For the last 20 plus years, Garner residents looking to pay their utility and water bills have greeted and seen the same face at the front desk.
It was that of Nancy Austin. She was there to address their concerns when they had problems with their bills. She became so familiar with them, they eventually came to her with their personal concerns.
But now she’s moving on to the next chapter in her life. Austin, 60, retired last week after 29 years with the town.
She started working as a two-week temporary with the town. She was pregnant with her second child and her plan was to stay until her daughter was born.
Austin started out working in the planning department, then went to water billing, when Garner did its own. Then Austin had her baby and the town called back.
She didn’t want to go back because she then had two children. But town staff told her they’d work with her.
“So I went back and just never left,” Austin said. “It worked good. It was up the street from my house and up the street from my children’s school.”
Austin has lived most of her life in Garner. She was born in Asheboro, lived in Florida for a year, but moved to Garner with her family when she was in the fourth grade. She’s been here ever since.
She’s graduated from Garner Magnet High School. After graduating she worked for Golden Corral Corporation and a temporary agency, which led to her job for the town.
While working in water billing and customer service, the town would sometimes take some heat when customers didn’t agree that their bills should be as high as they were. But Austin was always there to work with them.
“Let me have your address and let’s see what we can do,” she recalled telling them.
She said she never really had real problems with her customers.
“Mostly they just want to know how you’re going to help,” Austin said. “Sometimes you can’t do anything about it, but if you at least try they can handle it better.”
For the lower income residents, who couldn’t afford their bills, she’d send them to a church to get help.
Mayor Ronnie Williams said Austin was a very customer friendly person.
“She was the type of employee that every organization needs and she’s loyal,” Williams said. “She’s devoted and very customer conscious. She will be missed.”
Williams met Austin while he was still carrying the mail. He said she was always humble and passionate.
“She fulfills the good the town does,” he said.
Recently retired town clerk Judy Bass said the same.
“Nancy has a consistently calm and comforting personality and always has your back,” Bass said. “When working with a customer or co-worker, she treats them as if they are the most important person in the world at that time.”
You could always count on Austin to be at work. Through snowstorms or any other weather that would keep the normal person from work, it didn’t affect her. She said she once caught a ride to work on a snow plow.
Austin worked in customer service for years until Garner merged its water and sewer operation with the City of Raleigh. Austin would next work at the front window about 20 years. Those people she’d talk to on the phone, she was able to meet in person.
“I loved it,” she said. “A lot of them, I could have told you who they were by their voices. I liked seeing people. That’s one thing my customers worry about with me, being at home, is (not seeing) my customers.”
She said she was able to learn from the customers she served. Longtime customers, who know she’s retired, have asked for her business card so they can stay in touch with her.
Filling her free time
In retirement, Austin plans to spend more time with her three grandchildren, and get more involved at church. She wants to do more cooking. It’s what she’s always enjoyed.
During her last day, Austin thought about her time working for the town and all the town managers she has worked under. She didn’t get emotional because she knows she can see her front desk co-workers whenever she wants. But it’s the customers she may not see.
“My thing was I hated leaving my customers,” she said. “And I don’t even think of them as customers anymore. Several of them came in last week and yesterday. These are people who asked me to pray for them and that was an honor.”
When five o’clock hit, she packed up the last bit of items from her desk in a box, gave her co-workers a hug and cut off the lamp on her desk.
Her advice for the next person to work the front window is pretty simple:
“Make sure you smile, and when you say ‘How are you doing?’, don’t say it while you’re turning your head. Stop for a moment and look up.”
That’s how customers knew she was there to help them.