The FCC Connects with New Consumer Help Center

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The agency overhauled its online complaint system and streamlined workflow processes to become more responsive to consumer complaints.
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Every day, more than 1,500 complaints pour into the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The complaints include grievances about unwanted texts or calls from telemarketers, loud commercials, interference with radio, TV, and telephone signals, and more. However, an outdated complaint system prevented the FCC from quickly responding to consumers or leveraging insights from the complaints.

In January, the FCC launched a new Consumer Help Center that's powered by customer service software provided by Zendesk. The new website streamlines the process for filing a complaint and makes it easier for the FCC to track and analyze issues, as well as share information among bureaus, offices, and telecom companies. 1to1 Media caught up with Dustin Laun, a contractor who serves as senior advisor for innovation and technology to the CIO at the FCC, who spearheaded the implementation of the new Consumer Help Center. Laun discussed the challenges to improving a government agency's consumer service capabilities and the FCC's roadmap for further improving its complaint system.

1to1 Media: What led the FCC to improve its Consumer Help Center?

Dustin Laun: One reason is the prior technology we were using was a 15-year-old homegrown system and they had a fairly manual process for responding to complaints that made it difficult to keep up. In addition, there are approximately 18 bureaus and offices at the FCC that all have a vested interest in complaint data to some level because it helps inform policy and rule-making decisions. So we needed to give the bureaus better access to those complaints.

There are also nearly 1,500 telecom carriers and we needed a way for all those companies to be able to interact within the solution with certain limitations. It was clear the FCC needed to fix these problems. We evaluated a lot of products in the marketplace and Zendesk seemed to offer the best solution.

How many complaints does the FCC typically receive in one year?

DL: The FCC gets more than 450,000 complaints a year and about 1,500 to 2,000 complaints daily. The majority of complaints come in through online forms on Zendesk. You can also mail in your complaint which gets scanned and added as a ticket. What was interesting to see is more people are submitting complaints through their mobile devices, which the FCC was never able to track before. We haven't rolled out any specific mobile features, although the site is mobile responsive.

How has the process for submitting a complaint been streamlined?

DL: With the old system, when consumers submitted a complaint online, they'd get a number and that was it. They couldn't check the status of their complaint or see what happened to it. They'd have to call an agent and the agent would have to trace the number and try to figure out what its status was. Today, when people submit a complaint, they automatically receive an email with additional information based on the type of complaint they filed. They can also register and log in to check the status of their complaint.

And after 7 to 10 days, the FCC would also aggregate the complaints and send them to specific carriers. Let's say Comcast had 100 complaints in 7 days. Comcast would have to log in to get a really long PDF file of those complaints that they have to integrate into their system. Now, when you file a complaint, our agent looks at it and he or she clicks a macro, which sends a notification with the content of the complaint to the carrier in real time. Some carriers are also using an API which allows them to pull their own complaints and push them into their own systems so they don't have to work with us. This helps the carriers analyze complaints in a faster and more efficient fashion.

Did this initiative help the FCC improve its ability collect feedback about net neutrality?

DL:
There's a difference between systems for complaints versus comments. The comments system is called Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS). So what you saw with net neutrality and its many comments was related to ECFS. But recently, there's been an influx of complaints regarding net neutrality and so we have so additional category called Open Internet where we are capturing that information and sharing it with the proper departments.The public can also get detailed information about the types of complaints that are filed, including complaints related to net neutrality, on the site.

What's next on the FCC's roadmap for improving its complaint system?

DL:
Streamlining the business processes and reporting through other offices and bureaus are some of the next big initiatives. We're slowly rolling out a tagging capability so agents can make corrections if a consumer, for example, entered a complaint under the wrong category. That will help streamline how we categorize complaints and process it for Congress and other internal offices.

We'd also like to see at least the top 10 carriers all leveraging APIs so that we don't have to manually push and pull all that information for them. We'd like it to happen automatically and we're having conversations with a few carriers to get the process going. Third, the feedback forms for collecting user information are still very long, with about 75 questions. So the next step is to simplify the forms and add workflows to only collect the bare minimum amount of information. There's still a lot to do, but just getting people comfortable with cloud-based technology was a huge win and so for a government project, this is all happening at light speed.

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