Three Who've Won Our HEART


It’s that month when we give special attention to matters of the heart. So it seems a good time for me to turn to matters of HEART.

When we launched our Customer Experience Initiative a few years ago, one of the key elements was making sure we prominently recognize exceptional customer service. InSite features kudos in the Positive Experiences section. Departments have a variety of ways they celebrate customer service achievements. Executives recognize employees in their quarterly updates with me.     

I also wanted once a year to note a few exemplary cases of customer service. We came up with what we called the HEART of Service Award. We recently announced three winners for last year. There are numerous instances to choose from, but here are the ones that really struck me.

Probation Youth Running Club

For some juveniles in detention, the path to a better future is a running path.

They’ve joined an innovative program called the Probation Youth Running Club. They train at their detention facilities, but some have gotten so into it they take part in local half-marathons and other competitions. Families come on race day to greet the runners at the finish line, and they all celebrate together with Probation officers, teachers, and others supporting the juveniles. 

The club gives these young people not just physical activity, but a sense of achievement and a positive connection with the community. It’s so heartwarming to meet these young people and see how their enthusiasm for the sport feeds a desire to get their lives headed in the right direction. 

The program is part of a dramatic shift in Probation’s approach to juvenile justice. The staff has come up with a variety of creative ways to get those under their supervision focused on opportunities for self-improvement. A big part of that is using the same HEART principles we’d use for other customers, like Respect. The youths benefit, and when they stay out of trouble, we all benefit. Read more about the Running Club

Animal Services Volunteer Program

We couldn’t do what we do without the incredible network of volunteers offering their time in support of numerous County services. Remember that while volunteers are helping us, they are also our customers, and we want them to have a rewarding experience.

Animal Services set out on an ambitious plan to revamp its volunteer program. The goals overall included better communication, tighter procedures and improved training for the volunteers. A team at the department came up with – and implemented – a long list of activities and changes to reach those goals.

The result: a program that better serves those participating, the people they serve, and of course, the animals. (They’re our customers, too!)

Public Defender Specialty Collaborative Courts

Many of the Public Defender’s clients suffer from addiction or mental illness, and sometimes both. The department has come up with a variety of programs, called “courts,” to steer clients to treatment plans so they can move out of the criminal justice system.

The programs are run by the Specialty Collaborative Courts division, whose members work closely with the District Attorney’s Office, Probation and the Courts. (See stories about two of the courts here and here.)   

The attorneys in this unit strike a balance between traditional defense – trying to get the least penalty possible – and encouraging the clients to embrace and accept the help they are being offered. It’s all about looking beyond the requirements of their jobs to what the client really needs. That’s the essence of exceptional customer service.


One thing all three of these recipients have in common is that the people they’re serving may not be who you’d traditionally consider customers. We’ve emphasized with our Customer Experience Initiative the need to think as broadly as possible about who our customers are. For example, they include our colleagues at the County.

In the same way we’ve stretched the definition, we also need to keep stretching our level of service. These three award winners have done that, and I hope by highlighting their achievements, everyone is inspired to take the customer experience to new heights.  

♥ ♥ ♥

On another heart note, I encourage everyone to take part in this year’s Love Your Heart blood pressure screening event. It takes place Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, and dozens of County worksites will offer the screenings. Take a few minutes to know your numbers and help us make this year’s event the biggest ever.