News : ACCESSNebraska Call Wait Times Dropped after Lex Call Center Opens
LEXINGTON, April 2, 2012 -- ACCESSNebraska has faced its share of criticism since it went online with its first call center for social services in October 2011, but administrators say they're working the bugs out of the system.
Call wait times for benefits information and assistance have dropped since a call center in Lexington began full operations Jan. 23. The Lexington site is the fourth and final center to join the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services ACCESSNebraska system.
As Lexington workers joined the system, average wait times were reduced to six or seven minutes. During February, however, call times averaged 5 minutes 51 seconds.
The addition of 50 workers at the Lexington office brings a total of 400 workers to ACCESSNebraska. Customer service center staff is comprised of trained social service workers who conduct interviews, make customer changes and provide information and referral services via the telephone. The other centers are in Lincoln, Fremont and Scottsbluff.
Alan Zimmerman, customer service center administrator in Lexington, said the system provides a universal case management approach to benefits. In the old style of management, a specific caseworker was assigned cases.
Now, applications can be submitted online at the convenience of the individual seeking help, at any time.
Calls regarding services, made from anywhere in the state during business hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., are routed to the next available operator, and in many cases go to someone who specializes in the type of benefit being requested.
"Technology can route it to the right person, with the specific skill set needed," said Zimmerman.
He can monitor the number of calls in the queue waiting to be answered and the current average wait time. The monitoring is in real time and updates every five to 10 seconds.
Zimmerman said that such oversight allows Department of Health and Human Services to define and put a number value to work performance.
He said callers talk to a live person, so the wait in essence, is no different than standing in line to speak to a receptionist to inquire about the availability of a caseworker.
DHHS is researching an automatic call back option for high demand times when wait times are lengthy, said Zimmerman.
"We're still on the learning curve," said Zimmerman of Lexington's workers. "I anticipate our wait times will get better as our staff get more familiar with the work."
Employees devised a "raise the flag system" to bring a supervisor to their cubicle when questions arise during calls.
Calls can be monitored and the results are used for coaching and training purposes.
"For the most part clients have been pleased for what they obtained out of the call," said Zimmerman of the calls he has randomly listened to.
Zimmerman said DHHS hires and trains people who can establish a quick rapport without being "a best friend."
"When our clientele call in, there are tough things they are going through," said Zimmerman. "We want to be helpful and coach them on what we can offer. It's done over the phone now so it looks different."
Zimmerman started working for DHHS as a caseworker and was supervisor of the Lexington local office before becoming customer service administrator.
He said Lexington's call service center staff is well qualified and not all eligible applicants could be hired.
"I was very pleased with the quality of our applicant pool. We had to turn some people away for positions," said Zimmerman. "I was especially pleased since we had to hire mass numbers of people in a short turn around time."
Zimmerman said ACCESSNebraska relies heavily on technology for its ease in operation and glitches have fortunately been relatively shorted lived.
Scot Adams, interim director of Children and Family Services in the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, said the customer service centers provide a more efficient way to process and approve requests for economic assistance services such as supplemental nutrition assistance, Medicaid and other social services.
Zimmerman said the new system eliminates the need for clients to travel, which saves them time and money.
Adams noted that online applications are increasing, as 67 percent of all applications have been received through the Internet, and 39 percent of web submissions occur during non-business hours.
If clients don't want to fill out an application online, paper applications are still a possibility, said Zimmerman. They can be requested by phone and mailed to the client. A copy of supporting documents are mailed in for scanning and filed electronically with a case.
A face-to-face interview at the local office also is available.
"There is a misconception that we absolutely cannot see people," said Zimmerman. "If someone wants to do that face to face interview we'll do that for them. The local offices are not as fully staffed so it's best if they do call in for the appointment time."
Zimmerman said restructuring of the local offices meant many workers were transferred to call centers and in some cases promoted to supervisory positions.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
Published: Tuesday, April 03, 2012
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