From the Hip: Natasha Jones, Director of Customer Service

King County customer service: making it easier, faster, and better

Pictured, left to right: Executive Customer Service Team Mauricio Martinez, Natasha Jones and Cheeketa Mabone.

Pictured, left to right: Executive Customer Service Team Mauricio Martinez, Natasha Jones and Cheeketa Mabone.

“So what do you do?” Love it or hate it, this common ice breaker question often becomes an opportunity for me to tell people about the great work county employees do, and how I get to help people and make our government better through my job.

As Director of Customer Service, for the past five years my team and I have worked with employees from every department to improve how the county delivers its service by focusing on four main areas:

  1. Developing and sharing a common definition of customer service across county government that is flexible enough for our varied lines of business
  2. Training and supporting staff and managers in delivering great service to the public and each other
  3. Gathering and using data to be more responsive, consistent, and coordinated in responding to customer requests
  4. Identifying and solving existing problems with our processes and systems for customers and staff.

Customer Service staff worked across departments to create the county’s Customer Service Promise (available in seven languages!) and “no wrong door” approach, meaning that even if the first employee a customer reaches isn’t the right person to help with an issue, they’ll try to get them to someone who is. The goal is helping customers solve problems in the fewest steps, with the least amount of effort.

We have also created and delivered dozens of countywide and customized four-hour customer service trainings for employees and managers across executive departments and separately-elected agencies. The trainings often spark important conversations about how to align an agency’s customer service goals with operational realities, and how supervisors and managers play important roles in supporting staff in delivering good customer service by modeling good colleague care themselves.

One of the biggest improvements for both customers and employees has been switching to a Microsoft-based constituent response management system from KCIT. It helps us keep track of customer requests across departments and agencies. Five years ago, many customer inquiries were handled by a variety of uncoordinated tools with no easy way to know whether they’d been answered, or by whom.

Now, we can accurately route requests to the right agency or person, provide more consistent and timely answers, and measure how long it took, so that we can continue to get better at it.

All of these activities are aimed at making our customers’ experiences easier, faster, and better than before, whether they contact us in person, by phone, online, by email, or – increasingly – on social media.

Customers are not the only ones who benefit. In the recent employee survey, there was a connection between higher job satisfaction scores when the agency’s work was aligned with delivering better customer service.

It helps that many employees have embraced the idea that continuous improvement starts with them and that they can improve how we do business. Here are just a few examples of how employees are making things easier for customers:

  • Facilitated LEAN event with staff and customers that reduced process steps by 50% and improved end-products for customers.
  • Redesigned our phone system to reduce the length of messages.
  • Changed program practices so that all complainants received a call back with information about what to expect.
  • Contacted a customer who asked for a hard copy of a mailed report and told him about the online system, which is more efficient and provided expedited service.

This year, we continue to focus on being responsive and timely, while also testing and expanding ways to measure whether customers are satisfied with the services they receive. Customer feedback is a critical part of the continuous improvement cycle so that we can, in the words of County Executive Dow Constantine, “Do our jobs better tomorrow than we did today, and become one of the best run governments in the country.”

That’s the long answer to the question of what I do. The short answer is: I get to solve problems, help residents, support fellow employees, and improve King County’s systems and customer service with every interaction, every day. I look forward to doing even more.