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‘Extra’ desk proves essential for personal service

service center desk
FSA’s Courtnie Ellis leaves a folder for an arriving customer at the USDA’s Tappahannock Service Center. Photo courtesy USDA.

An extra desk turned out to be an indispensable asset for Tappahannock Service Center staff attempting to maintain high standards of customer service while adhering to social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

FSA Programs Technician Courtnie Ellis suggested moving the desk from inside the building to outside the front door, creating a combination dropbox and writing table for NRCS and FSA customers needing to pick up, deliver or sign documents.

“We were trying to avoid having producers reading and signing papers on the hoods of their trucks or banging on a locked door to get our attention,” said Ellis, a lifelong resident of Essex County. “We’ve refined it a little bit since we started, and the producers seem to be very OK with it.”

The problem of rainy days was solved by moving the desk from the front sidewalk to the building’s small lobby, which has two sets of doors. The front door is now kept unlocked and locks were added to the second set of doors, giving customers unlimited access to the desk while keeping the building secure.

“Clients will call and let us know what time they will be coming,” said NRCS District Conservationist Dwight Forrester. “We can then place the documents they need in the desk drawer and collect them after the clients return to their vehicles.   It lets us limit contact and still support our producers with timely payments and other services they need.”

Customers arriving without pens can find a small cache in a desk drawer – along with instructions to keep the pens rather than return them for use by others.  If issues arise during document signing or review, customers with mobile phones can talk with Forrester, Ellis and any other staff members working in the building that day.

“The other option is talking to the customers with a glass door between us,” Ellis said. “You have to raise your voice a little, but we do what we need to do.”