Thursday, September 18, 2014

Why Disney Customer Service in Government?

Beautiful Ottawa County is located in the southwestern section of Michigan's lower peninsula. Its western boundary is formed by Lake Michigan and its eastern boundary is approximately 30 miles inland.  
Today the County has a population of 260,364 inhabitants and is the 8th most populous county in the state. 

Why Customer Service in County Government?

Most counties consider customer service as a distraction from doing their real work.  At least in the private sector, competitive forces provide an incentive to emulate the outstanding customer service icons like Disney, Starbucks, Zappos or Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.   So, what difference does it make to have an outstanding Disney-like customer-centric culture in the public sector?  Surely, counties have a monopoly on their services!

Each year, Ottawa County welcomes millions of visitors to its vacation playground. In Holland, people from all over the world come to the Tulip Time festival in the spring.  (It is the third largest such festival in the United States.) Ottawa County's convenient location and rarely-too-warm summer climate have made it a mecca for sportsmen and vacationers alike.  

So, why should this County, with all of its considerable assets, be concerned with customer service?  Al Vanderberg, Ottawa County Administrator, said, "we owe great service to our citizens, our employees and it’s good business….”

For example, when a new business locates within a region, the impact on employment is: (1) a direct impact from the jobs provided by the business itself; (2) an indirect impact if the business buys production materials and services locally; and (3) an induced impact or multiplier effect from the flow of wages spent by new employees, which may provide new jobs in other businesses and in turn the spending of those wages--on and on.  San Jose State University Department of Economics reports that the regional employment multiplier ranges from 1.28 – 3.67.

That means that if a business locates within your county and provides 100 new jobs,  a range from 28 to 267 additional jobs will be created to support the new business.  So if a visiting executive has a good customer serve experience with your county, it certainly may help their decision to locate there, but if they have a terrible customer experience in your county, they will likely choose another place to put down roots. 
As part of a total company-wide improvement effort in 2010,  Al Vanderberg began an Ottawa Way Customer Service Initiative.  After reading The Disney Way, Al contacted Bill Capodagli to help Ottawa County adopt a Disney-like customer service culture.

The Journey Begins

In the fall of 2012, Bill Capodagli began working with Al and his Customer Service Steering Team.  The Steering Team is comprised of the key leaders from 33 departments.  The first step was for the Steering Team to understand and become totally immersed in the Disney Way Experience through a series of workshops.
During the initial presentation and discussions, Al and his team came to the realization that although the 33 departments ranged from law enforcement to social services, the same Disney Way Experience Model should drive them all.

 Front-Line Management Buy-in

The next step to implementing The Ottawa Way Customer Service culture was a 3-day Leadership Workshop for approximately 100 first-line leaders. 
Becoming “customer-centric” is not an activity to be “checked off” during an annual strategic planning process or meaningless performance reviews.  An organization-wide cultural change driven by top management is required for success.  Ultimately, the Dream/Vision, Values and Culture of the organization must be embraced by all employees for the transformation to be realized.   Front-line leadership must not only embrace the new culture they must believe that they have ownership in its development and results. 

The Roll-out

Upon completion of the Leadership Workshops, Al mandated a 3-day Ottawa Way Customer Service Training for all employees.  For the ensuing year, approximately 60-100 employees participated in the training on a monthly basis. You may be asking, “Why does this training need to be conducted over three days?”  A well-trained presenter could deliver the principles in less than a day.  However, if it was that simple, countless organizations would be as magical as Disney!

When employees arrive at the 3-day training, they do so with a set of values that has been ingrained in them over the course of their employment.  Now they are expected to embrace a new set of values, yet they need time to realize that the old values are no longer the best for the organization as a whole.  Through a series of exercises and discussions over the three days, most employees embraced the new values.

The “Hot Seat”

During the afternoon of the second day of the Ottawa Way Customer Service Training, participants experience the “Hot Seat.”.  Al Vanderberg and two of the Steering Team department heads become the “Hot Seat” panel.  Participants are invited to ask the panel any questions pertaining to the Ottawa Way Customer Service Initiative or County operations.  

The purpose of the “Hot Seat” is two-fold.  First:  Top leaders being available, displaying candor and demonstrating support to employees; Secondly: Establishing trust and open communication between top management and the work force

“Brain Trust” Follow-up

 “A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas” – Ed Catmull, President of Disney and Pixar Animation Studios

The key to any cultural transformation is frontline leadership.  Their diligent commitment to embracing a shared set of values, attitudes and behaviors is absolutely essential to creating a customer-centric culture.

The Ottawa Way will continue into 2015 with a newly created Leadership "Brain Trust" comprised of 15-20 leaders and a facilitator.  The leaders will complete a Customer Service Implementation Questionnaire with the goal of achieving excellence in categories such as Elements of the Customer Experience and Removal of Barriers to Pride in Workmanship.

Congratulations to Al Vanderberg and his entire workforce for staying the course to achieve "Disney Way" customer-centric cultural excellence!

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