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Through Data, Customers Tell Riverside If They're 'Happy or Not'

In response to a strategic planning workshop that identified customer service as a top priority, Riverside officials are installing kiosks and Web tools to easily measure satisfaction with city performance.

Two traditionally lucky numbers are beginning to pay off for the city of Riverside, which recently installed kiosks and Web tools to measure satisfaction with its customer service at 11 city locations and on seven city Web pages.

The kiosks and tools, from Finnish company HappyOrNot, which has U.S. offices in Florida, measure customer satisfaction with a simple maxtrix. Four round buttons with smiley-face graphics at each kiosk offer visitors to city locations clear, non-written choices to rate their service.

Choices range from bright green and very smiley for a very positive experience to lighter green and not-so smiley for less positive; pinkish-red and no smile for a somewhat negative experience, and bright red with a frown for very negative.

Online, the ratings tool pops up in the lower right corner of the city’s home page, and even has space for visitors to write a comment.


Riverside has been increasingly focused improved customer satisfaction, accountability and transparency since its mayor and city council identified “enhanced customer service” as the top priority at a strategic planning workshop in 2015. The resulting strategic plan, Riverside 2.0, mirrors that priority.

The city inked a two-year contract with HappyOrNot and is rolling out a citywide performance management program that will begin in July, using the results its kiosks and Web tools generate. The agreement expected to cost $16,787 over two years.

Communications Officer Phil Pitchford said transparency and accountability are also of high importance to City Manager John A. Russo, who joined Riverside in May 2015.

Lea Deesing, Riverside’s chief innovation officer, said she first encountered a HappyOrNot kiosk at the airport in Dublin in late 2015 and was impressed by its simplicity and directness.

“I just saw it as I was going up the escalator and I hit the ‘happy’ button,” said Deesing, who is also executive director of SmartRiverside, a nonprofit whose vision is to establish the city as an innovation center.

“It’s really measuring sentiment, which is a different survey. We’re finding that a lot of people are giving us useful feedback and we’re able to use it. In fact, we’re able to make changes to the city website and we’re already doing so,” she added.

By the end of the summer, Riverside will have 11 active kiosks at various city facilities including City Hall, the Riverside Public Library and two police stations. Online visitors can find the ratings tool at the city’s main page, and others for its library, museum, finance/purchasing and parks and recreation divisions.

Mayor Rusty Bailey praised the system’s simplicity and performance.

“You have this simple, simple process and feedback mechanism that is definitely going to help the council make better decisions toward improving quality and performance,” he said.

“It’s all about data-driven decision here in Riverside. I think that’s where we’re going,” Deesing said.

Todd Theisen, executive vice president of sales and business development for HappyOrNot Americas Inc., said Riverside’s deployment of the company’s rating system is the widest by any public agency.

HappyOrNot is used by 3,000 organizations in 100 countries. Public agencies that use it include U.S. airports and hospitals; the cities of Atlanta; Redding, Calif.; Las Cruces, N.M.; and King County, Wash.

Riverside’s kiosks went live Feb. 22, following an informational presentation the previous day from staff to the Riverside City Council.

So far, 91 percent of the roughly 3,600 responses received have been positive — higher, Deesing pointed out, than the national average of positive responses to HappyOrNot clients, which is only 85 percent. The city library kiosk has been most popular, generating 911 responses.

City officials installed the kiosks in areas where they thought city employees would most likely be interacting with the public — but put them closer, for example, to exit doors than, say, line-up areas, to capture the totality of people’s experience.

“The idea is that if you’ve gotten a permit and want to get on with the rest of your day, you probably don’t want to take a 15-minute survey and we most likely won’t get a response,” said Phil Pitchford, the city’s communications officer. “It’s something, you can do your business at city hall and push a button and leave.”

But Deesing also had a kiosk installed in the city’s innovation and technology department to rate internal moral.

“On the way out, it says ‘How was your day?’” she said. “I want to know whether I’m remaining competitive with the other IT markets out there. If people aren’t happy, they can easily get a job elsewhere.”

HappyOrNot provides clients with proprietary software and tools, while the data that’s generated is hosted by Amazon Web Services. Clients get overviews, comparable rankings and listings of trending data on a daily and weekly basis, so they’re able to track responses to interactions that may have happened hours earlier — and adapt more quickly to what they learn.

“This allows them to pinpoint ‘Hey, at these times or on these days, we have an issue,'” Theisen said. “The impact of those will jump out at you.”

In response to comments, Deesing said officials intend to make tools frequently requested by residents easier to find on the city website — which they hope to have partially redesigned during the next few months, also based on comments.

Recently, Deesing said, officials learned by reviewing comments left through the system that their utility billing system had had issues overnight. They have since added a monitoring system to alert them to any late-night problems.

“It’s much more up-to-date than your typical comment field that would be buried deep inside your website,” she said.

Other initiatives currently underway as a result of the Riverside 2.0 strategic plan include customer service training for City Hall employees; making sure popular city processes are available around the clock online; Streamline Riverside, aimed at speeding up turn-around for city permits; and the Community and Economic Development Department’s One-Stop Shop, which should be completed in July and centralize heavily utilized services on the third floor at City Hall.

Mayor Rusty Bailey said city officials have discussed how best to streamline and improve Riverside’s governmental processes since he first campaigned for city council a decade ago.

“We’ve all talked about it since 2007 at least from my standpoint and we’re finally getting it done. And that’s a testament to the city management team and the city council being on the same team and prioritizing city service and streamlining city government,” Bailey said.

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for Industry Insider — California, and before that was a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.