Official painted portrait of 11th Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers.
Under Mr. Ayers' leadership, the Architect of the Capitol oversaw the...
James Madison Memorial Building
A look back at the founding of the James Madison Memorial Building.

Delivering Extraordinary Customer Service

Delivering Extraordinary Customer Service

Senate Building Services Supervisor David Douglas and Building Inspector Sharon Garavito-Lyons meet with Darla Ripchinsky, chief clerk of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
Monday, May 14, 2012

"People think we're like firemen, sitting and waiting for a fire," says Building Services Supervisor Matt Washington, who oversees the AOC Service Center for the House Office Buildings. "The reality is that we're always looking for more ways to be proactive instead of reactive."

This approach is shared by the AOC Service Centers in the Senate Office Buildings and the Capitol Building. All three service centers employ building inspectors who regularly visit Member, committee and staff offices to provide proactive service, asking if their customers have any needs or questions. The inspectors also constantly prowl the buildings to ensure they catch any problems when they're still small enough to be quickly and easily resolved.

In addition, David Douglas, building services supervisor for the Senate Office Buildings, sends out a weekly newsletter to all client offices, notifying them of any upcoming work that might affect them and of the services the AOC provides to make their operations more efficient.

In the Capitol Building, Building Services Supervisor Brandon Terry explains that requests to replace burned out light bulbs used to be one of the most common. Now, however, the building inspector ensures he gets into every major suite once a week — before the customers arrive for work — proactively looking for bulbs that are out. "It's a big job because we have spaces that have chandeliers with 50 bulbs each in them, but we make sure we take care of it," says Terry.

It's not just internal customers calling about internal lights, either. "We regularly get calls that the dome light is out," says Terry. "We know that our staff ensure that it's on, and that it's likely obscured by weather conditions, but we always send someone up to check, just in case it's gone out."

Calls like that are a part of serving an iconic public building. "We get asked how many steps lead up to the Capitol, so we have to ask, 'Which side? Which staircase?'" Terry explains that for both external callers and internal customers, "The coordinators have to be building experts, know where all the puzzle pieces fit in. They know all the quirks of the buildings."

One function unique to the Capitol Service Center is keeping track of which side of the building a request comes from. "On each side, the AOC provides different services," Terry explains. In addition, they often get calls with questions about the Senate and House Office Buildings that they hand off to the correct service center.

In the House Office Buildings, Washington ensures that he and his coordinators know not only the building, but also the customers. "Our goal is to put a face with each of our names, so that when customers call in, they really know who they're talking to." To that end, Washington himself walks the buildings once a month with each building inspector, a practice that the coordinators will start soon.

He also encourages the coordinators to visit customer offices. "Sometimes it is a challenge to visualize what the customer is describing, so we'll visit their office to make sure we understand the request. This practice improves our knowledge, helps us serve our clients and most importantly builds relationships."

The satellite offices that are located in the Cannon and Ford Buildings make this on-site service easier. "Customers call us here in the Rayburn Building and are surprised when two minutes later someone shows up at their office to look at their situation," says Washington. "If possible, we answer our phones on the first ring, because the customer is hearing their second ring when it rings for the first time here." Speedy responses are the rule, not the exception.

For potential emergencies, however, the response is even faster. Normally, calls are routed to each coordinator in a cycle in order to distribute the workload evenly, but any call from an elevator emergency phone rings on all the phones in the service center and displays the location of the elevator the call is coming from. If the call isn't answered promptly, it rolls over to the U.S. Capitol Police to ensure a timely response.

In the Senate Office Buildings, Douglas works to ensure a similar speedy response time. He measures the number of times callers hang up before their call is answered. At the start of 2011, it was at an already low 4.4 percent, but by the end of the year, the Senate service coordinators had cut that by more than half, to a remarkable 1.46 percent. Continued awareness is a big key to this success.

They achieved that milestone while staying open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and taking 25,869 calls, processing 14,131 work orders and 3,570 special event requests. While these numbers are impressive, they pale in comparison to the over 100,000 keys that the service center tracks to ensure the security of the buildings and all those who work and play in them.

Yes, play, because the Senate service coordinators also provide service to the Senate Child Care Center as well as the Daniel Webster Senate Page Dormitory and the Robert Taft Memorial and Carillon. No matter the age of the customer, Douglas and his coordinators treat them equally.

"We will do whatever we can to get our customers what they need. The words don't, won't and can't should never be in our vocabulary," explains Douglas. "We care about them, so we make sure we listen carefully to get our customers what they need to do their jobs."

This care is evident to Senate clients as shown in the responses to the annual customer satisfaction survey. In 2010, the overall rating was 96.8 percent, up from 94.9 percent in 2005, and customers often include comments similar to this one: "The staff are courteous, responsive, helpful, and a pleasure to deal with.... The Special Functions division is great! We have to make many changes in our schedule — something out of our control — and they adapt beautifully."

Even though responses like this show that service center clients are satisfied across Capitol Hill, Washington, Terry and Douglas are pressing ahead, now meeting monthly to discuss how they can proactively improve business processes and customer service.

Just as the building inspectors search for wear and tear, defects, and hazards to safeguard the buildings and their occupants, so too do these three building services supervisors and their service coordinators look as far ahead as possible. "We do everything possible to assist callers, building occupants and guests with their needs and questions, including trying to anticipate what they need next," says Douglas. "It's important to ensure they leave us with the feeling that we care."

—Franklin Bradley