JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - An already expanding installation customer feedback program is getting a big boost from the transition to Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Customer service programs overseen by the Plans, Analysis and Integration Office, designed to capture kudos and criticisms of JBLM services at all levels, are now incorporating McChord Field facilities and personnel.

JBLM customer service officer, Curtis Atkinson, manages three feedback programs from his office in PAIO: Interactive Customer Evaluations for individual comments via the Internet or from kiosks around the installation; Community First facilitations with constituency groups; and an annual Customer Service Assessment, an Armywide requirement to solicit input from and provide feedback to leadership groups and the entire military community.

Having celebrated the date for JBLM Initial Operational Capability on Feb. 1, the units and directorates are working along a time line to integrate all services by Oct. 1 when all systems will achieve Full Operational Capability.

"Now that we have met IOC," Atkinson said, "we are expanding the customer management services program ... all the way to McChord Field, and we're doing that in all the areas that I manage and administer. Effective March 15, we have established and activated a JBLM ICE site, which consolidated into one site all of the service providers that were on the old Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base sides."

As a result, the number of service providers being evaluated by customers has increased more than 30 percent, from 230 to 295.

"Any customer who utilizes services at Lewis, McChord Field or Yakima can go online and make a comment about whether they were satisfied with the service, whether it met their needs, and answer any issues they may have," Atkinson said. "If you go to the site, you click on United States map ... There is only one place; it's one-stop shopping, so anybody can make comments on services."

The JBLM directorates are adding McChord Field-based service providers as the installation progresses from IOC to FOC, updating to accommodate ICE comments about the new ones.

"That's quite a move forward," Atkinson said. "Right now if you go to the Master ICE site and look at all the joint base organizations that are there, we are on the cutting edge of that. We are looking at probably expanding by about 30 percent once everything is on the ground."

The ICE program here has grown significantly in the two years Atkinson has managed the program. Comments were running at a rate of about 50 to 60 ICE per week, about 2,600 for a fiscal year. Last fiscal year, the average doubled to about 110 per week.

"We ended up with almost 5,800 ICE comments," Atkinson said. "So we went up from about 2,600 to 5,800 and our satisfaction rate increased from 72 percent to 85 percent across the board. And we're moving forward at about that pace."

The Community First program that works in conjunction with the Army Family Action Plan identifies issues from various constituency groups, retirees, single Soldiers, family members, civilian employees, wounded warriors and others. Issues arising from facilitated discussions with those groups are reviewed and either resolved under the Community First Program or forwarded and handled through the annual AFAP process, which sends them to FORSCOM and Department of the Army for resolution.

Last week, Atkinson conducted his first JBLM issues session with a focus group comprised of single Soldiers. A number of McChord Airmen were invited to join Army delegates who met April 7 to air their concerns. An AFAP facilitator ran the session like a normal AFAP working group, developing a list of issues.

"The first year I was here we had 83 issues that were identified and determined to be issues that could be resolved at Fort Lewis," Atkinson said. "Seventy-four of those have been resolved. Six were determined to be unattainable; by that I mean regulation, funding, security concerns prohibit it. This year, so far we've had 64 issues and 50 of those have already been resolved."

Issues from town hall meetings, facilitated focus groups or elevated from the ICE Web site are sent to the appropriate directorate with a 30-day suspense for response. If a valid issue takes longer to resolve, Atkinson tracks it either locally or sends it higher. Before the PAIO-led customer services program began the Community First effort, if AFAP issues couldn't be resolved locally, they simply atrophied unless they were brought up the following year. Now they are worked at the garrison level or elevated higher in the chain of command.

"So the customer management services program now can be used to ensure that local issues are identified, passed to the appropriate agency that is responsible for that service and then, a resolution done to it."

An issue is not considered complete until it is briefed to the JBLM commander, which is done on a quarterly basis.

The third part of the customer service program, the annual assessment, has likewise grown. Atkinson's first one in October 2008 saw 431 people take the assessment. Last year, 1,278 took the assessment, the sixth-highest number among all installations in the Army.
"We had a great turnout," Atkinson said. "Information is now much more valid; we can look across constituency groups Armywide and see if there is a trend, and or if there is continuity of issues continually surfacing at all the different levels."

As the only major joint base that has an Army lead, Atkinson will be working with this year with Installation Management Command officials who manage the assessment to ensure that the questions are based on the appropriate common levels of support, common output-level standards and the correct support packages are properly identified.

"We are moving ahead rapidly and are working to ensure we have a complete integration of customer management services across the joint base as we reach toward FOC this fall," Atkinson said.

He has seen the system work. On the first day of the 2008-09 National Football League season, a number of Soldiers arrived at the Cascade Community Center to watch the games on the big screen. The problem was that the Heroes Lounge didn't open until 12:30 p.m., and games on the East Coast began at 10 a.m. About 40 ICE comments came in the following week, complaining about missing the first game. The following week, the lounge's doors opened at 9:30 a.m., the direct result of the customer service program.

Atkinson said comments arising from facilitated Community First sessions last year led to repainting worn lines of streets and parking spaces on the installation.

"I think it is a useful feedback mechanism," said Pauline Oaks, chief of support systems in the Directorate of Emergency Services. She said when there is a problem, it's difficult to know who is responsible for it.

"You can never find the point of contact," Oaks said. "But when it goes into ICE, there is always somebody there to answer. I think it is an awesome program. It is a cost savings compared to the Army Suggestion Program. Using the ASP, the Army has to pay out money ... to the employee. So it is more cost saving to use the ICE program than it is the suggestion program."

The requirements have recently become more stringent for responding to complaints.
"It's an IMCOM policy, if a Soldier or customer wants a response and provides contact information, our requirement is to get back to the customer within three working days," Atkinson said. "Those statistics are being watched at IMCOM level."

Don Kramer is a reporter with the Northwest Guardian, Joint Base Lewis-McChord's weekly newspaper.