Finally, there is training for all the front-line workers who actually see and talk to customers. All the clerks waiting at the counters. All the operators poised for your call. And training for the managers, too. They have to learn what the best companies in business know -- that employee satisfaction is the key to customer satisfaction. Some of the nation's top experts in customer service have volunteered their time to teach at a couple dozen customer service workshops for federal workers.

A new organization, formed by cutting and combining three old agencies in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, hadn't settled on a name for their new operation, but they had figured out that they existed to serve customers, the farmers, and rural communities. So their first goal was to train everyone -- all 12,000 employees -- on customer service. This, they said, was the only sensible thing to do. For them, the National Performance Review's customer service program was not just another program. For them, it is the program.

They have a name now. It's "USDA Rural Development." The first round of training is done, and if you talk to the employees, they'll tell you it made a big difference. They learned things that let them understand what customers are going through, and they know they are doing a better job. The nice fan mail they are getting says they are right.

The trick was to pull together all the new awareness of who the customer is and what the customer wants, all the capability of the new organization and the new equipment, and all the common sense and caring that federal workers bring to their jobs. The reorganized FEMA, for example, has done exactly that. With the new toll-free phone service and their inspectors using hand-held computers, FEMA's "all-hazards" teams can move a lot faster, get plenty of resources on the job quickly, and cover more territory in less time. But they had to be trained to spend some of that extra time just listening to people's troubles and reassuring them, like the customers said they wanted.

It's a big job to get an entire government turned around from focusing on red tape to focusing on results that customers want. The Clinton-Gore Administration is leading the way, and we think we're getting there. But the only opinion that really counts is the customer's:

Dear FEMA,

The morning of August 9th [1995] completely changed our lives. Vermilion,
Ohio, had five inches of rain in under one hour. Our basement began to fill
with water and when the pumps failed we knew we were in for some problems.
The basement windows burst in with incredible force and within an hour and
a half we had eight feet of water in the basement and five feet on our first floor.
We were completely helpless, and had just enough time to rush our two small
children to safety. We lost nearly everything we owned. I cannot begin to
explain the feeling of watching the water come up in the doors and windows.
Frantically we tried to move things but the water just came in too fast. It was
truly terrifying and so incredibly sad that everything we worked so hard for was
now five feet under water. It is a feeling that will never ever leave me. We were
at that moment without a place to live, no clothes other that what we had on,
and a realization that we had no flood insurance (we were not in a flood plain
area). It was very devastating.

Then the Red Cross and FEMA arrived. I must tell you that the people
working for you are some of the nicest, most caring individuals we have ever
met. They were so willing to do anything in their power to help. They were so
wonderful, each and every one of them. They treated each person that walked
through the door as if they were their own family.... They were so unbelievably
organized, whatever they said they would do -- it was done. They had answers
and got right back with us. They were always right on time and were so helpful.

Thanks to you, and only you, we were able to get back on our feet. Our
children were truly traumatized by the flood and you enabled us to get things back
to normal, and get into a home again. We owe you and the President more
thanks than we can ever express. If I had the chance to tell the President one
thing it would be that FEMA is the answer to prayers.

In closing there is nothing I could say as to how FEMA could work better to
help its customers...


David and Kelly Bodde, Jordan and David (21)

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