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Italy city hall uses smiley face emoticons to gauge customer satisfaction

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Locals are all smiles now that they can zap public employees with angry little faces for slow or surly service with the touch of a finger.

At Milan's city hall, an emoticon satisfaction system provides touch screens where citizens give instant feedback by pressing a green smiley face when pleased, a yellow face for sufficient service, or a red frowney face.

Those who see red get an additional screen with four choices from which to select: Was it the wait time, the service itself, the need for a return visit, or something else?

After a nine-month test, the “Mettiamoci la faccia” program (roughly “Let’s Face It”) was extended to the city’s public records office. Officials say this instant customer satisfaction survey showed that while 89 percent of Milanese were happy with public service, 50 percent of those who complained found wait times unacceptable.

“It’s a concrete way for us to ensure customer satisfaction,” says Stefano Pillitteri, a Milan city councilor in charge of citizen services. “We know immediately how we’re doing and why.”

Last month, those expressive little faces spread to 1,000 touch screens in 130 public administrations. Plans are to extend the emoticon system to 5,700 small towns, giving some 30 percent of Italians the chance to express themselves electronically.

“We’d like this to generate a wave of positive energy through the country,” says Renato Brunetta, Italy’s minister of public functions.

Milanese who don’t feel comfortable giving hot-button feedback in front of the city employee who may have ruined their day can also use text messages, e-mails, or old-fashioned phone calls.

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