By Stacie Loucks, Director, Excise and Licenses
The Denver Post headline read, “Frozen yogurt sweetens the wait time for some at Denver’s Webb building.” In 2012, the Department of Excise & Licenses began serving frozen yogurt to customers in the department’s lobby and, in fact, received awards for this innovative approach to customer service. The idea: people are in for a long wait so we might as well have some frozen yogurt to make the experience less miserable.
Today that frozen yogurt machine is long gone. Not because it wasn’t popular with customers and staff but because we’ve reduced wait times by so much that there isn’t any time to serve the sugary treat. In fact, more than two-thirds of our customers now wait less than 15 minutes to be served at the counter. Rather than trying to pacify an angry waiting room, we now serve the majority of customers in less time than it takes to find a parking space downtown.
In the last year, Excise & Licenses has embraced a three-part strategy to reduce wait times: encourage employee-led innovations, implement various process improvements, and use data to make informed staffing decisions. After unleashing over two dozen innovations and streamlined processes, the department is having a record year in terms of serving customers – yet the average wait time is only 12 minutes.
Our office now runs regular reports on wait times so that when they exceed 15 minutes, all supervisors receive a notification. When wait times hit 30 minutes, the department director is notified. Further, using historic trends and weekly and daily data, the counter is appropriately staffed to ensure the best customer service available, while balancing the need for technicians to also have desk time to work on the applications received at the counter.
There was a time when as many as 40 percent of our customers were unable to complete their transactions because they had incomplete applications. Not only is that sub-standard customer service, this meant 40 percent of customers had to come back to the Webb Building and queue in line a second (or third or fourth) time to complete their license application. That’s why many of the innovations we’ve implemented focus on ensuring the citizens have completed their applications accurately before they are even called to the counter.
Additional innovations included placing signage throughout our lobby and in the hallways of the second floor; pre-produced packets of information for the most frequent license types rather than lots of loose paper disassembled in the lobby area; reworked and relocated internal forms edited to be intuitive and easily accessible.
Our process improvement team, Denver Peak Academy, guided and facilitated sessions with 3-1-1 so that we could provide them with accurate information for first-call resolution. Now, customers are able to call 3-1-1 and know what they need before they apply for a business license in person.
No longer are we known as the department with wait times so exorbitant that our only option is to alleviate the pain through a snack. Excise & Licenses now aims to get all customers out of the lobby as quickly as possible – often faster than you could eat frozen yogurt.
Melissa Wiley manages Denver Peak Academy. Prior to leading the team, she served as a lead analyst for Denver Animal Protection (Denver Animal Shelter) and the Department of Excise and Licenses. She has taught nearly 150 courses on process improvement and data to employees throughout the City and County of Denver, within the private sector, and in local nonprofit organizations. She has been with Denver Peak Academy since 2012. She previously worked for the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the United States Department of State. She holds a Master's Degree from the University of Pennsylvania's Fels Institute of Government. In her spare time, Melissa enjoys playing guitar, yoga, trail running, and leading the Denver Animal Shelter's Jog-a-Dog volunteer program. She lives in a suburb of Denver with her husband Craig. Her mission is to infuse joy into all areas of public service.
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