For the Office of Child Support at the Michigan Department of Human Services, efficiency remains critical, as this division serves nearly one million families throughout the state. But, with an incredible caseload to bear, customer service representatives found themselves unable to meet expectation with the speed and precision demanded. Thus, to streamline the customer experience, Michigan's OCS invested in new call center technologies that allow agents to route calls with granular accuracy.Here, we speak with Erin Frisch, director of the Office of Child Support for the Michigan Department of Human Services, to examine how this call center renovation has transformed internal operations and its impact on those families served:
1to1 Media: What triggered Michigan's OCS to deploy new call center technology? Was there any particular breaking point that caused you to make the change?
Erin Frisch: The Michigan Office of Child Support (OCS) has the mission "to achieve the permanent well-being and self-sufficiency of Michigan families." Yet, it was behind in serving customers due to inefficient processes, older technology, and overwhelming caseloads. Their number one complaint was the inability to reach a child support specialist, which is a required step in receiving child support payments. The OCS had a process that was outdated and couldn't support good business practices. Historically, customers and specialists played voicemail tag. Callers went to voicemail, and when support specialists returned calls, they went to voicemail, too, causing a vicious cycle that wasn't appropriate for the type of calls the office had to take. As hard as specialists worked, they couldn't keep up with the volume of calls.
1to1: What sort of service does this call center provide? How does it operate? How does this differ from previous strategies?
EF: Michigan's OCS has to deal with mission-critical calls and answering the phone was a top priority. Accelerated customer response is a result of connecting customers directly to caseworkers and cutting response time to customers from two weeks to just five minutes. The Office of Child Support is responsible for case intake and case management of the nearly one million child support cases in Michigan. Support specialists interview clients, identify needed services, locate absent parents, and refer cases on to a local prosecuting attorney to begin the court proceedings to obtain legal paternity and/or child support. Support specialists primarily work from their home offices and split their time between answering calls and doing other casework. In the old model, each support specialist was assigned a specific caseload. In the new model, the caseload is shared evenly among all support specialists, allowing us to respond quickly to spikes in customer demand and share responsibilities to allow us to free up time for training, meetings, and for folks to take needed time off without feeling like their customers are suffering.
1to1: What were the primary goals of this call center initiative? What changes has the Michigan OCS seen as the result of its implementation?
EF: Not only was it imperative to answer calls, but it was also important to give employees a manageable workload. Updating their call center technology also gave the OCS the chance to grow and change by allowing a broader network of child support professionals across the state to access and use the solution. Additionally, antiquated IVR didn't support analytics. Therefore, the OCS had to go through phone records and manual tally sheets to gain insight into how many calls they had.
For the Michigan OCS, this solution delivers a customer experience that begins with a highly efficient, self-service system that quickly routes customers to the appropriate caseworker. Before caseworkers answer a call, the solution offers specific insight on each customer by providing detailed information about who is calling and why. This process improvement has increased Michigan OCS system productivity by 40 percent, eliminated case backlog and case escalation, and enabled 90 percent of caseworkers to work remotely. Child support workers now specialize in tasks and share cases across the entire caseworker population rather than maintain separate caseloads.
1to1: Why does call center technology still offer such an invaluable service when it comes to quelling customer anger and frustration? How has this particular initiative helped the Michigan OCS ensure the well-being and self-sufficiency of the state's families?
EF: Michigan's OCS used to receive a lot of escalated calls. However, after updating its call center technology, Michigan OCS's call volume dropped from 220,000 calls per month to about 16,000. The OCS is meeting the needs of the child support program in ways that they never could before. They're able to provide service and meet demand. Clients are happier and phone calls are less abrasive. The demeanor of the conversations has shifted, and the OCS is dealing with much calmer, less frustrated callers. A very real consequence of not being able to meet the demand for our services was that families would have their public assistance benefits cut off through no fault of their own just because they couldn't connect with their support specialist. This no longer happens, which allows OCS to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars, while still being a necessary support system for those that truly need our help