Making it full-circle


When I enlisted in the Air Force 14 years ago, a seasoned master sergeant told me, “You’ll see a lot of things change in your career, and if you stay in long enough, you’ll even see some of those things go back to the way they were when you first came in.”


But it wasn’t until I in-processed at the Eielson Air Force Base finance office that I was able to see the master sergeant’s prediction come to fruition.


It was 8 o’clock in the morning when Airman 1st Class Franchesca West-Ford, a 354th Comptroller Squadron customer service technician, told me to come back to her desk and start the travel voucher process. 


I assumed she would provide me with general information and tips on how to complete my voucher, and then I would go back to my computer to file it online. 


“No, sir,” West-Ford said, “We fill out all travel vouchers by hand in the finance office with our customers.” 


I was surprised because it had been many years since a customer service technician had sat down and reviewed a travel voucher with me. 


West-Ford sorted through my complicated travel itinerary, which began in India, wound its way to Maxwell Air Force Base, and then concluded with a 4,500 mile drive to Alaska. 


I am confident, if left to my own devices, I would have struggled to submit my voucher; but because West-Ford guided me through the process, I was able to get everything accomplished during that first appointment. 


Before leaving I spoke to her supervisor, Tech. Sergeant Latrell Ball, the 354th Comptroller Squadron financial services noncommissioned officer in charge, to understand why they handled in-processing this way.


“When I got here four years ago we had a lot of errors with people submitting vouchers on their own,” Ball said. “When we implemented this new policy we found it lowered our rejection rate.”


The Eielson finance office is a great roadmap on how to navigate the fine line between embracing new technology while maintaining customer satisfaction. 


Advances in technology are wonderful, but nothing beats the service you get from a real life person who cares about your situation, as opposed to an automated system. When we can go back to a process that not only helps the mission, but ultimately benefits the customer, we should not be afraid to revert to an analog form of service.  


We must always seek innovation, but never at the expense of degrading the mission or satisfying the customer—whether that customer is a KC-135 pilot, a dependent going to the base gym, or a second lieutenant in-processing with finance.


That seasoned master sergeant was right—a few processes do make their way back around. Sometimes those old ways of doing business were actually pretty good.