Mayor unequivocally prefers people to customer service kiosks in Napanee

Mayor Terry Richardson took issue with the suggestion that those working at the Customer Service desk at the Strathcona Paper Centre (seen here) be replaced by a computer Kiosk at the Council meeting held Tuesday, Jun 27, 2023. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

An external review of the Town of Greater Napanee’s service delivery model suggested that full-time Strathcona Paper Centre staff be replaced with computer kiosks, and that raised Mayor Terry Richardson’s hackles.

CAO John Pinsent presented a staff report at the Regular Meeting of Council on Tuesday, Jun 27, 2023, recommending that Council “receive for information” the Town of Greater Napanee Service Delivery Review: Final Report and that they “endorse it as an Action item from the 2022 Corporate Strategic Plan.” The review was prepared externally by Optimus SBR, a company from Toronto. 

The Action Plan within the 2022 Town of Greater Napanee Corporate Strategic Plan calls for Municipal Service Delivery Review in Year 1, including the development of a “customer experience strategy with an assessment of current strengths, gaps, and opportunities to achieve customer service standards.” The Action Plan also calls for a Year 1 development of published customer service standards. In accordance with these goals, during and following the 2023 Service Delivery Review, staff identified immediate actionable items.

CAO John Pinsent first explained that his review of customer service “started when we moved into 99 Advance Avenue.” At that time, the four administrative assistants who were spread throughout the different town buildings were put into a rotation, “to get us at least to a point where we had reliable customer service in one location.”

“We knew it wasn’t a long-term solution,” he said, but noted that they were not in a position to hire new people, and the Town did not have anybody trained to do customer service in one location. As well, all four of those staff members answered to different Town executives.

Since that time, Pinsent noted, they have reviewed the various positions with a view to getting a more viable customer service team in place to work the front counter at 99 Advance Avenue, so that there would always be knowledgeable staff on hand to help customers at the service desk. They are also now working with the other tenants of the building to do some “further restructuring of that front counter… to basically take over that entire space,” making it less confusing and more customer-friendly for walk-in customers, Pinsent explained.

Mayor Terry Richardson (right) took issue with the suggestion that a staff member be replaced by a kiosk at the SPC. CAO Pinsent (center) and Deputy Mayor Calver (left) look on as the Mayor makes his case. Screen Captured image.

However, it was the Strathcona Paper Centre (SPC) customer service recommendations that raised the mayor’s ire.

At the SPC, said Pinsent, “What we’ve had in the past were two people working full-time [there] when the building was the least used.” He noted that the space was normally used most heavily during evenings and weekends, when no full-time staff were stationed there.

Based on the findings of the external review, Pinsent noted that he and his staff were looking at creating a different model that would place part-time employees at the SPC during the hours of heaviest use. “It could be high school students. It could be a good entry into municipal operations for other people that want to get in on a part-time or casual basis. This, combined with potentially how we take bookings at the SPC and how people pay, is something that we’re going to look at a little bit more in the future,” Pinsent stated.

The report recommends the creation of a part-time SPC Ambassador position, “To provide visitors of the SPC with support or assistance they may require during their visit to the facility… focus on activities such as providing help navigating the building and troubleshooting customer concerns at the facility (i.e., room setup, point of contact for other facility staff; etc.).” 

It further advises, “The role could be well-suited for high-school students. It is not anticipated that the role would be staffed during all hours of the SPC operations, but rather staffed during periods of high attendance. It is not recommended that the SPC Ambassador accepts any payments for SPC activities. Instead, it is recommended that the SPC have a payment kiosk for activities such as public skating.”

The mayor did not mince words in his denunciation of this recommendation, saying it was “laughable that the report that we’re looking at here suggests that we need ambassadors at the rink and possibly a kiosk for customer service. It takes the good information that’s already in that report and throws it in the face of being ridiculous.” 

Richardson added, “I’m a very firm proponent that we need a smiling live person at the arena. We have two facilities in this community, where the public can walk into. One is 99 Advance [Avenue]. And the other one is the SPC. And when you walk in the front doors of the SPC, you should be greeted by a smiling person, who asks how they can help you.”

“I find it somewhat insulting that we have this report from a consultant who probably has never graced the doors of that arena,” he expounded. “We have 16,000+ ‘ambassadors’ to this arena: our community. And if you go up there on a Friday night or Tuesday afternoon, it doesn’t matter. If there’s somebody in there and you ask them a question, they’re going to [tell you the answer.]”

“We don’t need ambassadors and we sure don’t need an unpaid student to work free of charge on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night. And that’s what this report suggests,” Richardson said, asserting that he would not endorse the report unless those recommendations for the student role and the payment kiosk were removed or rectified.

“A kiosk!” he said with incredulity. “Most of the people that are up there during the day… are our seniors and families with young children. And those are the ones that need the most help. It might not be a Friday night hockey game or minor hockey on Saturday afternoon but those are the people that need our help. They walk in with loonies and toonies and they want to put their money in the bucket to go public skating, and we’re going to suggest that they go to a kiosk and deal with it?”

“I think it’s absurd, I really do,” he concluded, “and I take personal insult to what’s in that report.”

Deputy Mayor Brian Calver echoed the mayor’s comments, suggesting that the arena needs to be staffed with a paid customer service clerk. “We’ll put a human body in there; somebody who can answer questions. My concern with not having a paid staff member there is what if something goes astray. What’s that kiosk going to do?”

Council voted to accept the report for information but not to endorse it as an Action item from the 2022 Corporate Strategic Plan.

Engaging council moments like this are available on the Town’s YouTube channel, or you can visit Napanee’s beautiful and historic Town Hall and attend a meeting in person. This week’s meeting also featured reports from the new Town Advisory Committees and more. You can also follow the Town’s Facebook page for important town announcements.

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