A number of organisations, both public and private sector, were in there vying for the recent Australian Customer Service Awards. They included BT Funds Management, RACV, Ikon Energy, United Telecommunications, HBF, Alinta Gas, Qantas Sydney Domestic Airport, Lend Lease Employer Systems, Qantas Brisbane Telephone Sales and MLC Lifetime. Joining them in the national final were six Councils, Banyule (VIC), Brisbane (QLD), Charles Sturt (SA), Melbourne (VIC), Redland (QLD) and Wollongong (NSW).

Winning two of the four Categories, and the overall Qantas Special Award, plus two High Commendations is definitely a feather in the cap for Local Government (refer page 3). Competing against the best in the private sector for these National Awards illustrates Local Government's commitment to providing quality service at an affordable price.

Furthermore, it proves that the public sector can deliver, and that optimum service does not need market forces to drive it.

Guest of Honour at the Awards, Professor Alan Fels, Chair of the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, told those present that there is a need to capture the hearts and minds of consumers to ensure they will remain loyal to your organisation. He spoke of the importance of research and development, to be constantly at the cutting edge of customer service to remain competitive.

He urged those present to listen to what customers are saying, their likes and dislikes about your industry's practices. He also warned about complacency, 'because everyone is doing the same thing does not mean you are all getting it right'.

Professor Fels said the key is to take complaints seriously, to act quickly and resolve them. People want to deal with organisations they can trust, that have remedies when things go wrong. Lastly, he said ignore competition from global competitors at your own peril.

It is interesting that Local Government figured so highly in these Customer Service Awards. Councils largely have a monopoly, residents and ratepayers have minimal, if any, choice concerning their local service delivery. Unlike the private sector, a Council's future is not geared around winning and retaining customer loyalty.

Yet Councils are very committed to delivering optimum service to their residents. They are listening to what their citizens are saying, so they can improve processes and put in place quality programs. Moreover, Councils are not required to deliver dividends to shareholders, yet they are dedicated to their stakeholders, providing a secure, healthy and sustainable lifestyle at an affordable price.

Congratulations to all Councils that entered these prestigious Awards - the winners, finalists and entrants. They have all proved that Local Government can and does mix it with the best in the private sector.