Customer service in B.C. and Dutch municipalities

Customer service in B.C. and Dutch municipalities

Where is a street musician better off?



The Process Pros did silent visits in 9 B.C. municipalities; Vancouver, Richmond, Langley, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Surrey, New Westminster, Delta and Burnaby. Our Dutch sister company De ProcesShoppers did the same in the Netherlands. In this article, we compare the results to see if the experience of the customer differs between the two countries. We tried to compare different services such as building and business permits, but these services cannot be compared easily due to large differences in the legislation and parties involved. However, we managed to create a case which is applicable to both situations: the street musician wanting to perform in a public space and checking procedures by email, websites, and visits to city hall. It is not the most commonly used service, and therefore is very well suited to check the customer’s experience.


How did we evaluate?

The four criteria that express the customer’s experience are ease of use, timeliness, first time right, and human interaction.


Salient results

Ease of use

In most cases, we found that information on B.C. websites is difficult to find. When visiting websites, we found that 50% of B.C. municipality procedures for street musicians were either not easy to find or completely absent. Websites were also unclear in redirecting a customer to a contact. In various cases, it was not possible to download information from the website.


The forms, either downloaded or given to us when visiting City Hall, contained adequate information in most cases. The formatting of the brochures did not always make the information easy to read. In many cases a copy of brochure was given to us, with maps and street names that could not be read. In one case, the clerk was kind enough to write down the street names on the brochure because she admitted that she was unable to read the information herself.


In most municipalities in the Netherlands, no forms were handed out. Instead, we were referred to the cities’ websites. The Dutch websites were clear about regulations and procedures. The digital forms were found mainly on the special digital desk, and could sometimes be filled out straight away. The Dutch forms were better structured, transparent, and more user friendly.


Strangely, in both B.C. and the Netherlands there was one city where we had great difficulty in finding the entrance to City Hall. In the B.C. municipality we had to enter through what appeared to be a cellar entrance. In the Dutch City Hall, the entrance was closed to the public(!) and we had to ring a bell to get in.


First time right

This aspects needs major improvement in three areas:

  1. Unclear rules and regulations
  2. One stop shopping
  3. Incomplete information


1. Unclear rules and regulations

We found that policies in B.C. differ per municipality, and that in most cities staff was not able to give unambiguous answers. Three cities permit a licensed street musician on city pavement. In one city staff did not know if a license was needed. The senior officer said that it was ‘probably OK’ and gave us his business card to show to the police in case of any problems.


We found the contrary for the Dutch situation. The regulations are clear and there is little difference between the cities. Most of the cities allow street performances without a permit. In only 3 out of 12 cities, a permit is required for a street musician.


Desk clerks of Dutch municipalities have great difficulty in giving adequate information. At one case we started at the front desk, where the employee advised us to call another employee. The employee that we phoned advised us to send in an email. The answer to our email was that we could find the requested information on the website. But in general, when calling City Hall a clear answer was given straight away.


2. One stop shopping

We found that although routing procedures in both the Netherlands and in B.C. limit referrals, they do not realize one stop shopping. In B.C. City Halls there are many desks on various topics, which in itself stimulates the idea of fragmented services instead that of one stop full service. In most cases it took only one referral to visit the right desk.


When visiting City Halls in the Netherlands, it often felt like playing a game show where you had to guess where you would end up. Most cities have an automatic number dispenser to start the routing. However, the case of a street musician was not common enough to be directed instantaneously. So the next step would be to check in at the main reception. The main reception directed us to the next desk. But the desk clerks were only able to answer one of our two questions. From that point we experienced four different options. The first option was to be referred to another desk, which is basically a loop. The second option was to be referred to the City’s website. The third option was to call or come back at another time. The last option was an employee acknowledging that they just don’t know the answer.


3. Incomplete information

Almost half of the B.C. cities did not mention the possibility of a street musician performing on private property like a shopping mall or at a Translink station, or at events. In the Netherlands, street musicians were informed completely.


Human interaction

Although service levels in the Netherlands are notoriously low compared to Canadian standards, we found most staff to be very helpful and assisting, although some exceptions were met. In Dutch municipalities staff is focused on routing correctly and following procedures, while B.C. Cities’ staff tends to actually focus on the customer. We were frequently asked which kind of instrument or type of music was played, if we had a CD out, etc. Staff in B.C. in general is more willing to assist in making it possible. In some cases when staff did not know the rules, we were encouraged just to perform because “nobody will notice’.



In general, waiting times in both B.C. and Dutch city halls are short for ‘the first stop’ at the information desk. In almost all cities we were served within four minutes at the information desk. The short waiting time was even realized during a B.C. property tax day. In Dutch city halls the waiting times were slightly longer. However, in most cases we were redirected to a second desk. And then waiting time and redirecting time could run up to twenty minutes.

Additionally, B.C. staff did not specify timelines about the application and permit. Dutch staff did give timelines, but they were not very specific. E.g. “Anywhere between x and y weeks.”



This small survey indicates that there might be two patterns of service models:

  1. The Dutch model which is characterized by actively referring the customer to digital and process-oriented fulfillment
  2. The B.C. model which is characterized by human interaction and paper-oriented processing

This is not to say that B.C. municipalities are not using internet technology in serving customers, because they do. But our findings suggest that active promotion and routing of customers to using websites is more developed with Dutch municipalities. The challenge for Dutch municipalities is to actually relate to the customer, if they do not, the customer will be simply another entry on the website, and there will be adverse effects for the customer’s experience.


This model might not be valid for all municipality or all types of permits. We only reported on the case of a street musician. This is a product that is not too often delivered, so it directly challenges the service model because well-trained standard procedures are not in place. The service model then depends solely on the behaviour of staff and their process-mindedness.

It might be of interest to see what B.C. and Dutch municipalities can learn from each other when progressing towards the digital personalized bureaucracy. The results from our small survey suggest that the back office of Dutch municipalities are more strictly organized, while B.C. municipalities have their front office organized as more customer friendly.



This article focuses on the street musician. We might be checking and comparing the results for building permits of grants for instance to see if our service model is still valid. It appears that the future for customer service is to combine customer intimacy at the (digital) front office and operational excellence throughout the process. With techniques like narrow casting and “the long tail” steps are being made to a digital personalized municipality. But for now, our street musician does not know where he of she is better off. This can only to be answered from a bureaucratic point of view.


Our findings suggest that you will be serviced more friendly and helpful in BC but more straightforward in the Netherlands. We asked the famous American born street singer Liz McDowell, who has been playing on the street of Amsterdam for fifteen years her opinion. She replied that one of the few rules street musicians share, is to never talk about their earnings. After a little persistence, she said that had moved to the Netherlands because of higher fees but many of her colleagues are now moving to Barcelona or Berlin, where fees are higher and housing is cheaper. What did we learn from this? The market for street musicians has also globalized and getting a permit will not be a show stopper either in the Netherlands or BC.


 All municipalities have been informed about our findings individually. 

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