Quality and customer service first

Posted on October 27, 2010 by

By now you may have read about Executive Constantine’s “Be The Difference” forum with County leadership this week to talk about the importance of transforming our work practices to create ongoing sustainable efficiencies.  I want to share with you some of the things I heard in this forum that I found most interesting.

Executive Constantine invited Scott Armstrong, President of Group Health Cooperative, to talk about how it transformed business practices in the delivery of health care to its membership.  Five years ago, Group Health was not only seeing enormous expense increases, they were losing membership and revenues.  They have completely turned these trends around.  Scott spoke about what they did to accomplish this.

What I found most interesting is how they started – quality first. And quality was determined by their customers!  They focused on their work from the customer’s perspective to figure out how they can provide more value to the customer without asking for more money.  By taking this approach, they not only improved their efficiency, they increased services that provided value to their customers.  The results? – lower expenses, happier and more customers, and higher job satisfaction for employees.

Group Health is very similar to King County in its size and employee demographics.  There are also many similarities to where they were five years ago and where we are today.  How many times in the last year have you heard “we could provide more/better service if we had more money”?  We are living and working in a time where this is highly unlikely. We need to find ways to “make money” by driving inefficiencies out of our systems and processes.

We need to give ourselves permission to say “that program, that process, that step in that process does not add value to our customers.”  We have created a lot of work for ourselves through the creation of policies and practices that simply may no longer have value for our customers.  Some may be legal requirements. But if a case can be made that it is not valuable, let’s try to change it.

The other thing I appreciated about Scott’s philosophy (and I must say I subscribe to myself) is, as he put it, “problems are golden.”  Scott feels that problems are opportunities for good things to be uncovered and fixed for the better.  I agree. Problems in our businesses are a fact of life – how we deal with them is what really matters.  We also can’t fix what we do not know about.  We all need to foster a work environment where we can talk about our problems.

As I learn more about DNRP, I hear about problems that we have tackled so I know we have experienced problem solvers.  Let’s keep it going and challenge ourselves to do more.

Written by Christie True who leads King County’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks (DNRP) and previously served as the director of DNRP’s Wastewater Treatment Division. She is a 25-year veteran of King County and Metro, where she started work in 1984 as a water quality technician.