Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cairns Regional Council Community Plan consultation.

Cairns Regional Council Community Plan. It's a mouthful and it's an ongoing process that has taken up several months of Council time and has garnered several interesting responses.

There are a few questions regarding the data collected that need addressing first. The collection has taken place in several different ways (online survey, community postcards and engagement by officers at community events and at shopping centres in the region). Out of all of these methods and with all of this time spent, the total responses to date number 171 in total. This figure is actually a bit skewed because those who collated the information (Governance Branch of Cairns Regional Council) deemed that each response to each question of the online survey would be given full weight so of the 56 responses there is a strong possibility that only 16 people had a hand in those.

With a population estimated at around 164'356 (a response of .07% of the population) it appears we could quite accurately call this process insufficient in terms of providing an accurate snapshot of what this community's vision is for the future of the Cairns area. It must be noted that the process states that 'Council will be inclusive and connect with those in the community who are hardest to reach' and it appears by all intents and purposes that this was achieved. The problem seems to be that this was the primary focus and the broader community was left out of the loop to some degree. Unfortunately, the information given by those who did respond will form the basis of the plan and those who's views differ but were not engaged will not have a say in the future of the region.

15 of those responses were essentially useless and included answers like 'Waste of time' and 'Have you nothing else to do'. This shows a distinct lack of awareness as to the importance of this process and perhaps a lack of trust in local government that they will get it right. With such a small amount of the community engaged, perhaps they were right in those assumptions.

The Local Government Act 2009 requires Councils across Queensland to develop a long term community plan.Elements included must be Economic Development, Environmental Management, Social Wellbeing and Governance. Section 127 of the Local Government Regulation 2010 states that Community Plan 'must state how the local government engaged with the community in preparing the plan and the extent to which the engagement was consistent with local government's community engagement policy'. This statement would indicate that this consultation process has failed.

The hope is that there will be further consultation and it will be broader and more active so that all residents will have the opportunity to take part in the process. This could include ensuring that the shopping centre stalls held throughout the region were repeated on a fortnightly or monthly basis, the online forum was advertised on the Regional Council Facebook page every time it is utilised, community groups are engaged through a speaker from the Council (preferably the Councillor of the Division) regarding this process at meetings, school newsletters and community newsletters contain the relevant details for parents to access the survey in all forms and the survey could be placed in full in The Cairns Post each day for one full week, with drop off points at every shopping centre and library in the region.

Perhaps the response levels would still be minimal but the ability of the public to negate the results would be greatly diminished if it can be proved that every member of the public was given the opportunity to take part. Personally, I would prefer to see more responses.

With the information gathered to date it has become apparent that the running theme of sustainability and the environment has considerable emphasis in all areas. Whether they be transport, future growth, suburban goals or culture and the arts, the environment of Cairns features in most responses.

The largest response to any question was the issue of public transport, specifically the need for a light rail system throughout the greater region. This garnered 13 responses (or 4% of ALL responses). When an idea was deemed a good one a small lightbulb icon appeared on the page with the item further reiterated to indicate it was considered a good idea or point. This particular idea was given no weight. I am sure that this will surprise no one but it's disheartening to think that the most common response did not rate a further mention.

Second most common was the results regarding the Cultural Precinct. Can I go on record to say that the results were welcome but surprised me a little. More people support the Precinct than oppose it. Several respondents would like the site position questioned further but overall the support rated much higher than the 6 who did not want the project to go ahead. The indication here is that the general public are more interested in provisions for the cultural and artistic community than any other lifestyle category.

While 4 people stated they would like a rectangular sporting field, youth activities and youth development in sport was more widely recognised as a priority. The responses included requests for more outdoor movie nights, lighting and upgrades to suburban sporting areas but more commonly a simple 'youth activities' did the job.

