- The Washington Times - Monday, October 8, 2001

Belinda Parrott knows how important it is for people to be nice to each other, especially in stressful circumstances.
Miss Parrott, 22, works the information desk in Room 1157 of the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles on C Street. She's the first human contact for thousands of city residents who clear full days from their schedules and arrive angry in advance, anticipating long lines and countless obstacles in the quest for a simple driver's license or a vehicle registration.
For her, the highlight of Sept. 11 was supposed to be that it marked her first year on the job. Instead, it gave her a new perspective on the hundreds of times a day she says to a stranger, "How can I help you?"
She smiles more now, she said, and she makes a special effort to reach out to customers.
"If we can all die together, we can all live together," she said. "Even though I'm not the customer here, hopefully when I go out to the shopping mall, someone can be twice as nice to me tomorrow."
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams is hoping more city employees adopt Miss Parrott's attitude.
In a Sept. 28 letter to all city employees, he emphasized the need to provide friendly and efficient service in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
"At a time when our nation and our city are recovering from the impact of last month's terrorist attacks, it is even more important that we recognize the additional level of stress that many of our citizens feel," the mayor said. "As we take pride in service to our city, we serve the nation."
Coincidentally, the city just observed National Customer Service Week, a congressionally recognized event aimed primarily at the business community.
"It's not as though we planned it, but the confluence is good," said Tony Bullock, the mayor's spokesman.
Bullock said the city had been planning to observe the event for months in recognition of the mayor's long-standing promise to deliver a "gold standard of customer service" to D.C. residents.
Banners advertising Customer Service Week were on display in city buildings, and city employees wore "Thank you" buttons. Tuesday, the mayor presented 26 D.C. workers with the city's first Customer Service Excellence awards.
"The thing that really binds us as Americans is service," said Lisa Morgan, the director of the mayor's Office of Customer Service. "I would say the government is doing great, and the trend is really, really positive."
Ms. Morgan oversees the signature plan of the mayor's customer service initiative: the telephone tester program. Initiated in August 1999, testers call city agencies during two-month surveys and grade employees on telephone manners.
The results are given to agency heads and posted on the city's Web site warts and all.
By December 2000, the program's stated goal was for 80 percent of call-center and service-line operators at agencies reporting to the mayor to provide telephone service rated good or excellent on courtesy, knowledge, etiquette and overall impression.
"We didn't make it," Ms. Morgan said.
The results of the latest survey are expected this month. June's results showed that of 44 city agencies, just 10 met the standard, less than 25 percent. In fact, in all four categories the results showed that city employees had lost ground on previous surveys.
But Ms. Morgan isn't discouraged. She said her office will continue to root out rudeness, even as it develops standards to rate city employees' correspondence skills and personal interactions with citizens.
"It's a constant stream of pressure to raise the bar to do better," she said, reflecting the mayor's views that city employees should be thankful in a time of crisis they have the opportunity to serve no matter how stressful it becomes.
Or as Miss Parrott said, "Everybody can't be pleased all the time, but I can still give them my smile and try to make their day a little brighter."

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