Time to get back to the blog.
At the annual Florida Sterling Conference they always tell us that it okay to use someone else’s best practice. It makes sense not to reinvent the wheel but from my experience it rarely happens.
Each year we do thousands of appointments for our customers so they don’t have to wait. It also helps us better manage the crowds. Out IT staff developed a very slick application developed in Fox Pro to manage it and we used it for years. The only problem was that our staff had to book the appointments and Fox Pro was discontinued in 2007. So recently we began to look a new more innovative approach.
After much due diligence and comparison of several systems we ended up going with a web based application that was already used by the Alachua (Gainseville) and Okaloosa (Crestview) County Tax Collector offices. The photos provided were matrices written up on a wall to look over all the options each system had available. It looked so impressive we hated to erase it.
The online appointment system went live Monday February 2nd but wanted to share what it took to make it happen:
- 508 cumulative hours spent (research, testing, meetings, set-up, training, etc.)
- 37 FAQs updated on website
- 33 Customer Information Publications updated
- 11 webpages on taxcollector.com updated (1 of which was created for appointment-related transactions)
- Media release announcing system rollout
- Brand new “Schedule Appointment” button on front page of taxcollector.com
- Revamp of our lobby PC interface (layout, added new section to schedule an appointment)
- 102 email templates and 19 recorded voice transaction boxes updated
- 90 staff members trained on using new system (front line staff, receptionists, and field service staff)
- Manual input of 652 appointments into the new appointment system that were scheduled in the old appointment system for February and March
In the first four days 573 appointments were scheduled
- 476 (83%) of which were scheduled by customers online
- 79 were scheduled while the office was closed
- Various times of the day; i.e. 7 PM, 9 PM, 1 AM, 5 AM
Assuming that it previously took our associates an average of 2 minutes to schedule an appointment in our old appointment system, those 476 online customer-scheduled appointments saved our associates 952 minutes of processing (almost 16 hours or 2 man days).
With the new online appointment system, we are averaging over 140 appointments scheduled/day.
In the old appointment system, only offering during our working hours (9 AM- 5 PM) during the last week prior to rollout (January 26 – January 30), we averaged 72 appointments scheduled/day.
In 1998 Bob Bauman a semi-retired industrial engineer and his wife Diana moved to Bradenton, FL from South Dakota to be closer to his mother. I do not remember how he found out about the office but he started his career on January 26, 1998 as a front line associate.
It wasn’t long before we put his engineering background to good use doing time and motion studies on some of of our processes to improve efficiency. His data on one project was used on a driver license cost benefit analysis required by the Florida Legislature when talks began about shifting the duties from the State to the County Tax Collectors. The transition eventually became law a few years ago set to be completed by July 2015.
Bob spent most of his career in our IT Department where he served on the help desk and as the project manager. He had the perfect demeanor for resolving IT related problems and over the years solved thousands of them.
He was selected Employee of the Quarter in 2002 and was our lone and proud Minnesota Vikings fan. He almost retired a few years back but agreed to stay on a little longer for us of which we are extremely grateful..
Bob and Diana will be moving to Utah to be closer to family. We wish you all the best!
“Gentlemen, we will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.”
― Vince Lombardi
In our line of work the hardest part of the job has to be when a manager needs to counsel an employee about an error they made which possibly inconvenienced a customer. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s life and it happens. We call them ECR’s which is short for Employee Counseling Records. A simple transposition of a VIN (vehicle id number), date, dollar amount, or an address can dramatically change the outcome of a transaction.
In an effort to reduce ECR’s, my Current Collections Director, Tony Conboy, recommended that we look into Evoke Development, a Florida based company. They offer unique training courses that “saves you money, increases productivity, and improves operational efficiency. Employees who complete accuracy training typically reduce their errors by 50% and increase their processing speed by 7%.” We also took advantage of the “train the trainer” program which enabled our staff to conduct the training after they were trained. Our Quality Assurance staff was the obvious choice to be the trainers.
To date we have had 51 employees participate in the seven hour course. We generally do an afternoon class with a morning class the following day. So far we have had a 59% reduction in errors (104 pre-course assessment errors, 43 post-course assessment errors). We have also had a 1% decrease in speed (6 minutes 30 seconds average on pre-course assessment, 6 minutes 35 seconds average on post course Assessment). Eight staff members made zero mistakes on the pre-course assessment compared to twenty-four on the post course assessment.
I had the opportunity to participate with seven employees in the February 12-13 classes. They were all wondering how I would do since I have an aptitude for quickly calculating numbers in my head. Turns out it has nothing to do with the course. On the pre-course I made five errors in 6 minutes 50 seconds. On the post-course I made one error in 7 minutes 28 seconds. This basically confirmed what I already knew; my staff can run circles around me. Of the 51, we had a handful achieve perfect scores in under 5 minutes; to me, that is mind boggling.
