Workers need good equipment to give good service. Let's stick with FEMA as the example: FEMA's main
equipment used to be tents and tons of paper. After a flood, FEMA would set up a tent on dry ground and all
the victims would have to go there to fill out forms. FEMA inspectors would stop by the tent, pick up a batch
of forms, slog out to the damaged houses to check them out, then slog back to the tent to exchange those
forms for the next batch. To give better service, they needed better tools, and they got them. Now, flood
victims can call a toll-free number to apply for aid, and inspectors have hand-held computers with modems
that receive claims and transmit their evaluations without any slogging. Many other agencies needed and
got modern equipment to give better service, too.
Telephones are a top priority in customer service all across the government because more Americans
contact the government by phone than any other way. The attention is producing better service.
Last year the people at the Social Security Administration were judged the best in the business at
handling calls. An independent survey by Dalbar, Inc. picked SSA as the best toll-free telephone service,
compared to several top private sector firms. SSA beat Xerox, Southwest Airlines, L.L. Bean, and Disney.
(13) But SSA wasn't satisfied -- it took too long to reach an operator. The service was world-class, but the access was not. This year, Social Security transferred staff to the call centers, converted data centers to handle calls, put in technology so that all claims representatives could handle overflow calls on the busiest days, and installed a 24-hour automated system for frequently asked questions. Now, less than half as many callers get busy signals, and 90 percent of all calls go through in less than five minutes.
FEMA and Social Security are not the only ones who see phones as the key to better service:
- The Food Safety and Inspection Service has a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, toll-free number with safety
tips and information on recalls of meat and poultry.
- The Food and Drug Administration has a 24-hour phone line and a World Wide Web site with information
on food, drugs, and cosmetics.
- Starting in November, travelers worried that a new passport will not arrive before their flight leaves
can dial the Passport Services' new 1-900 number and find out the status of their application.
- The Consumer Product Safety Commission's toll-free hotline runs around the clock. Callers can report
hazards or hear about recent product recalls. For auto safety information, the Commission will transfer
callers to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's hotline.
- The Immigration and Naturalization Service now has a toll-free number for forms (so no one has to
suffer what Beth Childs did). They also have a gizmo that employers can attach to their phones to call the
INS computer and verify the legal status of job hunters.
- IRS is always on the phone. The TeleTax system is available to provide recorded information to all
taxpayers. And this year, three million taxpayers called in and filed their returns by touch-tone phone
using a pilot program called TeleFile. TeleFile checked their math and sent their refunds to them within
That Number, Please
|Auto Safety Information
|Consumer Product Recall Notices
|Export Assistance For Business
|Immigration and Naturalization Forms
|Meat and Poultry Safety Tips
|Social Security Information
|Taxes, Recorded Information