New hires posture Fort Riley to improve customer service during moves

By Margaret ZifferJune 26, 2020

As part of the Chief of Staff of the Army’s quality of life initiative to improve customer service and enhance operations during the summer peak moving season, Fort Riley has increased its number of Quality Assurance Inspectors in support of Permanent Change of Station moves from two to ten.

The hiring increase, which has been in the works for over two years, will enable the Fort Riley team to provide better customer service throughout the PCS process.

“The Army has been looking at different avenues for improving PCS moves for service members for the last few years,” said Laura Morris, chief of personal property, transportation division, Army Field Support Battalion. “They were looking at different areas they could improve and the inspection process was one of them.”

The primary responsibility of the inspection team, whose new members began arriving within the last 60 days, is to ensure quality customer service during the PCS move process by holding transportation companies accountable for the services they were contracted to provide.

“Our team of inspectors allow us to monitor the transportation providers and make sure they are meeting DOD standards,” said Paul Licata, Army Field Support Battalion commander. “This is the only place where we touch every Soldier and their families. The move is their first experience coming into Fort Riley and their last experience leaving Fort Riley. So these inspectors have a critical mission.”

While this mission has always been the role of the inspectors, the new hires will allow Fort Riley to drastically increase the number of moves they can inspect.

“Prior to this expansion, we had just two inspectors which allowed us to inspect about 10% of the moves that happened in the Fort Riley area of responsibility,” said Licata. “Now I think we are well-positioned to meet the chief of staff’s goals to complete 75%. I think we can get pretty close to 100% after we get people fully trained.”

As part of the onboarding process, the inspectors go through a thorough training program.

“We have a book training portion that covers all the procedures and regulations and addresses conflict resolution,” said Ford Smith, lead inspector. “Then we have a left-seat/right-seat training where they actually ride along with a seasoned inspector to see how it’s done.”

Smith explained that having the opportunity to actually shadow an experienced inspector is a critical learning opportunity for the new hires.

“A lot of inspectors get better training when they have the opportunity to see it firsthand,” said Smith.

Part of the training also includes an anonymous assessment to see what students thought of how the inspector they were riding along with did, and if they could identify areas of the inspection that went well and areas that could be improved.

The increase in inspectors has provided the AFSBN team better capabilities to provide COVID protection measures.

“This expansion, while not connected to COVID, has enabled us to enforce COVID protection measures at a much higher level than we would have had the capacity for if this had happened last year,” said Licata.

Now, in addition to enforcing standards like movers putting down floor coverings and door jamb protection, inspectors can be present at more moves to ensure the packers are following proper COVID protection measures.

The reduction in PCS moves over the past several weeks has also been a bit of a silver lining for the inspectors, Morris said.

“There was a slower time initially right when the inspectors were onboarding,” said Morris. “So it allowed them more time for the training and more time for going on-site and seeing the process firsthand before they had to be prepared to go out on their own.”

Morris explained that having the opportunity to train more has been invaluable to the inspectors, whose jobs require the accumulation of significant amounts of institutional knowledge.

“With so many of the inspectors being new, they may have to reach out to their coworkers or call back to the office for the answers to ensure our customers are receiving the most accurate and up to date information,” said Morris. “That’s encouraged; we do not anticipate nor do we expect them to have all the knowledge in such a short amount of time.”

Now that PCS restrictions are easing, AFSBN staff said the number of approved moves has been increasing rapidly and they expect to see the pace quicken even more in the coming weeks.

“To give you an idea of the volume, the team conducted 40 inspections today,” said Licata.

While monitoring the movers is the primary function of the inspectors, their job also entails much more, like helping people find the right information and serving as a continuous resource throughout the entire moving process.

“Inspectors are there to help answer questions,” said Morris. “There’s always last-minute questions that the service member may not have thought of during the counseling process.”

Because of the frequent interactions the inspectors have with the service members and families, the AFSBN staff agree that cultivating relationships and building trust are inherent aspects of the inspection job.

“Inspectors are trained to look for things like improper packing,” said Smith. “But we also want them to be able to interact with the service member and with the service provider. They are there to make sure everything is being done within DOD standards.”

Being involved throughout every part of the process means inspectors are not only responsible for the initial inspection and often go back to check on the same shipment two or three times.

“It’s important that the inspectors build that rapport with the service members and understand the service members,” said Morris.

The goal is to assist service members and families in having a positive experience with their PCS move.

“Especially for first time movers - when they aren’t too familiar with the system - it’s important that they have that support system from the inspector to guide them through it,” said Smith. “I used to be military, so I know how stressful it can be moving. Making sure people have a smooth move, that’s my favorite part about the job.”

The team agreed that receiving frequent positive feedback from their customers is an indicator that they are on the right track when it comes to providing quality customer service.

“There are parts of the process we cannot control,” said Morris. “But, for the things we are able to control - the inspection, answering questions, the customer service, the counseling, being involved all throughout the process and just being there for the service member to help, - that’s, I think, what constitutes a successful move.”