Time will tell if we see less ECR’s due to accurate data transfer. On ten random exit surveys the staff had high marks rating the trainer with a 99 out of 100 possible points and the actual training course 95 out of a possible 100 points. For me, I ranked them 100/100. I thoroughly enjoyed the training.
For more information on Evoke Development you can find them at http://evokedevelopment.com/.
For more in depth information on our Mentoring Team please read my March 22, 2012 blog.
From the public’s perspective my staff makes the job duties we perform every day look easy. That is the farthest thing from the truth. Since 2011 in the hiring process we require all prospective employees to shadow a current employee for two hours and at least three have fold us no thanks.
Once a new hire starts they are provided a very systematic and comprehensive training regiment that takes anywhere from three to six months before they/we can feel comfortable to be on their own. We keep telling them “the light bulb will come on – just hang in there.” Some have shared they dream about processing work at night while sleeping. The light bulb eventually comes on and then they are fine. I guess it is like a marathon runner hitting the wall at 20 miles and working through the last leg of the race.
This is where our mentors come in. The mentors help offset all the training with third party encouragement and assistance along the way. Thirty five employees have graduated from our mentoring program since its inception in 2007 and many have said in follow up surveys that the mentor program kept them from quitting at some point before the light bulb came on.
Long story short – the Mentoring Team is critical to the overall success to our organization. You can have all the latest greatest technology in place and brag about how great your processes are but you still have to have qualified people to execute them properly.
Meetings are a fact of life and necessary. Most people hate them because they are are unproductive and a waste of time. Some will bring their tablet or smart phone to help pass the time or other work just to be productive. So my question to you is – How productive are the meetings you attend? How would you measure if a meeting was productive or not?
At the Tax Collectors office we have 13 staff meetings a week. Eight of them last no more than 30 minutes due to time restrictions. The meetings are organized systematically so that important information can be passed up and down to maximize communication. We all use the basic same agenda and meeting duties are rotated on a monthly basis. We also allow “rep ins” that are not a part of the team to join in. The Senior Team all sit in on a front line staff meeting somewhere in Manatee County at least once a month.
A key tool we use at our staff meetings are action items. According to Wikipedia an action item is a documented event, task, activity, or action that needs to take place. Action items are discrete units that can be handled by a single person.
This past budget year (October 1, 2012 – September 30, 2013) in our 50 or so weekly Senior Team (myself, my executive assistant, and 5 Directors) meetings we had 215 documented actions items issued. I am proud to say that everyone of them were successfully completed. It is probably safe to say that can be said since we incorporated the practice back in 2007. When I began researching the data I already knew the outcome was going to be 100% and knew this is not the norm. When I sit in on meetings outside of the office it is very easy to tell early on if it is going to be productive.
I took the research one step farther. I know I am blessed with a great senior team but did they complete the action items in a timely manner? Out of the 215 action items 187 were completed on or before the deadline for a 87% on time completion rate. I was very pleased with the result and I finished at 83% so I need to step it up a little bit. Many of the over due action items were less than a week and the software we use makes it easy to close them out which could make them late even if completed on time.
We have some rules with action items –
- we have a designated person at each meeting recording action items. After the meeting they enter them into the software we use.
- the owner of a new action item must be present and provides the estimated completion date
- if the completion date needs to be changed it has to be made known at our staff meeting. The software we use also requires to list the reason for proper documentation.
- as an audit function – action items are reviewed near the end of the meeting to ensure everything is correct.
If you want to have a productive meeting incorporate action items into the process and watch those unproductive meetings over time become productive.
Below is a snippet of our action item list:
Congratulations to our own Amy Hartwig, Mandie Ferguson, and Cindy Tibbetts for attaining the yellow belt status six sigma classification. They did it on their own time which makes it even greater accomplishment. Our office has been exposed to the Six Sigma process for many years on our Sterling/Baldridge Award process but we never had anyone formally attain a certification. In our business where we are faced with 800 changes to what we do each year it is imperative that we are constantly looking at our processes.
What is Six Sigma?
Six Sigma is a set of strategies, techniques, and tools for process improvement. It was developed by Motorola in 1981. Six Sigma became famous when Jack Welch made it central to his successful business strategy at General Electric in 1995. Today, it is used in many industrial sectors.
Six Sigma seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors) and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes. It uses a set of quality management methods, including statistical methods, and creates a special infrastructure of people within the organization (“Champions”, “Black Belts”, “Green Belts”, “Yellow Belts”, etc.) who are experts in the methods. Each Six Sigma project carried out within an organization follows a defined sequence of steps and has quantified value targets, for example: reduce process cycle time, reduce pollution, reduce costs, increase customer satisfaction, and increase profits.
For more information on six sigma click here.