“And he talked to a supervisor and she gave him the paperwork and said you have to fill this out and send it in. And I said, no, no, no. And I walked up to him and I said go on and fill it out, give it to me and I will take it in. And I did, and we got the person’s monies back.
“The point is that it’s every employee’s responsibility to provide customer service. And if I can do it as general manager, it’s my expectation that every other executive and every other manager in this agency doesn’t just go out there and look. It’s not always that terrible, but take an action. Everyday take some small action to improve the service to our customers.”
Catoe says this is another cultural change for the agency. One that Catoe feels needs to continue, “I am unhappy the way it is going. I think we need to do a far better job. And it’s my expectations that our management team do that. This is not an area that I will accept ‘well it ain’t my job,’ it is their job.
“No matter what they do. Whether they are in IT, finance, planning, I expect them to be out in the system doing things to improve the quality of service.
“We’re going through different programs with our station managers and our supervisors. But again this is one of the [ones where] you have to walk the talk. You have to demonstrate that. And we need to look at the whole aspect of who do we hire for these jobs. Are we hiring people from a customer service perspective. And that’s an industry problem, it’s not just here in Washington.”
One of the ways that Catoe feels that he can assist in that cultural shift is in how the agency rewards its employees for outstanding performance. He admits that recognition programs were one of the things they cut back on when they were faced with financial issues — something he intends to change and soon, saying that he feels this is something that they can’t afford not to do.
“We had an awards program in the latter part of last year. It’s an annual program. I was up there shaking hands and talking to people and several things I observed, Catoe says.
“One, there was an award called the General Manager’s Award. I didn’t know how the people got the award. I didn’t have anything to do with them getting it and I wasn’t involved in the selection process. So I knew that had to change.
“[Two,] there was some very good people receiving awards, but I thought it was disproportionately administrative not operating.
“And then the real ‘killer’ to me was it came time for the Million Mile awards, or discussion, recognition, and there were about 30 drivers there.
“And when the time came I was looking for the plaques or pins or whatever. They were told to all stand up at one time and then they sat down. There was no name calling. There was no pin. There was no trophy. There was no even go to Hell to you. There was nothing except for thank you. And I determined then we were going to do more.”
Catoe and his staff are planning a banquet to recognize the Million Mile drivers, because as he explains, “…someone who can drive a million miles, or two or three, and not have an accident, that’s an incredible employee. That’s an incredibly safe person. And to me it was we’re talking about safety and we’re talking about not having accidents and then the people who don’t have it we don’t recognize them?
“I wanted to make up for that event last year. I thought I owed it to the operators to do something special.”
Safety and service are pillars of an agency’s image, but as I asked Catoe, how much of an agency’s image is made up by its employees and how much is made up by its riders? Professional sports teams are often marked by the actions of their fans, is an agency’s?
“The majority of course is by those who operate it,” Catoe says.
“When I first came here I was embarrassed the first couple of months because all of the rail car washers were down. We didn’t have one that worked because we didn’t really do the necessary maintenance and we didn’t meet the EPA standards.
“So all of our cars were dirty on the outside. And that’s our responsibility to make that a priority to fix it.