Effective Zoning Counter Customer Service

Zoning Practice — July 2015

By Michael Blue, FAICP, Graham Billingsley, FAICP


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Customer service expectations for the zoning counter are rather straightforward. The standard typically is set at the same level as a customer visiting a department store. Staff is expected to listen, be patient, be empathetic, and know that the customer is always right.

While it is true that zoning regulations carry the weight of law, this does not negate the idea that residents, property owners, and business persons are looking for and deserve high-quality customer service. In most localities, zoning regulations are not self-explanatory. This requires staff to spend time with customers, which can increase the challenges (and stress) faced by departments whose staffs have been reduced.

This issue of Zoning Practice sets out an approach to getting there through understanding what customer service means in your organization. It defines new expectations, provides staff members the tools and training to meet those expectations, and shares some dos and don'ts as a place to start.


Page Count
Date Published
July 1, 2015
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

About the Authors

Michael Blue, FAICP
Michael Blue, FAICP is a Principal Consultant at Teska Associates in Evanston, IL. His work includes preparing comprehensive and strategic plans, zoning regulations, and staff and organizational development plans. Michael previously worked as Community Development Director for Highland Park, IL and Deputy CD Director for Mount Prospect, IL. His work in those communities included long range planning, current planning, and support of Council and Commission activities. Michael has been active in national and state leadership of APA for much of his career.

Graham Billingsley, FAICP
Graham Billingsley has significant experience covering more than 40 years of practice. He was educated in planning, landscape architecture, and architecture, and has practiced in all three fields. He has worked in both the public and private sectors. Graham has developed land use codes, conducted studies or projects in comprehensive planning, urban design, downtown revitalization, demographic and economic analysis, opinion surveying, landscape architecture, architecture, historic preservation, process management, housing studies and has acted as an expert witness in numerous land use legal cases. He has worked throughout the United States, the Middle East, and northern Africa. He is now retired from active practice.