Fulton County Justice Center Tower. Employees across the county will get financial rewards for better customer service. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO

Fulton County plans to improve customer service by rewarding workers

Fulton County wants to do better. And it wants its residents to notice.

So county leaders this week took a series of steps that they hope will result in better customer service and a more engaged workforce.

For years, county employees have been working with outdated technology, in buildings where the roof leaked or the elevator didn’t work. Their pay didn’t always match their job, and, County Manager Dick Anderson said, they were micromanaged by higher-ups.

By fixing some of those consistent issues, Anderson said, he hopes employees will have more energy to engage with residents and to focus on improving government. Fulton plans to reward workers for their efforts to make residents feel more connected to the government that serves them.

Already, the county is well on its way to improving its technology and infrastructure, and changes made following a pay study will help ensure that workers are getting paid for the jobs that they’re doing.

“If you don’t get these things right at the foundation, it makes doing these big things more difficult,” Anderson said. “It is empowering our employees to deliver the best service.”

County commissioners on Wednesday agreed to expand telecommuting options, create customer service standards and link employee bonuses to customer service evaluations beginning in 2019.

The new bonus system has the opportunity to be a huge incentive for workers, who were not getting annual raises. They will have the opportunity to earn a bonus each year they don’t get a cost-of-living adjustment, Anderson said. But first, they have to meet the new customer service standards, which call for workers to be courteous and greet people with a smile, show empathy, listen actively to understand what residents are asking and return calls within 24 hours.

The new standards also implore county departments to have convenient locations and hours, increase collaboration, improve accessibility for people with disabilities or for whom English isn’t their first language and improve confusing signs.

“We haven’t in the past had the best reputation for customer service,” said Anna Roach, Fulton’s chief strategy officer. “There’s a lot of room for improvement.”

Anderson said changing the county’s culture will be a “gradual process. ” Unless workers have incentives to do better, Roach said, they likely won’t improve.

The bonus program is expected to cost the county $8 million annually. While details of the bonus program are still being worked out, employees likely would be eligible to get between 3 and 5 percent of their annual pay as a bonus if the customer service improvements are met.

“We think our citizens are going to feel different walking into a Fulton County building,” Roach said. “It’s going to impact the level and quality of service you see provided to Fulton County citizens.”

Commissioners did not approve a $150,000 diversity assessment that would have looked for service gaps in the county. Roach said the study would have looked at whether there are enough services for non-English speakers and why most residents who use the county’s services are African-American women, for example. The goal, she said, was to increase the number of people served.

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In other Fulton news:

Thousands of Fulton County students will return to school in newer, safer propane-fueled buses.

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