Implementing Customer Service Solutions to Facilitate Small Business Growth Post-Pandemic

January 15, 2022

Sign up for the FUSE Newsletter

FUSE Corps

In the City of New Orleans, small businesses account for nearly a third of all companies, and over 40% of businesses are minority-owned. However, New Orleans has faced crippling business disruptions throughout the pandemic, with Black and Latino-owned businesses feeling the economic strains more acutely. To support business growth and resilience post pandemic, FUSE will partner with the City of New Orleans to help eliminate barriers to permitting and licensing for local businesses in the city, particularly for women and minority-owned small businesses.

This fellowship project begins on April 25, 2022, and ends on April 24, 2023. The fellowship begins with a multi-day virtual orientation the week of April 25, 2022. The selected Executive Fellow will begin their first day of providing services to the host agency on May 2, 2022.

PROJECT CONTEXT

Small businesses play a critical role in the American economy – they are employers, sources of innovation, and community centers. Small businesses constitute more than 99% of US businesses and have been uniquely vulnerable to the economic fallouts of the Covid-19 pandemic. Women and minority-owned businesses have been disproportionately affected by the financial consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, often having limited credit access and starting with far less capital. Service industries, including accommodation, food services, and retail, which have the highest share of minority-owned small businesses, are primarily affected by pandemic closures and social distancing guidelines, causing further damage. For Black-owned companies, 41% shuttered during the pandemic.

In the City of New Orleans, small businesses account for nearly a third of all companies, and over 40% of businesses are minority-owned. However, New Orleans has faced crippling business disruptions throughout the pandemic, with Black and Latino-owned businesses feeling the economic strains more acutely. And while 2021 was expected to be a rebound year for the city, the resurgence of the Delta variant and a catastrophic hurricane this past summer have continued to slow the city’s restoration of its business and cultural economy.

With this context in mind, New Orleans recently formed the Office of Business and External Services (OBES) with the vision to create a city with more resilient businesses, stable jobs, and a vibrant economy in all neighborhoods in New Orleans. OBES is comprised of seven city agencies that work collectively to provide a more streamlined and equitable process for residents and companies to do business in New Orleans. OBES believes each customer has the right to navigate a permitting and licensing process that is responsive to their unique needs. To support building a healthy, equitable, and resilient economy post-pandemic that ensures small businesses can grow and develop, OBES is dedicated to reinviting the city’s relationships with their customers.  

To support this work, OBES will partner with FUSE Corps for one year to help eliminate barriers to permitting and licensing for local businesses in the city, particularly for women and minority-owned small businesses. The FUSE Executive Fellow will assess all existing customer touchpoints within the Office of Safety and Permits and outline a multi-year vision for how the Office will revamp and improve its customer services. This roadmap of innovative customer service solutions will serve as a model for other departments within OBES, ensuring more transparent, accessible, and accountable service delivery to residents and companies who do businesses in New Orleans.

PROJECT SUMMARY & POTENTIAL DELIVERABLES

The following provides a general overview of the proposed Executive Fellowship project. This summary and the potential deliverables will be collaboratively revisited by the host agency, the Executive Fellow, and FUSE staff during the first few months of the Executive Fellowship, after which a revised scope of work will be developed and agreed upon by the FUSE Executive Fellow and the host agency

Starting in April 2022, it is proposed that the FUSE Executive Fellow will work to quickly build deep relationships with a wide range of critical stakeholders, including staff across departments, community-based organizations, and local business owners, to understand the current permitting and licensing processes and customer experience. The fellow will spearhead mapping all customer touchpoints within the Office of Safety and Permits, reviewing how customer service is currently supported. The fellow will determine operational and consumer engagement inefficiencies in each touchpoint, develop customer profiles and identify gaps in those being served. The fellow will also research best practices being employed in other cities throughout the country to identify innovative solutions that could be implemented in New Orleans. 