There was a strong response by many in regards to the Indigenous Community and Multicultural Affairs. The 'Social' category featured answers such as 'Indigenous engagement', 'Multicultural community' and 'understanding of Indigenous Community'. This category also asked for a focus on creative residents, families and volunteers. Essentially, this indicates a need and want of a more inclusive community with better access to information and support.

Bikeways and footpaths will always feature in any questionnaire or survey regarding any city. This one is no different. While public transport was a major focus and ideas such as having a regular service running from the airport to the CBD and replacing or fixing up the Lake Street bus terminal were repeated, having a cycleway run from the CBD to the southern suburbs was an idea that I thought had merit (again, no lightbulb) and a few thought to join the two concepts together with the provision on buses for bicycles for those who need to utilise both forms of sustainable transport options. I am sure that this would prove to be a difficult undertaking but nothing is impossible and perhaps some further study into this idea is warranted.

After bikeways and footpaths, the Edmonton Hospital garnered plenty of interest. The Southern Corridor did not rate it's own category (although it must be noted that Cairns Esplanade, Machans Beach, Yorkeys Knob, Redlynch, Babinda, Bramston Beach, Daintree and the CBD did) but the south side was represented anyway. People wanted a Medicare centre in Edmonton, a cafe, movie theatres, general facilities, Edmonton Town Centre and one did not support the Mt Peter plan. All responses regarding the southern corridor indicate that the community is sick of the excuses and the extensive consultation and planning processes and would like to see some results. The community is without any of the major facilities and developments promised over the past few years, with not one block of land that is designated for a project uncovered by a long layer of grass. The State Government projects are all underway and it's noticeable that the Council and Federal projects have either stalled or are simply taking too long to begin.

As eluded to in the beginning of this post, the environment was the top priority for all respondents. While the question sometimes did not include the environment or sustainability, the response did. Maintaining Queenslanders, design to climate and appropriate hillside development were the top responses in the 'Development' category, followed by sustainable development, maintaining low rise character, keeping a 'Cairns style', having white roofs, designing for climate, and the list goes on. There were only 6 responses not related to the environment and included co-locate aged care and child care, Edmonton Town Centre, homeless accommodation and aged accommodation.

Many residents would like to see the start of kerbside rubbish collection for both green waste and hard rubbish. The regularity was not given in the responses but previous suggestions have been for twice yearly green waste removal and bi-monthly hard rubbish removal.

In the category of Environment I was a little surprised by what some of the results were. The number one response was 'maintain cane fields', followed by 'edible landscapes' and 'community gardens'. 'More shade' rounded out the top responses and the rest were varied but essentially along similar lines. The Edmonton Community Gardens is something I have had a bit to do with, my husband being one of the founders and the original Treasurer. With a lack of cohesion and community interest, this venture is floundering and will close, if it hasn't already. It's a real shame for the area because it was identified as filling a real need, yet did not work out as expected. Many projects in the region suffer the same fate and there is a simple solution to this.

Every year the Council needs to produce a simple, black and white brochure that lists every community group in each given suburb. Not the Government run groups, they are listed in the front of our phone books. I am referring to the other groups that exist in our communities but nobody seems aware of them until it's too late. The plant collectors, the community gardens, the parents groups, the baby groups, the various support groups and the times and places that these groups meet, or contact details for them. Stick a magnet on the back and each suburban region could have an individual list of all of the ways they can take part in something they have an interest in, right in their own backyard. The larger organisations such as Lions Club and Rotary could also be listed as these groups are essential to community engagement and do a great deal for their region.

There are other responses in the results of the second stage of consultation but they were very small in number and they can be accessed via the Council for those interested in seeing them. As far as the lightbulbs go, there was only one. The answer? We need a second bridge over Freshwater Creek (on the Cairns Western Arterial).

Several of the respondents had one of their answers stated in full and the one which I liked the best and I thought summed the whole Plan up was the following.......'Cairns- A unique region in which urban, economic and social development are balanced with the natural environment. A region in which we have a sense of our past and a shared understanding of our future, where differing views and new ideas are accepted and encouraged.'

