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Personnel center transforming customer-service methods

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. William Huntington
  • 442nd Fighter Wing public affairs
"The times, they are a-changing" may say it best for the Air Reserve Personnel Center, based in Denver, as it attempts its biggest change in personnel services yet through its Personnel Services Delivery transformation.

Department of Defense and Air Force leadership mandated the change to centralize personnel functions through Web-based applications. Their bottom line was to have the Web replace most in-person contacts with a Military Personnel Flight and thereby realize the advantages of accuracy, expanded capability and cost savings.

According to ARPC figures, 10 percent of personnel transactions now occur online with five percent of transactions handled by phone and 85 percent handled face-to-face at unit MPF customer service desks. The goal is to nearly reverse those figures with 85 percent service online, 10 percent by phone and five percent face-to-face.

"It's a way of re-thinking the manner in which Air Force members receive their personnel services," said Senior Master Sgt. Cesar Ortiz, 442nd Military Personnel Flight superintendent.

The most visible and utilitarian means to accomplish the PSD quest, the virtual Personnel Center-Guard and Reserve portal, known as vPC-GR, is slowly but surely taking on a life of its own.

With the first capability brought to life in March 2006, vPC-GR is being rolled out in phases with each successive phase adding more capability to the system.

In vPC-GR's first months, reservists could correct duty history online. As the system matured in capability, members could, among other things, find out and correct current points, obtain a 20-year letter re-issue, choose a Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan and sign up for Tricare Reserve Select.

An awards and decoration request page is the latest feature added to the site and on the horizon, functions for separations, re-enlistments, promotions, retraining and more are slated to be added.

"It's an evolving process," said Tech. Sgt. J.C. Woodring, ARPC Public Affairs. "It never [remains static] because we are always trying to make it easier for the users."

Help, if needed, is available. Sergeant Woodring encourages users to review the site as it is a convenient, first-line tool for solving problems.

The human element has not been removed from the system and members experiencing difficulties can call the vPC-GR Contact Center at (880) 525-0102, DSN 926-6528, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. mountain standard time, Monday through Friday and 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. MST, on the first Saturday and Sunday of each month to talk with customer service counselors.

According to Sergeant Woodring, members shouldn't worry about their inquiries getting lost if the matter can't be quickly resolved as the information received at the Contact Center goes into a database that can be accessed by all of the center's counselors.

"[All of the representatives] should know what steps have been taken to try to resolve the problem," Sergeant Woodring said of the database. "They'll also be able to see the status of an unresolved issue."

A third avenue of support is the unit commander's support staff, commonly known as the orderly room.

"The CSS has taken over more of helping the member get on line; helping the member reach the contact center; helping the member get the gist of what to scan or get faxed in; whatever the case may be," Sergeant Ortiz said. "For instance, the member may not know that of these five documents they have, that only two of them are what they need to send in. So the CSS can really help in that regard."

The vPC-GR is a reflection of the changes in the nature of the Air Force.

"In today's Air Force we are all over the world," Sergeant Ortiz said. "Members have to have a viable way of getting their personnel service no matter where they are. They are not always going to be at an Air Force base and even if they are they are not always going to be at their own home base. The Web site and the call center serve to give members a continual avenue no matter where they may be in the world."

Both Sergeants Woodring and Ortiz agree that the biggest challenge to the system becoming relevant to all members is breaking them out of the "but that's the way we've always done it" comfort zone.

"There are always going to be people who like it the way it has always been," Sergeant Woodring said. "But the whole process is to get you what you want quicker and easier than the way you've had to do it before."

"You are going to have members who have been accustomed to going to a person and having someone they can reach out and touch for their concerns," Sergeant Ortiz said. "Instead most of us 'old timers' are going to have to be acclimated into going to a Website. But I think that in time they will become proficient in using it."

Sergeant Ortiz advises members to not wait for a need to arise before logging on to the system. He said it's important to become familiar with the site and avoid the frustrations of learning how to navigate vPC-GR while embroiled in a crisis.

Another step in the PSD process is transferring records to an electronic format and scanning the Unit Personnel Records Group. It's a process that began for active-duty Airmen in October and is slated to start for Guard and Reserve members in April 2008.
According to Jo Hogue, Chief of master personnel records at the Air Force Personnel Center it's an important step.

"Right now there is only one copy of the UPRG, which is kept at each unit," she said. "If something happens to that hard copy there is nothing we can do about it. Converting the records from paper to an electronic format also provides an additional backup version of each record."

Sergeant Woodring said that while the process of converting the records is substantial it is being done with an eye toward accuracy.

"It's not going to happen overnight," he said. "The records section scans in the records and then they look at the record to see if it is correct before they certify that is now an electronic version."

At the end of the electronic transition, vPC-GR will be merged into the Department of Defense's DIMHRS, Defense Military Integrated Human Resource System, which, according to Sergeant Woodring, will eventually centralize all pay and personnel issues.

Access to the vPC-GR can be made through the 442nd Fighter Wing's public Web site at www.442fw.afrc.af.mil. The link is under the Reserve resources tab on the right side of the page. Upon reaching the site, establish a new account by clicking on the "New account" link under the "Account tools" tab and following the instructions.