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Operation Evolve: Challenging the way we do customer service

  • Published
  • By U.S. Air Force Maj. Joseph Regan
  • 1st Special Operation Wing Public Affairs

We have seen a lot of changes to Financial Management, the Air Force, and the Department of Defense over the years. These changes stem from environmental influences and cultural evolutions like the Global War on Terror, advances in technology and our digital footprint, and a global shift in power projection and near-peer competition. We must rise to the challenge of a changing environment to ensure we are prepared to fight in tomorrow’s war.  However, change can drive uncertainty—and uncertainty can lead to apprehension. To combat the effects of uncertainty, we must remember our why.

Collectively, we are here to serve the Nation, and as Airmen, we need to be called to service with integrity, service before self, and excellence in all we do! These core values, established 27 years ago, are agnostic to any career field, and speak for every Airmen, past and present. For Finance Professionals our why echoes those core values—service in support of our fellow Airmen. As Comptrollers, this remains steady. As we migrate to new systems and procedures, our inherent principles of financing the fight and taking care of Airmen and their families remains our primary purpose. Change can be daunting at times, but in the words of the French philosopher Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr— “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

The value comptrollers bring to the fight can be thankless at times, but our ability to maneuver critical mission assets to the battlefield and care for Airmen and their families is priceless.

A wise man once told me that superior Airpower comes down to people and resources.

As Comptrollers, it is our job to ensure warfighting assets are equipped for the endeavors that lie ahead. Our most important asset—Human capital, is one we must take great pride in. Customer service is one of our primary principles, from supporting commanders down range, to setting up a brand-new Airman with their first paycheck. It is the quality of service we offer that speaks volumes to our individual character, our cultural identity, and our ability to positively impact others and our organization.

For the Airmen of today—like Airman 1st Class Sabastian Valenzuela-Herrera, Airman 1st Class Tara Lisica, and Airman 1st Class Hayden William, three of the newest Airmen to the 1st Special Operations Comptroller Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida—re-enforcing that sense of a higher purpose is invaluable. These three all-stars, and the thousands more who work every day in the customer service arena, are directly impacting strategic level objectives.

Secretary of the Air Force’s for Financial Management Strategic Plan—

“CONSISTENTLY DELIVER OUTSTANDING FINANCIAL CUSTOMER SERVICE” (Obj 3.3)

DESIRED OUTCOMES:

  • Every Airman and Guardian consistently paid accurately and on-time
  • Mission Partners consistently paid accurately and on-time
  • Improved Customer Service Delivery Model implemented across the FM enterprise

Our customer-service orientation evolved from the lasting impacts of those who have dawned the comptroller functional badge before us. As a young officer growing within the career field, I couldn’t go into a comptroller squadron or Major Command staff without hearing about the “legends” who helped pave the road to today…

Tales from the Legends…

Pay as You Wait

Chief Master Sgt. Jeff Weston, former Air Force Space Command comptroller chief enlisted manager, remembers “Pay as you wait” operations vividly. In 1980, Airman Weston was stationed at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. There, he remembers wearing his “blues” uniform five days a week and working the customer service counter. Many know Chief Weston as a great leader and travel expert, and it was at Luke where he started to refine his skills. On any given day, the comptroller squadron could see upwards of 150-250 customers waiting to file their latest paper travel vouchers…and by “file” I mean a physical hand-carry process between customer, technician, supervisor, etc.  Airman Weston would walk the member from start to finish, ensuring each entitlement was accounted for. Then, he would deliver the voucher to his supervisor for audit and, once approved, would walk it to the cash cage where he would collect the cash payout and hand it to the customer.   

Pre-MyPay

Jeannie McLean, former Executive for Enlisted Matters to the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, Financial Management and Comptroller, recalls the days before MyPay. In 1988, before the world of virtual access, then Sgt. McLean remembers when Leave and Earning Statements (LES) were mailed as a hard-copy to members. This meant when members wanted to verify or address issues with their pay, they had to either wait to receive their LES, or make a trip to the local finance office, leading to an increase in customer traffic, especially around the 1st and 15th of the month. She remembers the “gamechanger” that took place with the implementation of an automated system that allowed members to dial a phone number and listen to a read-out of their pay balance, significantly cutting the number of customer visits.

Email Era

For those of us reading this article from our computer, it may be a stretch to know a time existed where not every person within a squadron or work center had a computer to send an email or look up a regulation. Rewind to the mid-90’s, where Master Sgt. McLean, now stationed at Beale Air Force Base, California, was one of the first members in her squadron to receive an email account.  Not only did email allow for quick personal communication, it also afforded an opportunity for instantaneous mass communication on behalf of the squadron. If you look deeper to where we are today, this capability required a change in how we do business, and it connects millions of service members with just a click.  We can reach out to beyond our base network and across the globe to collect and disseminate information—a significant change with enormous impacts not only to the comptroller squadron, but to the Department of Defense as a whole.

Defense Travel System (DTS)

Chief Master Sgt. David Graham, currently the 1st Special Operations Comptroller Squadron senior enlisted leader, remembers the shift in finance operations with the rollout of DTS and how it impacted the comptroller squadron and their customers. In 2005, then Staff Sgt. Graham was a Non-Commissioned Officer-in-Charge within the financial services office. He experienced, first-hand, how DTS changed the way customer service technicians conducted daily operations—gone were the days of memorizing Joint Travel Regulations to complete a travel voucher. The new virtual system allowed customers to file routine travel vouchers using an automated solution with drop-down options and supporting document upload features, providing both the member and the technician a smoother customer service experience.

Comptroller Services Portal (CSP)

Customer service operations during a pandemic made people across the globe stop and think about traditional mediums of servicing customers. In an effort to develop innovative ways to connect with the customer, the Comptroller Services Portal allowed members to virtually submit a customer service ticket and provide text communication to resolve financial issues/questions, which enabled historical tracking that both the member and technician were able to view and follow.

Virtual Appointments “Operation Evolve”

Outstanding customer service starts with the customer/finance professional relationship. As we continue to evolve the way we do business, the Airmen of the 1st Special Operations Comptroller Squadron found a way to connect with our customers through virtual face-to-face opportunities. With a commercial-off the-shelf appointment system, the finance team is able to book, message, and virtually connect with the customer at a time and place of the customer’s choosing, dismantling geographic borders and executing the 1st Special Operations Wing Mantra of “Any Time, Any Place.” The face-to-face virtual platform is a proactive approach that enables time for technicians to research and prepare for each customer appointment prior to meeting, optimizing service and resolution time and providing a higher quality customer service experience.

Today’s financial management operations look drastically different from the “Pay as you wait” era, but our underlying purpose has remained steady. As mission enablers, the impact of our service to Airmen is not always apparent, but our “no-fail” mission affords members a more financially stable lifestyle that can support opportunities, like education, life experiences, and family growth. Financial management’s priority to enable Airmen is our “why” and we must empower, evolve and execute a quality and standard of service that aligns to our Profession of Arms.