Creating a Customer Service Culture

Posted on September 20, 2023

Graphic of City of Wauwatosa customer service values, "I will... make it efficient, show respect, go above and beyond, be resourceful, practice empathy."

Today’s Morning Buzz is brought to you by Melissa Cantarero Weiss, Deputy City Administrator at the City of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Find her on LinkedIn

What I’m listening to: The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling – this podcast is really well done and I highly recommend it. 

What I’m eating: An oatmeal chocolate chip cookie bar. It’s health food because it has oatmeal in it, right? 

What I’m working on:  It was budget season a few months back for my Morning Buzz and guess what? It’s still budget season, but I have moved on to working on a draft transmittal letter and an introductory presentation for the Council and Finance Committee.  


I am passionate about customer service in government. Our residents choose our community because it is a great place to call home, to raise a family, or to run their business. I believe we should provide them with the best service possible at every turn. Here in Wauwatosa, we have created customer service values that we ask our employees to embody. When we started on our customer service enhancement journey, we found that many employees just weren’t sure what was expected of them. Clear expectations are critical in empowering our employees to succeed. Keeping our team’s feedback in mind, we provide an explanation as to how employees can meet the customer service targets we have set. 

One of the first points of feedback I often receive about customer service in government is that the customer isn’t always right or the answer isn’t always yes in government work – it’s not like retail. Of course, this is true. We have departments and employees whose work it is to complete enforcement and sometimes we have to say no. However, it’s how we do it that matters most.

In order to arrive at our customer service values, we facilitated employee feedback sessions. We asked for how they want the public to perceive their interactions with us, what areas they need help with, and what steps we could all take to meet our team’s goal of providing excellent customer service to residents and business owners in our community. We then worked with a small team of leaders from every level in the organization to draft a customer service vision and values. 

Here is our customer service vision and values: 

The City of Wauwatosa has a vision that we will treat everyone with respect and as valued customers, dedicating ourselves to service excellence, and conducting ourselves ethically, honestly, and with integrity. We will do this by embracing our customer service values:

Make it efficient 

  • Help customers complete their requests in a timely and effective manner
  • Seek to continuously improve
  • Own the interaction, even if I am not the exact person who can make it happen 

Go above & beyond 

  • Be proactive and anticipate a customer’s needs
  • Consult peers to gain understanding of how city systems work 
  • Keep customers in the loop throughout the process by providing updates 

Show respect 

  • Demonstrate the customer is important through positive body language and tone of voice 
  • Listen to the customer’s issue and provide a calm, collected, and prompt response 
  • Acknowledge frustrations, apologize if helpful, and explain the why 

Be resourceful 

  • Respond with thorough answers 
  • Ask questions to understand the core issue 
  • Find information I need to provide customer service, even if it is outside my department 

Practice empathy 

  • Greet people when they arrive in my work area 
  • Listen carefully, restate concerns to seek common understanding, and carefully explain options for solutions 
  • Acknowledge and appreciate the customer’s point of view


We turned these values into wall art and have them hanging in our buildings for employees to see daily. We provide training about the values and we try to make this training practical. For example, we might highlight a real example of a challenging customer service scenario and provide examples of ways we could proceed that embody our customer service values. With over 475 employees, we post these training sessions as quick articles our team can read on the employee intranet and encourage department directors to have discussions about them during their team meetings. The customer service values are reflected in our employee performance evaluations as well. 

My favorite outcome from this project is our customer service awards. We encourage employees to nominate a colleague who has provided excellent customer service. Quarterly we name a customer service champion. Their department director, the Human Resources director, and city administrator drop in on them at work to celebrate and provide a small prize. We then highlight this in our employee newsletter with the full story of their customer service success. This is yet another way to train the team with a real life example while simultaneously recognizing the outstanding work of our fantastic employees. Plus, we know our employees are most likely to click on and read content on our intranet that features a colleague. I love our culture of service in the City of Wauwatosa and helping to build it has brought me tremendous career satisfaction over the past six years.

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