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Customer Service Guide.

Walking into a store in Cairns or ordering a meal in one of our restaurants, you become wary about what kind of customer service you may, or may not, receive. Will the staff hover, frequently invading your personal space and cause claustrophobia to rear it's ugly head? Will they ignore you altogether and continue their discussion in a huddle at the counter about the results of The Biggest Loser? Will they approach you half-heartedly with a set list of quotations ready to rattle off their tongues, being neither sincere or particularly interesting? Will they start well, only to get bored quickly and try to hurry you up so they can get on with the more pressing business of re-arranging the store to look pretty?

Most customer service in Cairns is pretty poor. There are exceptions of course but these are more infrequent than they should be. Any business wanting to get your dollars in the till needs to take a really good look at how they are approaching that goal. Are they interested only in the bottom line? Do they have quotas to fill or targets to meet, taking priority over the satisfactory experience the customer should be having? Is the problem the customer service program that many of these employees have to sit through on a regular basis?

It's probably all of those things. With a few more things thrown in. Like a bad day, a bad week or a priority elsewhere that is all consuming. Here's my easy to follow customer service course for all service staff in our region.

The reality is that shoppers will talk about good experiences they had and bad ones. The ones in between, the mediocre sales pitch, will never be spoken of. Word of mouth is still the cheapest, easiest and most effective form of advertising for any business with something to sell. Women are talkers and still do most of the shopping in any household. Serve her well and the entire neighbourhood will know about it. She will also be loyal to your business and become a regular in your store. A well known benefit of providing good service.

Men shop more often than not, out of necessity, not for pleasure. Customer service is just as important for them but the focus is slightly different. While women shop to feel good, men shop to get the best product at the best price. If your sales staff don't know the product, men will walk away.

Introductions are the most important aspect of any sales pitch. All of the customer service courses tell you that there are certain time frames to approach customers in and there are phrases you must repeat with each and every person that you meet. Not true. Throw those manuals in the bin! Do it! Now!

In reality, customer service is about people. You need to genuinely like people and you need to be able to talk, but more importantly, listen. What you say is irrelevant (to a point) but HOW you say it is not. If you ask people about their day be prepared to discuss it further. I hate being asked 'How are you?' when nobody really cares about the answer. Learn to read people's body language. After a little while you will know which customers are 'window shopping', which are unsure and need some help and which already know the why, what, how, and where and just need you to ring the sale up.

Smile. It's the most obvious sign that you don't hate what you are doing and that serving us is a pleasure. It's absolutely essential that the customer feels like they are important and their needs are your priority. Losing interest when it becomes obvious that they are only spending a small amount will invariably come back to bite you when that same customer saves some money and visits your competitor to spend it. Even if they don't buy a single thing, if the service is good, they will be back to buy another day.

Lastly, remember that you are not just a salesperson, you are quite often a customer. Treat your own customers as you would like to be treated if you were on the other side of the counter.

The old adage 'The customer is always right' is real. The customer is the only reason you are there. Without us, there is no business, no sale and no wages. Treat us like your job depends on us, because it does!

Hope that helps. My guide has not been through any approval process and is not written anywhere but here on this blog. Take it or leave it but at least think about it. Even if the level of service you provide is just slightly better for it, I will be happy....and so will all of the other shoppers out there.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Queenslands fight with Mother Nature.

Over the past few months we have all heard many times about the generosity of spirit, the resilience, the giving nature and the helping hands that have helped heal the wounds caused by Mother Nature in Queensland this year. All media has been full of stories of individuals who have gone out of their way to do something astounding and those who have joined together to achieve great things, all in aid of those they do not know. The recent chaos in our State has highlighted the good in all of us. It has galvanised entire communities. All working for a common goal. To ease the pain of those who are suffering.

