Enhancing the VA customer experience is a process of continuous improvement. VA is using the Voice of the Veteran to guide processes, implementing best practices from across the private sector and looking to the award-winning staff at the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) for input. In recent years, no organization in the country, either within the Federal government or the private sector, has been able to top VA’s National Cemetery Administration in consistently delivering superb customer satisfaction.
Howard Porter points out the importance of empathy and keeping in mind that everyone has a story while instructing Own the Moment customer experience training with National Cemetery Administration staff.
This week, Veterans Experience Office team members delivered several Own the Moment workshops at the National Cemetery Administration training center located in St. Louis, Missouri. The sessions cover the effectiveness, ease and emotion involved with Veteran customer interactions and helps staff connect their motivation in working at VA and how they can consistently deliver the best experience for Veterans and their families.
Joe Sonderman, Air Force Veteran and NCA employee said this about Owning the Moment and the customer experience, “We have the opportunity to ensure each interaction with our internal and external customers is simple, effective and makes them feel valued. If we can do that, we will be able to connect to our Veterans and staff through valuable interactions. It is always good to understand that how someone perceives interactions is their reality.”
Joe was recently contacted by a woman who needed information regarding NCA burial benefits. Even though that’s not typically his role at the National Cemetery Administration, Joe had knowledge of and gave her information regarding the process of selecting a funeral home, eligibility for burial in a National or State Veterans Cemetery and even information regarding the need for certified copies of the death certificate in the coming months.
Joe said, “Sometimes you have to set aside the perception of your job and just be present for someone. I was someone who could listen to her, share her grief, and then discuss her options. That’s why we (employees) are all here in the first place.”
That’s also a contributing factor as to why NCA remains a leader in customer service in both government and private sector ratings.
NCA employee and Air Force Veteran Joe Sonderland (on right) discusses the customer experience during the NCA Own the Moment training session.
Veteran and NCA employee Keith Carr schedules Veteran burials. Agents like Keith answer NCA calls from Veterans and their families and funeral homes. Keith came to work for VA three years ago because he wanted to help other Veterans.
He recently took a call from a grieving widow, “She was crying and she didn’t know what to do, her husband, the Veteran, had just passed the day before.
Because of the nature of my job, I’m prepared to help calm a person and I knew that I would need to take extra time to listen and help her bury her loved one.” Keith said being able to recognize and empathize with each individual person and their unique situation is how he creates a positive customer experience.
Secretary of VA Robert Wilkie has emphasized his number one priority for VA is customer service and the customer experience.
“National Cemetery Administration staff continue to provide world-class burial and memorial services at VA cemeteries, delivering, earning and sustaining the trust of Veterans and families,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement.
“The employees’ commitment to excellence in customer service results in an experience that is consistently positive for Veterans and their families in terms of ease, effectiveness and emotional resonance.”
In 2018, results from the National Cemetery Administration’s Survey of Satisfaction indicated more than 98 percent of its customers agreed or strongly agreed they were satisfied with their experiences.
Keith Carr, Army Vet and NCA employee shares how he shapes the customer experience during Own the Moment training.
The National Cemetery Administration’s performance in 2016 topped the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI), achieving the highest score ever in the third-party organization’s customer satisfaction rankings.
VA operates 136 national cemeteries and 33 soldiers’ lots and monument sites in 40 states and Puerto Rico. More than 4 million Americans, including Veterans of every war and conflict, are buried in VA’s national cemeteries. VA also provides funding to establish, expand, improve and maintain 112 Veterans cemeteries in 48 states and territories including tribal trust lands, Guam, and Saipan. For Veterans not buried in a VA national cemetery, VA provides headstones, markers or medallions to commemorate their service.
Information on VA burial benefits is available from local VA national cemetery offices, from the Internet at www.cem.va.gov, or by calling VA regional offices toll-free at 800-827-1000.
If you are interested in finding out if you or your loved one are eligible for burial in a VA cemetery visit: https://www.cem.va.gov/cem/pre-need/.
To make burial arrangements at any open VA national cemetery at the time of need, call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 800-535-1117.
For more on the Veterans Experience Office visit: www.va.gov/ve.