Town of Greenwich employees will be undergoing training over the next 12 months to improve their customer service skills under a new initiative called "Community First."
During a "Launch Party" for town employees held at Town Hall Thursday, First Selectman Peter Tesei explained that the initiative "is to designed to provide our employees with updated training to enhance their skills" so they can better assist "the customers — the residents, businesses and visitors in the town."
Each town employee will be required to take two to nine hours of training, depending on their role, spread over the course of a year.
"This initiative is not designed to change the services we offer — it is designed to help us meet the growing complexity of our residents' needs," Tesei said, adding that with advancement in communications and access to instant information, "customers expectations require our employees to be honed to meet the demands of a fast paced environment."
As such, the initiative is being rolled out under the slogan "Responsive Professionals, Integrated Technology."
The initiative is not a result of an erosion of customer service at Town Hall — nor is it in response to an increase in complaints about service.
"Let me be clear: this is not a punitive action," Tesei said. "This is a proactive step to reinforce, in a more modernized way, what we do and how we do it."
He said the training aims to help employees make better judgment calls when confronted with angry or combative residents. In addition to learning how to diffuse volatile customer interactions, the training will also help employees "improve the interpersonal relationships they have with people."
The training will be particularly beneficial for employees who are in enforcement roles, Tesei said.
"There are several areas in our organization where enforcement of rules and regulations are a primary component of the job," he said. "This initiative will strengthen our employees abilities to better serve and assist our residents — even in the confines of these areas that have these rules and regulations."
said the training "just as much about improving internal customer service… it's also about how we can be more responsive to each other's needs."
Tesei said funding for the training of the town's approximately 2,000 employees has already been earmarked in the 2012-2013 town budget.
Kara Pellegrino, special projects coordinator for human resources, who worked with Mike Rosen, executive assistant to the first selectman, to put together the initiative, said increased communication with the public via technology is another component of the initiative.
When asked if there will be any way to measure the program's success, Pellegrino said the town will soon be posting customer satisfaction surveys on the landing pages for each of the town department's on the town's website. Those electronic surveys, she said, will be used to gauge satisfaction.
In addition the town will be putting "comment cards" at the front desk of each department in Town Hall. Residents will be encouraged to fill out the cards and leave them at the front desk in the town hall lobby, she said.
Tesei said he hopes just as many residents provide positive feedback about employee performance as those who provide negative feedback. He added that the Town will not consider anonymous reviews or comments.
One of the main tools enterprises use to gain insight into employee customer service performance is recording or monitoring phone calls. After the meeting, Pellegrino said the Town plans to eventually upgrade its phone system to one that includes call recording as a capability.
So what happens if a resident sends in a negative review of an employee's service?
"We try our best to evaluate things objectively — we do a lot of investigation and research [when there's a complaint]," Tesei said. "If there are instances where the Town has not responded appropriately then please let me know, directly."
Tesei said the Town is cautious about taking serious accusations about employees at face value. As an example, he said someone recently posted a "fictitious photo" showing a town employee who was "sleeping" on the job on a local blog site. "The person was not an employee of the town — but it was made to look that way," he said, adding that the photo nevertheless illicited a negative response from some residents.
"This was typical of the type of unjust characterization we have to be careful of," Tesei said, adding that "fact finding goes a long way toward distilling the truth about a situation."
Pellegrino explained that not every employee will need to take all five training modules. She added that police and fire get separate modules due to the compliance mandates they must adhere to.
Both Pellegrino and Tesei emphasized that the Community First initiative was a "collective effort" among all the town departments, with delegates from each department represented at the table, not an edict that came down from the top.