CUSTOMER SERVICE STANDARDS
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published its Strategic Plan in November 1994. Goal 9 of the Plan details how the Agency will "... listen to, involve, and serve customers and partners in the planning, programs, and activities of the Agency." To meet that goal, several objectives were identified, including the publication of customer service standards and surveying our customers, partners, and stakeholders to identify and understand their needs and to improve the delivery of our services and products.
In keeping with the Strategic Plan, NHTSA has published four customer service standards during the past three years. The first standard summarizes how all customer contacts will be handled in terms of the quality of materials and services provided, and standards for promptness, professionalism, and courtesy. The remaining standards describe services that are provided to specific customer groups (e.g., State highway safety offices, national organizations). A new standard, targeting our technical, research, and regulated industry customers, was developed this year. Included in each standard are specific performance measures to determine our success in meeting the goal of a consistently high level of service to our customers.
Highlighted below are the commitments we have made to meet our standards, and an interim report card documenting our success in satisfying customer needs.
National Customer Satisfaction Survey
NHTSA's major activity during the past year has been to survey our customers to identify the kind and quality of services they expect from NHTSA in relation to traffic safety, and their level of satisfaction with existing services. A sample of 4,000 persons aged 16 and older from across the nation participated in the survey. The results confirm that safety ranks high in vehicle purchase decisions and that the public prefers a strong role for government in setting standards for safety in vehicles. Virtually all of those surveyed support minimum safety standards for vehicle features including brakes, gas tanks, headlights, safety belts, and general crashworthiness (the ability of a vehicle and its subsystems to protect occupants during a crash). Most believe the government should provide information to consumers and promote safe driving behavior. These survey results will assist NHTSA in judging agency performance and in making resource allocations to meet customer demands.
The survey results indicate that the public prefers the federal government over automobile manufacturers by better than a 2-to-1 margin (67 to 27 percent), in setting standards for vehicle crashworthiness. For vehicle safety equipment, the margin increased to 3-to-1 (72 to 23 percent) in favor of government. More than four-fifths (or 81 percent) believe that safety standards should be the same for all states, rather than each state setting its own standards. Most (or 89 percent) support federal government enforcement to recall vehicles for safety-related defects.
As consumers, most surveyed (90 percent) say it is very important to have information about vehicles that have been recalled for safety defects. Most (73 percent) think it is very important to have a national hotline where drivers can report safety defects, and another 21 percent think it's somewhat important. About half (47 percent) recommend that the government run the hotline.
Only 27 percent of the respondents know or guess that a national hotline exists for reporting defects. NHTSA currently handles more than 800,000 calls a year to the Auto Safety Hotline at 1-800-424-9393. The Hotline also provides information on topics such as drinking and driving, children's safety seats, and seat belts. However, only 20 percent know that such a hotline exists for these purposes.
The public considers it very important for the federal government to conduct specific highway safety education programs, and conduct safety research and regulatory activities. At the top of the list are public education campaigns to reduce drunk driving, followed closely by campaigns to increase child car seat use. In addition, the public believes that the government should require manufacturers to improve safety features and regulate the safety of heavy trucks.
The public believes the major responsibilities of the government should be education, regulation, enforcement, and research. These are NHTSA's primary activities, but the survey suggests that the public is not aware of government safety-related services, and who provides them.
As a result of this survey, NHTSA has developed a Home Page on the Internet's World Wide Web to promote our services and products, and has begun examining methods to increase the public's awareness of the Auto Safety Hotline telephone number.
Our Commitment to Serving our Customers
Surveys have been conducted requesting information on certain aspects of customer service by several program offices within the Agency, requesting information on specific aspects of customer service. A summary of the responses are provided below.
Handle your call promptly. The Auto Safety Hotline is a toll-free number that consumers call for a variety of reasons, from reporting defects with their vehicles to requesting information on recalls or materials on a variety of safety education programs. To improve customer service, the Hotline has recently become the "single point of contact" within NHTSA for "one-stop shopping" by the public. In 1995, the Hotline received Vice President Gore's Hammer Award for transforming itself from a source for the motoring public to report safety-related automotive defects to a fully functional highway safety information clearinghouse.
