Customer survey results

About the survey

Good customer service helps us develop innovative partnerships with our customers to sustain healthy land, air, and water in harmony with a strong economy. Asking our customers for feedback helps us learn how we can improve. To ensure the process and results are unbiased, we contract with a statistics service to conduct the survey.

Customer survey results

As part of our core services, we issue environmental permits to individuals, businesses, and corporations. We also inspect and visit businesses required to comply with Washington’s environmental laws and rules.

Since 2002, we have conducted biennial surveys to permitted and inspected customers to ask for feedback about their experience with our services and interaction with our staff including:

  • Satisfaction with customer service
  • Staff knowledge and helpfulness
  • Clarity and timeliness of the processes and requirements
  • Ease of use of required forms and paperwork, and online resources

We use the survey results to identify actions to improve our processes and customer service. We’ve learned that our webpages and permit application instructions needed improving. In response, we improved our website, and now provide help for permittees via video and webinars. We've also learned that sending notices and checklists to facilities helps them prepare for inspections. 

2021 Regulated Customer Survey interactive results in a PowerBI Dashboard.

See our previous full survey reports since 2002. Starting in 2019, we are using interactive data dashboards to report our results (see above).

What is the Customer Survey?

The Customer Survey is a tool used by the Washington State Department of Ecology to measure customer service and satisfaction. Conducted biennially, the tool surveys permitted and inspected customers to solicit feedback on their interactions with Ecology staff. To ensure that the process and results are statistically valid, Ecology contracts with a statistics service to conduct the survey.

How long has Ecology been surveying customers?

Ecology has surveyed its customers biennially since 2002. Between 2002 and 2008, we surveyed only permit applicants. In 2010, we added inspected businesses to the survey.

Who are the customers that you survey?

The 2014 survey seeks feedback from two types of customers: permit applicants and inspected businesses and facilities.

Permit applicants

Ecology issues environmental permits to individuals, businesses, and corporations. These permits include conditions the regulated person or company must meet to comply with environmental laws and rules to control pollution, safely manage wastes, and to protect natural resources and habitat.

We survey applicants to 18 different permit types, ranging from Dam Safety permits to Air Operating permits.

Inspected businesses and facilities

Ecology also conducts inspections and site visits to businesses and facilities required to comply with Washington’s environmental laws and rules. Many of our inspections are done to determine compliance with permit conditions. We also inspect or visit businesses that are required to comply with environmental regulations, but do not have an associated permit.

We survey customers of 15 different inspection types, ranging from Dangerous Waste Handlers inspections to Industrial Stormwater inspections.

Why measure customer satisfaction?

Good customer service helps develop innovative partnerships with our customers to sustain healthy land, air, and water in harmony with a strong economy. As a regulatory agency, we can’t rely on a bottom line measured by sales to tell us how we’re doing. Consequently, surveying customer satisfaction is an essential way for us to learn how well we work with our customers.

Who conducts the survey and how is it conducted? Are the results statistically valid?

From 2002 to 2014, we contracted with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) to perform surveys. NASS takes a stratified random sample of permitted and inspected customers and selects them for the survey; meaning that they randomly select which customers to survey from within each category of permit or inspection type. NASS-trained surveyors contact selected customers and conduct the survey via phone. NASS then uses statistical analysis software to enter the response data, tabulate the answers, and report the results to Ecology. To ensure confidentiality, NASS only provides Ecology with the final tabulated results.

What types of questions do you ask?

We ask both quantitative and qualitative questions. Many survey questions make a statement about Ecology performance and asks the respondents to Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree. Questions focus on Ecology staff, timeliness in responding to requests, and the permit/inspection process. In addition, the survey gives respondents a place to respond to open-ended questions about Ecology performance.

Is the same survey used every two years?

We review the questions before each survey round and add or revise questions. However, to track trends and keep the length of the survey manageable, we often retain many of the same questions.

How long is the survey?

The survey was typically completed in five to 20 minutes. We asked permit applicants 30 questions and asked inspected customers 21 questions.

Do you survey customers with unfavorable regulatory outcomes?

Yes, about one in six inspected businesses who respond to the survey were issued an enforcement notice, order, or penalty by Ecology.

How does Ecology use the results?

In response to the feedback we receive, our permit and compliance staff identify actions to improve our processes and customer service. In response to our 2014 results, for example, our environmental programs committed to 18 action items that would demonstrably improve customer service by July, 2016. Examples of action items include improving webpage usability, creating webinars and online videos on the permitting process, and sending notices and checklists to facilities prior to selected inspections.

Have you seen improvements over time?

Since 2002, Ecology has improved on nearly every metric measured. For example, in 2002 only 74 percent of customers thought we worked to build a cooperative relationship; now 88 percent think so. Further, in 2010, 93 percent of inspected customers thought the inspector informed them on why their business received an inspection; now, 97 percent think so. While we still have room for improvement, we are proud of the progress we have made.

Does the survey feed statewide performance results?

Yes, the Governor’s Results Washington Team is currently discussing measures that would include customer satisfaction and timeliness. If those measures are adopted, results from the survey will likely feed those statewide performance measures.