We made the decision to evacuate before the cyclone hit the coast and we went as far south as Rockhampton to do so. With three young children and Larry a not too distant memory, we chose to spare our children the anxiety of a Category 5 whopper. In hindsight, with the cyclone veering south of Cairns, I still maintain that it was the right choice to make. Besides, we had an adventure we would never have had if we'd stayed.

Rockhampton is bearing the signs of recent flooding. Buildings still have a brown ring around the middle of them to show where the water sat. The grass in most areas is dead from being underwater for an extended period and the roads are littered with huge pot holes. One thing that strikes you the most about Rocky is not the obvious blights on it's appearance. It's the people who live there. I have never met more helpful, friendly people in any other town or city I have visited.

They were happy about my few dollars being spent there and the many others who also evacuated to Rockhampton from as far south as Airlie Beach and as far north as Cooktown. Mostly though, they were just happy. We stayed there for three days and experienced the same level of service everywhere we went. The doctors (yes, one of the kids was sick), pharmacy (yes, they required medication), the food outlets, shops and the accommodation. A smiling, cheerful face greeted us every time and they went out of their way to ensure we left wearing similar smiles.

The drive home was an interesting one. From Home Hill we could see the devastation caused by Yasi and as we made our way further north it just got more and more harrowing. The roads are surprisingly good, much better than those in the flood zone, but the loss of homes, livelihoods and peace of mind is just heartbreaking to see.

In Townsville we stopped to get supplies for those in the Cardwell/Tully region. The local Woolies questioned why I would need such huge quantities of water and lamingtons. When I explained myself they added more lamingtons to the pile. In Cardwell, those lamingtons were snapped up very quickly by residents sick of sausages and bread. My offerings were a drop in the ocean for those residents we met. They are collecting water several times a day from the Recovery Centre just so they can get it cold. Then they head back to the area that used to house them and now is rubble.

The clean up effort is happening with full force and the volunteers have now added extra hands to the cause but this part of our coastline will take a very long time to fully recover. Roads can be fixed and houses renovated or re-built but the sight of your home, holding all the things you have gathered to make it yours, lying in pieces on the ground is not something you can just 'fix'. This community is trying though. They have got stuck in and are already seeing signs of progress for their efforts. Further north and businesses are re-opening, almost the whole of the main street of Tully is open for trading. Tarps are up, trees are being piled high and the streets are cleared for travel.

Some areas have not fared so well. Tully Heads and Hull Heads, along with the islands of Dunk and Bedarra, are as far from habitable as you could get. Yet, in the coastal communities that bore the brunt of this ferocious storm, residents are staying. They are without many basic essentials, living in conditions beyond the scope of most imaginations and the clean up here has not yet really begun.

The cause of the delay is irrelevant, the fact that there is a delay and these residents are not being informed properly of what is occurring is not acceptable. On the weekend many groups and individuals headed to these areas in search of people and properties that might need their help. What they entered into has been described as 'ground zero after an atomic explosion' and the 360 degrees of devastation is something none can fully explain to those of us who have not seen it too. Some went with packages of food, some with batteries and water, others with chainsaws and gloves. All left feeling like they had just skimmed the surface. Over and over again I have heard stories of people who were feeling forgotten and very alone and the overwhelming relief they felt when they saw the army of volunteers converge on what is left of their main street. Those who went down have promised to go back. They brought back to the rest of us the stories of those who are isolated and homeless and have galvanised many more into action.

This weekend and for many more to follow, those in need of help and assistance will be met by swarms of people, ready and willing to do whatever is required to create conditions you could live in. The actual reconstruction of homes and businesses will take months but the volunteers will be there at least until those residents are no longer living with sewage underfoot, shards of glass strewn about, asbestos fears and lack of basic services.

All over this State we have shown what we are capable of. Our strengths have come to the fore and Queensland has fought back against forces we can't control. The fight continues. Sometime in the not too distant future we will recognise that we are winning. 'You never really know how strong you are, until being strong is your only option'.