HCJFS plans changes to better serve consumers
Hamilton County Job and Family Services will make several changes within the coming months to assist HCJFS’s smaller workforce in serving record levels of public assistance consumers while at the same time becoming more customer friendly.
Already, the agency has begun offering forms and applications online and interacting more with consumers over the phone rather than requiring in-person interviews.
But in recent months, the agency has found it difficult to keep up with the record numbers of consumers and a 67 percent increase in call volume, which has resulted in long wait times and slower processing times.
“We are still at an all-time high of people we are serving, for food stamps in particular,” said Chief Operating Officer Tim McCartney. “Obviously the thing with the biggest effect will be a rebound in the economy, but in the meantime, there are things we can do.”
There are several different factors playing in to the extremely high demand. First, the agency recently switched from re-certifying public assistance recipients from every six months to every 12 months. While the change initially caused a decrease in the workload for staff, it has actually caused an increase when many of the annual re-certifications all came due about the same time. In addition, the new six-month interim report, to report changes, has caused some confusion for long-time recipients who had not seen the form before, generating an increase in call volume and long lines at the agency.
The increase in calls to the agency has also made it difficult for staff to call at the exact time of scheduled phone interviews, generating additional calls and visits to the agency.
In order to combat the problem, HCJFS is combining a number of techniques which will result in more efficient service in the long run.
First, the agency is moving to an all phone interview system. Previously, a customer would receive faster service by coming to the agency. Within a month, all applications and re-applications will be served in the order they are received regardless of how the consumer interacts with the agency. Consumers will now receive the same service regardless of whether they apply online, call the agency, mail an application or talk to someone at the office. This should result in the HCJFS staff being able to process more consumers quickly.
In addition, the agency is finally able to replace employees as they leave, meaning the workforce is no longer shrinking and a greater number of employees are being trained in how to assist with public assistance calls.
Perhaps just as importantly, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services will roll out a second phase of the self-service online application this fall, allowing consumers to check on the status of their case without calling the agency. The interim report will also be available online shortly.