Through the doors. Down the hallway. Past the fish tank. Look for the signs.
There’s no way of knowing just how many times sentences like those were used by New Hanover County employees while helping visitors navigate their way through the old Government Center complex.
The search for a department could be confusing, especially given the non-linear path between the door someone walked through and the place they were trying to reach.
That was one of the biggest points of discussion as we worked to design and construct the new Government Center facility that opened earlier this year – creating a space that was customer-focused and made doing business with the county as simple as possible.
Since opening to the public on April 3, the customer service desk at Government Center has been a one-stop site for all customer needs, helping visitors take care of business with the county efficiently. The desk can handle anything from payments to paperwork, and help customers get connected with staff they need to answer questions.
While her primary role is with the Tax office as the Fiscal Support Supervisor, Cala Blondin has been responsible for overseeing the protocols that guide our newly formed unified customer service desk, making sure staff have the tools to answer questions and provide the highest level of assistance possible, no matter the department or service they typically work with.
For this month’s public service profile, I asked Cala about the collaboration that has taken place across multiple departments since transitioning to this new way of doing things and what visitors can expect when they come to the Government Center. That conversation is below …
Not that long ago, people had to go to multiple departments – Tax, Register of Deeds, Planning, Permitting, etc. – to get their questions answered when they came to the Government Center. Now, all those inquiries come to the same desk and are handled from there. Take me through how this new way of doing things have evolved from the planning stages to actually being in operation.
The vision for the new Government Center was to have a customer service counter that would serve as one point of interaction for anyone visiting the facility. Then, if a customer needed further assistance, staff could connect them with a subject matter expert from the associated department. The Tax Department and Development Services teams have previously worked with the bulk of customers visiting the Government Center, so those two departments were tasked with leading the unified customer service counter once we relocated.
Early on, workgroups were formed to discuss methods of integrating department practices as part of consolidation. These groups met more than two years prior to moving into the new building. From those meetings, best practices were crafted according to what was anticipated at that time. We had the chance to test out how consolidation would work at the former Government Center with a temporary unified customer service counter. This enabled us to see the plan in action and make adjustments before moving into the new space.
Once we relocated to the new Government Center, the full concept was put into practice, which included receiving all walk-in traffic for all departments. Minor adjustments have been made, but the overall concept has been successful thanks to the forward-thinking of those workgroups and the opportunity to practice prior to moving.
I know you did a lot of planning ahead of time, but obviously there’s no way of knowing every scenario that would take place at the customer service desk. Have there been any unforeseen challenges your team has faced early on and what response have they made to those?
During planning, there was a lot of thought around potential challenges and opportunities for improvement. The internal workgroup has continued to meet to address these. Initially, this group consisted of Finance, Tax and Development Services staff, and it now features representatives from Tax, Development Services and Register of Deeds.
Some of the challenges we faced included things like:
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