NORMAN — Businesses seeking permits and applications from the city are customers, and Norman is working to learn how to better serve those business needs. The city council staffed Business and Community Affairs committee discussed customer surveys this week.
“It’s important to construct them carefully,” said Council member Greg Jungman. “It’s real easy to end up with a survey that doesn’t work.”
The city is considering contracting a third party to help construct and conduct the survey. Norman Development Coordinator Terry Floyd provided several sample surveys used successfully by other cities.
The Norman survey would give general contractors, developers, trades, design professionals and other project representatives a chance to provide feedback that the city can use to improve customer service in the permitting and development processes.
“You’ll get more response from the builder than you will from the trades,” said Bob Thompson, Builders Association of Central Oklahoma spokesman. “I’m not sure an overall survey will get you where you want to go at this point and time.”
He said the current trend of meetings regarding codes and procedures to educate trades and other commercial professionals is helping smooth the process.
Thompson suggested that Floyd follow up with contractors and builders to find out what the trouble spots are. He said some questions on a survey might not be useful, and there are in-house options to gather information that could be more directly helpful.
“Make sure that you contact the owner,” said attorney Harold Heiple who represents the Norman Developers Council. “The subcontractors aren’t going to talk to you at all.”
Heiple said he did not believe contracting an outside party for a survey would be useful. He said outside consultants cannot put together questions as well as city professionals in-house.
Committee chair Linda Lockett suggested sending a letter to contractors who had done business with Norman asking for input on the process and how it could be better.
Tessa Breeder of the Norman Chamber of Commerce suggested creating the survey in-house but having a third party administer might be a good way to keep questions pertinent but allow those answering the survey anonymity so they don’t fear retribution from city code enforcers.
“I think you need to keep in mind there are two types of builders — residential builders and commercial builders,” Thompson said. “The residential builders are feeling really good about the brown bag lunches.”
Those lunches focus on various aspects of code for the trades and allow for questions, information exchange and discussion.
Thompson said commercial builders have a whole different set of issues and that two different surveys would be needed to gather accurate information in both areas.
“You might want to set up something with the commercial builders, but most of your commercial builders are not in Norman,” he said.
City leaders discussed surveying builders who had not come back to Norman to see if there had been problems that drove them away.
Lockett said there have been delays in inspections that held up progress with commercial builders who build across the nation. She said talking to those people can tell Norman what problems they encountered that are unusual.
It was decided not to move forward with an outside contractor at this point. Full council will join the discussion at a future study session, but no formal action will be needed for city staff to implement a survey in-house.