Fort Lewis leaders listening, says customer service manager
February 20, 2009
By Don Kramer
FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Whether they have great experiences with Fort Lewis service providers or ones that leave something to be desired, more people are using the report system designed to crow or complain about it - and key leaders are listening.
Senior officers, civilians and NCOs are taking to heart the feedback from the customers of more than 160 installation services. The proof is in customer-management services statistics, according to Curtis Atkinson. As customer service officer, Atkinson monitors the comments, positive and negative, sent to leaders of directorates and branches via the Interactive Customer Evaluation system. The results of the first six months of Atkinson's tenure are encouraging.
"The satisfaction rate for all the services has gone from 83-84 (percent) to 88-89," Atkinson said of the statistics since his arrival in August 2008. "It actually increases. That tells me that not only are people utilizing the process, but people in the management field ... are looking at that information and taking action to improve services.
The CMS system includes three levels of measurable, quantifiable feedback, from individuals through small constituency groups to leaders. An example of the responsiveness of the program came at the beginning of the National Football League season last September.
"When the NFL season started, a bunch of Soldiers headed over to the Heroes Lounge to watch football and found they don't open until noon. The next day there were about 40 comment cards that went forward to FMWR saying 'Why don't you open Heroes Lounge so that we can gather and watch Sunday football''"
Heroes Lounge opened the following weekend at 9:30 a.m. Demand among Soldiers led to the lounge and Club North featuring Ultimate Fight Championship caged fight nights on pay-per-view television. The clubs offering popular weekend sports events are examples of success stories from direct customer feedback via ICE. Comment cards coming into the system have increased from 230 last fall to 420 in January.
By the end of February, ICE comments will be easier to make than ever through use of 10 new kiosks at strategic locations on the installation.
"The ICE program is improving and moving along very well," Atkinson said. "When I first got here we had 148 service providers, individual comment cards for the various services in (Family), Morale, Welfare and Recreation, Public Works, Logistics and Information Management. We're up to 160 service providers, including some critical ones."
One important new card goes to the Defense Military Pay Officer. Formerly Soldiers had no means in the ICE system of raising concerns about their pay. Now the DMPO receives from five to 12 comments per month, Atkinson said.
ICE represents only the first tier of the community's comprehensive approach to gaining customer feedback. The second, constituency-group level of CMS, is known as "Community FIRST."
"On 'Community FIRST,' we have formed a strategic partnership with the Army Family Action Plan," said the customer service representative. "Installation Management Command developed a process to ensure that every issue that's brought up, whether in AFAP or the Community FIRST program, is handled."
During an October AFAP symposium, attendees identified 121 issues of concern to Soldiers, family members and retirees. Upon review, facilitators determined 70 could be fixed at Fort Lewis. Twelve went to higher headquarters and AFAP, the remaining 39 went to AFAP to manage. But whereas before Community FIRST, AFAP issues might have been tabled until representatives reconvened, garrison customer-service personnel like Atkinson can continue to work the issues.
"I took them over in the Community FIRST program and put them out to the directorates and received back information about what was done on those issues," Atkinson said. "With Community FIRST, we can work those year-round."
Focus-group meetings with constituency groups started in November with the Warrior Transition Battalion.
"We had 16 Soldiers at that from E-1 to E-7 and got four issues from that to be handled within the WTB itself or the Soldier Family Action Center," Atkinson said. He also conducted a "single Soldier session" along with the garrison's top NCO, Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew Barnes, and plans a retiree constituency group session in April.
The third tier of the CMS process requires annual assessments at the "corporate" level, now known as the leadership tier. The first leadership assessment was conducted from Oct. 20 through Nov. 7, 2008. During that first assessment, 221 Fort Lewis leaders to include senior NCOs, officers and GS 12 and 13 civilians in leadership positions provided responses. Two hundred Soldiers, family members, civilian employees, retirees, veterans and contractors also provided responses. Designed to be more comprehensive in scope, they broke down the issues into common levels of support - categories used in funding requirements.
Atkinson maintains survey results from all three tiers' meetings on data bases at his fingertips and therefore, those of the garrison commander and her staff. He is in the process of breaking out the issues by directorate and soon will have the results available for senior garrison leaders. Fort Lewis leaders consider the first year of CMS its baseline year, Atkinson said. He aims at doubling survey participation in its second.
Along with conducting sessions and compiling data from all three levels, Atkinson is working on codifying the processes for each. Fort Lewis Policy Statement 13 about ICE is complete and another about the Community FIRST program is nearly ready for the garrison commander's signature. The policy statements, Atkinson said, distill IMCOM programs in effect at all installations into functions at the local garrison level to address what specifically works on Fort Lewis.
"Fort Jackson and Fort Hood are very different than Fort Lewis," Atkinson said. Demographics and missions vary though they are all required to perform the same customer service functions.
The CMS functions should translate seamlessly to programs at McChord Air Force Base as Joint Basing becomes a reality at the end of 2009, Atkinson said. The ICE system is a DOD-level program, already active at McChord. The air base also runs a constituency-feedback system similar to the CMS Community FIRST program, though the Air Force assessment-feedback sessions take place every two years.
Don Kramer is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.