student smiling
student smiling

Baldrige in Operations

Keeping the lights on, the buildings clean, the buses tuned up and running, the meals prepared and delivered, and schools stocked with classroom supplies is a massive, daily undertaking in Montgomery County Public Schools.

 

Customer Service In Schools?—Absolutely

The Department of Materials Management (DMM)—a critical player in servicing schools—adopted a customer-service approach that’s more commonly seen in the private sector. DMM employees scrutinize supply and demand and constantly tweak their forecasts for what products and services schools are going to need and when. They study performance data and benchmark that against private industry to see what works and what doesn’t.

Proven Business Practices

DMM developed a comprehensive, customer-friendly website so that school-based staff members can easily find and order the supplies that they need and track the progress of their order in real time, just like UPS or FedEx. At the DMM warehouse, employees use bar codes and electronic tracking devices to quickly locate products—from #2 pencils to printer ink cartridges—a process that saves time and money, improves service for school-based customers, and has helped eliminate the practice of supply stockpiling at schools.

Underpinning its commitment to quality customer service, DMM employees hold regular meetings and focus groups with school-based staff members to gather their feedback on how to improve their services. One major new service to come out of these regular conversations is the creation of the Warehouse on Wheels, or WOW, a truck that delivers supplies to schools that need them immediately.

And to relieve the pressure on school secretaries to manage the flow and unpacking of supplies coming into a single school, DMM created a service to deliver and unpack every supply ordered by school staff members at the beginning of each school year. Any errors or oversights are corrected within 24 hours.

Knowing Your Customers

MCPS’ Department of Food and Nutrition Services—responsible for preparing more than 13 million meals annually—uses a similar strategy to improve service to schools and students. The team regularly reviews data to track what foods students are buying and what isn’t selling. Team members meet face-to-face with parents and students to solicit ideas on how to improve food selections. To keep parents in the loop about what their children buy for lunch and how much they spend, MCPS implemented electronic food accounts that can be viewed and managed online.

This customer-service approach—demanded in the private sector—runs counter to what many people might expect from a large-scale, public bureaucracy. But the results—whether keeping food costs 10 percent below the industry standard or maintaining a 94 percent average when it comes to completing schools’ supply orders on the first shipment—demonstrate that operations driven by customer needs are the smartest, most cost-effective approach.

Record of Success

Read about our operational record of success.