When Maryland Governor Larry Hogan implemented his statewide “Customer Service Initiative,” the messaging was all about the customer. He had campaigned on making Maryland “open for business” and wanted to make the state more business friendly. Like many government bureaucracies at the federal, state and local levels, Maryland government had a reputation for poor service delivery. Hogan knew this would need to change if we were going to improve the business and economic climate in the state.

So, after several months of research and benchmarking of best practices from the private sector, Hogan rolled out a bold program in June of 2016. It required each state agency to create its own customer service improvement plan, including performance metrics and the collection of survey data. He also created the “Customer Service Promise,” a series of guiding principles that would serve as the basis of all interactions between state workers and our customers.

And while these components were very public-facing, Hogan’s Customer Service Workgroup also knew that the key to our success would center around an internal focus on improving the culture of 50,000 team members across 40 state departments and offices. That’s why the initiative also required that each worker go through customer service training, and that agencies create various employee recognition programs. We knew from our research that the companies around the globe that have a stellar reputation for the customer experience start with a happy, engaged and empowered team.

Another key is having a Chief Executive Officer that makes this culture change a priority. Governor Hogan didn’t say that he had a hope or a wish that this initiative would work – he made it clear that he was making this a top priority, that this was the new standard, and that this was the way we were going to conduct business from this point forward. His cabinet and senior leadership carried that expectation down throughout each agency.

So two years later, is it working? So far the data says yes. In 2017 we received over 20,000 responses to our online customer experience survey. Our customer satisfaction (CSAT) survey respondents said they were somewhat or very satisfied with our services over 80% of the time. Since this data had never been collected before, this now becomes our baseline moving forward.

And while the numbers are impactful, it’s the stories we hear that are most meaningful. Two, in particular, come to mind.

Our Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) received an inquiry from an elderly customer who was new to Maryland and needed an identification card for medical benefits and other purposes. The customer lives in a nursing home and was physically unable to visit an MVA branch office. Two MVA team members offered to visit the nursing home to collect all the necessary information to process an identification card. They brought a white background from a branch office for the photo and a cell phone camera. One held up the white background while the other took the photo. They captured the customer’s signature on a blank sheet of paper. Once back at headquarters, the tech team resized the photo and signature and formatted all the images. Once the technical solution was in place, the application was completed. The customer was mailed her new ID card and was very pleased with the service provided to help her obtain this critical document.

In another example, a customer provided a suggestion to our Department of Health through our customer experience survey. A physician’s assistant needed to renew two of her licenses, and needed to submit applications with similar information to two different divisions within the Health department to accomplish this task. The customer wondered why this process couldn’t be streamlined and automated. Team members from these two divisions agreed, and decided to implement measures to immediately improve the processing of applications. They also set in motion plans to share information between divisions in real-time. The result will reduce the administrative burden for the applicant and the agency and will increase information reliability.

In the past, managers would rarely allow their team members to move outside of their lanes. But now it is becoming more common, and even encouraged. As long as their ideas do not conflict with our guiding principles “Promise” or break any laws or regulations, why not let them try? You’d be impressed with the ideas and improvements they provide for the greater good of the organization.

Greg Derwart
Managing Director, Administration & Customer Experience, Maryland Department of Commerce
Chair, Governor’s Customer Service Workgroup

Greg Derwart is a senior operations executive with over 25 years of professional experience in the private sector, government and nonprofit arenas. He serves as Managing Director for the Maryland Department of Commerce. In addition to heading up the Department’s Administration and Technology team, he is also taking a leadership role in corporate culture and customer experience, including Governor Hogan’s statewide customer service initiative.

Greg is a member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), the Maryland Economic Development Association (MEDA), and the Chesapeake Human Resources Association (CHRA). Greg was a 2011 recipient of the Maryland Daily Record’s VIP List Successful by 40 Award, was named by the Chesapeake Human Resources Foundation (CHRF) as a 2011 Fellow, and was awarded the SmartCEO Executive Management Award in 2013.