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McBureaucrats : City Officials Get Some Tips on Serving Residents

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Filling a pothole is like frying a hamburger, Los Angeles leaders said Monday: The fat ends up in the fire if things go wrong.

So a City Council committee turned to experts from the McDonald’s restaurant chain for ideas to improve the customer service attitude of city workers, viewed by some as rude and inept.

The city’s 53,000 employees are coming under increasing fire from a service-oriented citizenry to provide cheerful and efficient service for such things as street repairs and building permits, Councilwoman Joy Picus said. When they do not, elected officials feel the heat.

“We all have our horror stories” about bureaucratic foul-ups and foul-natured bureaucrats, said Picus, whose Human Resources and Labor Relations Committee has taken up the problem. “Our job is to serve the public, not move paper from pile to pile.”

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Officials were urged during a two-hour City Hall hearing against taking out their frustrations on low-level workers who staff the city’s telephones and service counters.

Managers and supervisors should be required to set a new and improved tone in their offices, the experts counseled.

Each of McDonald’s 13,000 local workers is taught and empowered to make decisions and solve problems on the spot, said Carol Bahamni, regional operations director for the hamburger chain’s Los Angeles-area eateries.

Beyond that, restaurant managers are given specialized training aimed at helping them deal with the cultural and ethnic diversities among customers and employees alike, said Juan Sanchez, McDonald’s regional personnel director.

Management expert Linda Goldzimer, co-author of a book called “I’m First: Your Customer’s Message to You!” agreed. She warned against “being seduced” by the notion that all it takes to make citizens happy is a friendly smile or a cheery telephone greeting from a city worker.

Department heads and supervisors can create service-oriented attitudes internally that will be reflected in improved attitudes toward customers, Goldzimer said.

Best of all, such changes can be made at virtually no cost to the cash-strapped city--and without wholesale policy changes that would “drown the city in paperwork and time,” she said.

Picus said she and other committee members will mull over the experts’ tips before making suggestions to the rest of the City Council. She hinted that ideas such as allowing citizens to make appointments to meet with Planning Department blueprint checkers may be studied.

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John J. Driscoll, general manager of the city’s Personnel Department, said he would support a citywide review of procedures.

“Each department has to take this on an individual basis and commit themselves to being self-critical,” Driscoll said. “We have to know who our customers are. They are taxpayers.”


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