The fellow will utilize this map analysis to design a framework to guide the Office of Safety and Permits in revamping their customer engagement and service delivery for permitting and licensing. The framework will outline a vision for how the Office of Safety and Permits will revamp and improve their customer services over the 1-4 years. This will include general recommendations for enhancing the customer experience and reaching all customer segments, addressing the root causes of suboptimal operations to transform the way employees communicate with and provide services to residents permanently, and technology or data opportunities and solutions to improve the customer experience. Additional recommendations will focus on decreasing barriers to service for obtaining permits and licenses among women and minority business owners, small businesses, and micro-enterprises/entrepreneurs. This framework should provide comprehensive, data-driven, and equity-centered process improvement solutions.

In the next phase, the Executive Fellow will initiate the most urgent recommendations or those that can be implemented quickly. This will include identifying and integrating relevant success metrics, such as customer satisfaction and the number of businesses permitted – among others, setting benchmarks for tracking progress. By April 2022, the Executive Fellow will have overseen the following deliverables:

  • Conduct a thorough review of the current landscape – Examine the Office of Safety and Permits customer population, implementation approach, opportunities for improvement, forecasted gaps, and performance metrics to gain a thorough understanding of the Office’s current operations; identify challenges and barriers to permitting and licensing – this analysis should particularly review customer touchpoints among women and minority business owners, small businesses, and micro-enterprises/entrepreneurs and their most significant barriers; research the procedures and practices of other agencies and cities with similar customer service practices to identify benchmarks
  • Engage internal and external stakeholders to establish deep relationships and buy-in – Demonstrate cross-cultural agility and successfully engage with all relevant stakeholders; develop working relationships with all agencies within OBES, community-based organizations, local businesses, and other critical customer groups to design processes that streamline permitting and licensing
  • Develop recommendations and a multi-year framework for improvement – Develop a sustainable multi-year framework for implementing process improvements across all customer touchpoints in the Office of Safety and Permits, outline initiatives to prioritize (including those most related to supporting women and minority business owners, small businesses, and micro-enterprises/entrepreneurs), design clear deliverables, timelines, budgets, staff training and change management approaches; sequence phases to build momentum and ensure smooth transitions for all key stakeholders
  • Implement short-term strategies to revamp key customer service touchpoints – Identify and implement priority action items that can be accomplished within the year to improve operations and set a path toward sustained improvement, support the institutionalization of structures that reinforce collaboration between all OBES agencies
  • Develop clear performance metrics and ensure long-term sustainability – Establish a method of measuring the effectiveness of each recommendation, determining how customer service changes are improving residents’ and local businesses experiences in interacting with the Office of Safety and Permits; create the necessary internal and external systems to ensure that strategies are sustainable and successfully implemented, work across the Office of Safety and Permits and OBES to support the adoption of department-wide approaches to customer service and the equitable delivery of permitting and licensing services

KEY STAKEHOLDERS

  • Project Supervisor – Melissa Schigoda, Director, Department of Performance and Accountability/Office of Business and External Services

QUALIFICATIONS

  • At least 15 years of professional experience in customer services, with a robust record of success in implementing process improvements (ex. lean six sigma programs)
  • Comfortable in facilitating culture change
  • Excellent stakeholder engagement skills and the ability to use facilitative leadership techniques to coordinate stakeholder activities
  • Superior critical thinking and analytical skills
  • Capacity to clearly articulate a business case, garnering buy-in for ideas across stakeholders
  • Cross-cultural agility, ability to relate to a wide variety of diverse audiences with strong emotional intelligence and empathy
  • A self-motivated, goal-oriented, and entrepreneurial leader who can also be an independent worker
  • Ability to synthesize complex information into clear and concise recommendations
  • Ability to sustain progress within potentially ambiguous environments
  • Exceptional written and verbal communication skills with an ease in public presentations
  • Experience working in politically charged or bureaucratic environments
  • Understands the need for solutions to support all people in a community regardless of race, religion, gender, immigration status, or ethnicity
FUSE Corps is an equal opportunity employer with a core value of incorporating diverse perspectives into our work at every level. We encourage candidates from all backgrounds to apply for this position.
X