Linn County officials focused on improving customer satisfaction

Training program, streamlined processes aim to address challenges

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Dale Gardner knows how long the lines can be at Linn County’s busiest department — he’s there almost every weekday.

Gardner, 75, works at a Cedar Rapids car dealership and for the last year he’s made daily trips to the Linn County Treasurer’s Office to transfer vehicle titles and renew license plate tags.

Sometimes he waits an hour until his number is called.

“It’s very packed. There’s always a 45-minute to an hour-and-a-half wait. One time, I waited two hours and 15 minutes just to get to a window,” Gardner said. “In nice terms, it’s ridiculous.”

With more than 100,000 annual customers to the Treasurer’s Office, located in the Jean Oxley Public Service Center, 935 Second St. SW, lines are common, county officials acknowledge. In fact, according to county records, there isn’t always time for everyone to be served. Three years ago, more than 1,500 of the nearly 108,000 customers left before their number was called. Last year, about 2,900 of the 109,000 customers departed before being served.

Now, Linn County officials are working to address the situation through an initiative aimed at improving customer satisfaction across the board.

The program, launched earlier this year, involves providing customer-focused training to all county employees, finding ways to streamline services and implementing procedures aimed at making the lives of customers better.

In the office of Linn County Treasurer Sharon Gonzalez, for example, employees have been cross-trained and reorganized so they can handle multiple duties, a payment drop box has been installed and consideration is being given to adding a computer kiosk where customers could access online services for paying property taxes and renewing vehicle registration.

Gonzalez said staff is also making efforts to educate customers about online services they can access from home.

“You always want to try to give people as many options as possible to conduct their business,” said Gonzalez. “We don’t want people to be here any longer than they have to be.”

The Treasurer’s Office isn’t the only place where changes are taking place.

Last month, Linn County Planning and Development launched a streamlined application process for new home building permits.

Contractors and homeowners previously filed applications at three different locations — planning and development, secondary roads and public health — to acquire all the necessary paperwork.

“Somebody was really making three visits to three different locations, paying three different fees. There were just multiple steps in the process,” said Les Beck, director of planning and development. “We have all of that now on the same permit software system and a contractor or homeowner that is applying for permits for a new house can take care of all of those applications in our department and pay one fee.”

Aside from the procedural changes, county officials said customers should begin noticing the results of a training program aimed at developing all employees — from supervisors to department heads to clerks — into stronger leaders better able to deal with issues facing customers.

It’s called C3 Leadership, which stands for Customer Centered Culture.

Joi Alexander, county communications director, says the training sessions include lectures and small group exercises that are proving to be popular among employees.

“The idea is we want this to be kind of pervasive throughout the county,” she said. “It just focuses more on the outcomes and what we want. We want our customers to be satisfied with their interaction with the county.”

It’s a simple concept, but Supervisor Ben Rogers said it’s being taken seriously.

“Really, we’re trying to create a bottom-up change to our culture,” he said. “That’s what we’re really focusing on and the result has been an employee base that’s excited for change and more ready for change.”

He said the training aims to make the county’s staff more dynamic, proactive and nimble.

“We had to sort of change how we viewed ourselves and look differently at the things we do,” he said. “Among staff, once they kind of understand why it is we’re focusing on culture and what it means to be customer centric, we have seen employees take this and run with it,” Rogers said.

Gardner hasn’t yet noticed a change in wait times at the Treasurer’s Office, but he said customer service has been noticeably improved.

“They’re all well trained, cordial and nice. They do the best they can do,” he said.

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