Monday, September 20, 2010

A Sad Day for Customer Service

Today I heard that HUD has abolished the Regional Web Manager positions we (the department) created, at the recommendation of an agency-wide task force, 10 years ago. If this is true (and I think it is), how sad. I’m sad, personally, because I helped find and train these 10 fabulous people. I’m telling you – they were (are) the best. But more important, I’m sad for an agency I called home for 24 years – an agency whose mission is so important to every single citizen…finding decent, safe and sanitary housing…an agency who really got it right about customer service through the web, for many years.

Ten years ago – under a Democrat administration – we determined that the American people value local information. Yes – they want to know how to buy a home. But what they really want to know is how to buy a home in Arizona. Or Illinois. Or New York. They want that local connection. A departmentwide task force recommended that 10 Regional Web Managers be created to help us complete that link from Washington DC to the people we hoped to serve. And a Republican administration made it happen. Everyone seemed to agree that local link was the right thing to do.

Now, that link has been broken. I’m sure there’s some good reason. At least I hope there is. But I wonder if anyone has considered the consequences. Is bridging the gap between Washington DC and “the people” who use the web to access government services a one-shot deal? You think you’ve done it and now you claim victory and are done with it?

OK - yes – I have a vested interest in this issue. But I know what these Regional Web Managers brought to the table, and I know how the public responded. In the very first month we put up “state” pages (with that local connection), they became the second most-requested content on HUD’s website…only behind HUD’s home page. Surely, there’s a message there. People value that local connection. They want Washington to appreciate and understand and keep abreast of their local differences and needs.

I’m a strong advocate for “the field” – for those employees who sit in agency offices located in every state, in every major community. I used to be among them – I know how savvy they are. These people know what our customers want because they actually live with them and interact with them, every day. In my book, we should be strengthening our links to citizens, through our field offices – not breaking them.

More Americans access the federal government through the web than through any other communications vehicle. Shouldn’t we be doing everything we can – especially establishing those grassroots, on-the-scene people who know and understand what our customers want and make sure Washington provides it, via our websites? I surely think so.

Oh -I so hope I'll hear tomorrow that this news is false...that instead of abolishing the local link, HUD has decided to embrace this pioneering effort to improve customer service. But just in case it is true, let me say to Diane Fournier, Eric Ramoth, John Carpenter, Diane Littleton, Mykl Asanti, Steve Meiss, Barbara Bates, Lynn Kring, Jim Graver, David Lockwood, and Rachel Flagg, HUD’s first-class Regional Web Managers - I salute you. You did the right thing for your customers. You made a difference.

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