Accreditation, customer service helps Joel Dramis and Port. St. Lucie earn the Code Council’s Raising the Profile Award
Joel Dramis, building official for Port St. Lucie, Fla., has a passion for customer service, even dreaming for several years of setting up a drive-through window for the building department. But he also is a perfectionist, or as he puts it, an “overdoer,” who likes to find ways to make things better for customers and employees. And a few years ago, he found a way. “I read about the International Accreditation Service and what we would need to do to qualify,” said Dramis, a Port St. Lucie employee since 1988 and building official since 2007.
The International Accreditation Service (IAS), a wholly owned subsidiary of the International Code Council, rates public safety, customer service, budgeting, professional development and other related functions that set the standard of excellence for the profession. During the building department accreditation process, IAS officials found one of the city’s deficiencies was customer service. Dramis was having none of that.
With total buy-in from his management team since the beginning of the accreditation process, Dramis now oversees a building department that is only one of four in Florida and 25 worldwide to have full IAS accreditation. And one that consistently has customer satisfaction ratings averaging 9.6 out of 10. “The IAS people told me not to expect too much higher of rating than 7.0, but we blew by that,” Dramis said.
And the department now has another award to its credit for all that hard work: the Code Council’s Raising the Profile Award for 2020, which recognizes an individual or organization for acts or contributions that raise the public awareness of code personnel that improve public safety in the built environment. “It’s got my name on it, but this is for the whole department,” a very pleased Dramis said. “I keep looking at it and what it means. This is really cool.”
To help raise the customer appreciation scores, and maintain safety in all projects, Dramis and the department accomplished several programs, including finally putting in a drive-through window for the department that now serves dozens of people a day. The window has been especially helpful to limit contact between customers and employees during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and Dramis said it has helped keep the department even busier through the restrictions.
For Dramis however, the most crucial change in the department was setting up customer-friendly timelines. “We asked them when they want to start building, and then we work toward achieving that,” he said. “If we miss a deadline for whatever reason, we apologize to the customer and tell them they will have their permit that day. Customers love it. Time is money.”
To help streamline the process, Dramis said they set up checklists for both the customers and employees to use when applying or reviewing the applications for whatever kind of project. “Through the IAS accreditation process, you learn to change the way you think about how a building department should operate,” said Dramis, who started out with the city as an electrical inspector. “It’s not ‘us versus them.’ You get a lot farther by working together and making it as easy as possible on the customer, without sacrificing safety in the least.”
According to Dramis, the city will soon break ground for a 10 million-square-foot commercial/industrial development. A large reason the developer chose “little Port St. Lucie (population around 170,000),” he said, “is because I told them we could get their plans reviewed faster than any other town.”
Ever the overdoer, when Dramis couldn’t find a suitable electronic permitting system some eight years ago, he got the information technology team to come up with one (that is now the standard) just in time to help keep work going during the pandemic. Same with the city’s virtual inspection program.
Until the pandemic hit, Port St. Lucie Building Department leaders taught several classes to more than 175 building officials from the state of Florida at the Building Officials of Florida annual conference and at the Emerging Technologies Conference. They also have hosted seven building departments for training on customer service, best practices and accreditation.
In addition to his duties as building official, Dramis is a certified professor at Indian River State College and a certified CEU provider for building code administrators, building inspectors, plans examiners and the Florida Real Estate Commission. He also has worked for more than 30 years with World Changer Ministries, a large organization that sponsors teens to provide community services, such as painting and cleaning up homes in low-income neighborhoods.
Dramis said the department’s achievements, including the Raising the Profile Award and the IAS accreditation, helps the city in many ways. “We had some of our employees in their late 60s who retired early because they didn’t want to risk getting COVID-19,” he said. “But we were able to attract a lot of qualified candidates. Everyone wants to work for a winner.”