Provide accurate, complete, and timely information. To ensure that the Hotline is providing a wide range of customer service in accordance with standards developed, a series of call-back surveys of Hotline customers were conducted in 1995. A total of 1,042 individuals were surveyed to ascertain their level of satisfaction with the services provided. As a result of the surveys, NHTSA found that 97 percent of the respondents were "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with the services received when they called. Included in the survey were questions relating to courteousness of the operators, helpfulness, completeness of information provided, and ease of access.
A similar survey was conducted by NHTSA's National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NCSA). The NCSA is an internationally-recognized source of data concerning a wide range of highway safety issues such as crash, injury, and fatality statistics. During the past year, a survey was performed in which a random sample of 400 telephone customers (89 percent of NCSA customers contact the Agency by telephone) were interviewed regarding satisfaction with NCSA services. Questions were asked regarding customer expectations, quality of the service and information received, timeliness of response, usefulness of information, and ease of placing a request. The survey found that 90.5 percent of their customers rated their service as meeting or exceeding expectations at the time of their request. Eighty-nine percent of the respondents rated timeliness as meeting or exceeding their expectations, and more than 91 percent of their customers rated usefulness of information as meeting or exceeding expectations.
Services to Targeted Customers
NHTSA has developed three customer service standards pertaining to services provided to target audiences, including the State highway safety offices and national organizations concerned with highway safety, automotive manufacturers, the insurance industry, and others. These standards reflect special services provided to those customers. During the past year, several measures of success in meeting those standards were obtained which are summarized below.
NHTSA's technical industry meeting participants (i.e., automobile manufacturers, suppliers, after market equipment manufacturers, trade associations, etc.) were surveyed regarding the improvement of our regular quarterly meetings. In the past, some concern had been expressed regarding the quality of the meetings and the value to the participants. To respond to these concerns, NHTSA administered a survey to determine the value of the meetings to the Agency's customers and develop methods to improve the meetings to better address customer needs. The survey asked questions regarding the content, format, and frequency of meetings. While the participants agreed that the meetings were productive, they offered a number of recommendations that have since been incorporated into the planning and delivery of the quarterly meetings. For example, NHTSA has begun to include meeting announcements on its Home Page on the Internet to broaden the audience for the meetings. On the basis of recommendations, NHTSA will continue to evaluate the meetings with a view toward improving their content and format.
NHTSA also provides a variety of services and materials to its national organization customers. In order to assess whether the Agency is meeting the needs of the national organizations, a survey is currently being conducted of 150 organizations. Questions regarding the types of information and materials provided during the past year, the quality of materials and timeliness of delivery, and the participation of NHTSA staff at national meetings of the organizations, are included in the questions being posed. The results of the survey will guide the Agency in revising existing programs and products, as well as developing new ones, to better respond to the needs of these customers.
LISTENING TO OUR CUSTOMERS
In addition to the efforts described above, NHTSA is developing a brief customer satisfaction survey (i.e., a "bounce back" postcard) that will be included in mailings of materials to our customers, as well as be available to customers who visit our offices. Responses to these surveys will be used to monitor the quality of services across the Agency, and to determine customer needs that are not currently being met.
For each of the goals in our Strategic Plan, customer service performance measures are being developed by which NHTSA will measure improvements in customer satisfaction across the Agency. Further, process teams are developing measures that are based on meeting the needs and expectations of internal and external customers, consistent with the objectives of our Strategic Execution Plan (issued in June 1996). The results of these team efforts will be used to streamline the way we do business and further improve the delivery of services.
If you have any questions or comments regarding NHTSA's activities outlined in this report or any of the Agency's customer service activities; or if you have any comments regarding the quality of our services, please contact the NHTSA Webmaster: email@example.com.