects their in-person visits and sours the entirety of their experience. Public opinion of the permitting service is largely based on exaggerated horror stories and private sector offerings.

Opportunity

How might we meet customer expectations?

Finding 4: Deflection

Staff pain

Staff struggle to manage with volume and complaints, so don’t take the time to solve problems themselves in an effort to meet deadlines.

Customer pain

Customers struggle to get resolution from staff. Most problems fall on the customer to find a means to resolve.

Insight

Due to problems being deflected by the city, many customers must take it upon themselves to manage their project’s success. But this often creates more work for staff or leads to defying city regulations.

Opportunity

How might we help staff solve customer problems?

Finding 5: Risk Aversion

Staff pain

Staff receives a lot of finger pointing and blame, both from customers and from other staff members. As a result, they understand how to get a project through the system but they don’t share tips for fear of liability.

Customer pain

Customers are held to rules and processes that don’t make sense to them and struggle to comply. They resort to problem-solving through trial and error, gumming up the city’s works.

Insight

Employees lean on the confusion surrounding the permitting service to absolve themselves of liability. The city’s habit of over regulating due to risk-aversion creates massively disproportionate effects on the customer’s side.

Opportunity

How might we learn to manage risk-aversion more effectively?

Finding 6: Cooperation

Staff pain

Staff’s actions are scrutinized by customers. They face blame and their decisions are challenged. Staff are wary of people who try to get around the rules.

Customer pain

Professionals become experts in the code and process, like staff. They try to communicate regulations or decisions made by other employees but but staff are not receptive.

Insight

Customers do not find issue with development regulation, but with the city’s enforcement of these regulations. Many professionals share an expert knowledge of the code with DSD employees, but are treated with skepticism and distrust by the city.

Opportunity

How might we foster a cooperative, trusting community among employees and customers?

Finding 7: Breaking Social Contracts

Staff pain

Staff wants the ability to modify decisions in order to most accurately enforce the code. This means an employee can go back on another employee’s decision at any time.

Customer pain

Answers or decisions are not definitive; they don’t last through rounds of employees. This results in being sent through processes repeatedly and getting blindsided by unexpected staff decisions.

Insight

Customers read the city’s inability to follow through with previous decisions as rude and uncaring, blocking opportunity for a trusting relationship. The city insists that customers treat their approved plans as a binding contract, but frequently breaks this contract themselves.

Opportunity

How might we honor our commitments while also fulfilling our duties as a regulatory entity?

Reframed Problem

How might we ensure safe and sustainable development during this time of rapid growth for the City of Austin?

Key Opportunities

  • Because there is no single resource for information, how might we build a better web resource?
  • Because each office’s customer experience varies, how might we create a true “one stop shop”?
  • Because they each have their own needs concerning a project, how might we help departments coordinate more effectively?
  • Because there are contradictions within the City code, how might we resolve contradictions?

View the full Research Phase Overview