‘Family-Centered Services’ Means Good Customer Service

Blowing bubblesPart of the meaning of “family-centered services” is providing good customer service. It means developing the habit of seeing yourself and your office through the eyes of the parents who interact with you, and reorganizing your work to become more responsive. Customer service is right in the center of the bubble chart—part of our core business.

What do you want from the child support program as a custodial mom, as a custodial dad, as a grandmother? First of all, you want results. You want the other parent to pay. You don’t want to waste your time. You don’t want to sit in a waiting room or in a phone queue. You don’t want to fill out paperwork over and over again. You want to get your questions answered. You want a clear understanding of what will happen to you in the process. You want to feel safe. You might want to apply for other programs, such as SNAP and SSI, if only someone would ask you. You don’t want to be judged. You want your worker to know what you are up against.

And if you are a noncustodial dad or mom? You want the worker to understand the complexity and sorrow of your life. You want to be treated as a parent, not a wallet. You want to be respected and understood. You want the system to work with you, not against you. You don’t want to be judged. You don’t want to be humiliated. You want a chance to make things right. You need a job. You want to see your kids. You want for your children what you might never have had.

Every one of us has had good and bad customer experiences. And we can identify precisely what went right or wrong in those experiences. Usually, when things go right, we feel that we matter, we feel heard, we are engaged in the process, and we can maintain some control over the outcome—whether we are ordering online, fixing a problem with a bill, or sitting in a hospital waiting room.

The child support program has a deep culture of innovation. Innovation starts with every worker and every manager saying out loud:  

Do you know what I saw? What I heard? What I read?

What if we …?

Why do we…?

We ought to try….

As child support offices around the country know, technology is part of the answer to providing good quality customer service, especially in a time of budget cutbacks. Technology can help us reach a new generation of parents, many of whom get their information through the internet. We can expand customer-friendly, interactive websites and voice response systems. We can use cell phone texts and email alerts to parents. We can post short videos with real customers to speak for our program and develop apps that make our internet services easy to use. We can encourage parents to apply for services online and link parents to such resources as benefit calculators and program navigators.  

But technology is not the whole answer. When states were implementing statewide computer systems in the 1990s, the prevailing idea was that we would become efficient collection agencies—highly automated, impersonal, with minimal caseworker intervention. Now we know that that approach is not enough. We need to build in the missing ingredient in our program—parental engagement. The money is important. But what we know now is that child support is about more than just money; it’s about families.

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6 Responses to ‘Family-Centered Services’ Means Good Customer Service

  1. Sheryll Storry says:

    All I can say is “Amen!” As the supervisor of a small state office help desk where we listen to the voices of CPs, NCPs, and county caseworkers all day long, clearly most child support workers understand this and really try to communicate respectfully. And I’m sure all state programs try their best within their means to streamline processes and procedures for our customers, as well as for program staff. But it’s important to never stop trying to improve, and along the way remember, “it’s about families.”

  2. Kulobo says:

    How about making it easier for custodial parents to convey information on noncustodial parents who leave a social media profile. Individuals leave a myriad of trails i.e. utube videos , blogs, twitter accounts that identify who they are, what type social circles they interact with for their entertainment, and the ways they prefer to dispose of their expendable income. Paper and investigators are not the only way to go to ensure a case manager may address the recalcitrant non custodial parents who evade to support their offspring. Authorize communication via email and chat… the Virginia office of Taxation does. Protracted delays in child support can not recoup the injury of no to meager levels of support as the custodial parent strives to address critical developmental years . Innovations are great but if the motivation to leverage them serve as another roadblock to communication the value is limited to the illusion of some that staff are merely gesturing to address concerns of child and custodial parent.

  3. H. Sanders says:

    Good article. Following the technology trail – I’d like to suggest that paternity and child support messages be added to the free text messages sent by Text4baby.

  4. Zindy Trujillo says:

    It would be helpful if the state would make less accomadations for the NCP’S. There are so many loop holes for the NCP’S from being unemployed to receiving GR and not having to pay any child support, medical insurance, or follow up with the the custodial parent. They have a certain amount of time to report employment, time before wages can be garnishes, and so on. If a custiodial parent is trying to follow up with child support services online the turn around time to receive a response is 15 to 30 days which is not what it should be. If the Non Custiodal parent can receive General Relief (welfare) and the Custodial parent is working full time their should be more support for the working parent. The child support services website protect the non custiodal parent home address, employer name and address, and salary wages. This is very sad for our children especially when you have hard worker custiodal parents who refuse to file for welfare and food stamps! I rather work 10 jobs then to but my children expenses on other hard working families

  5. t martinez says:

    It would be helpful if the state would make less accomadations for the NCP’S. There are so many loop holes for the NCP’S from being unemployed to receiving GR and not having to pay any child support, medical insurance, or follow up with the the custodial parent. The ncp always seems to slip out of any consequences. They have a certain amount of time to report employment, time before wages can be garnishes, and so on. If a custiodial parent is trying to follow up with child support services online the turn around time to receive a response is 15 to 30 days which is not what it should be. I agree that th Cs office should look into the NCP social media face book , u tube twitter . alot of ncp giva alot of info … where they work etc.. Also make it easy to give anonymous info via the web, on any cs evader.

  6. G. Harma says:

    What is the point of all of this? When a man owes over $30,000 and each involved interstate office knows where he is, and he has been to court multiple times for fraud and non-payment of money to BUSINESSES – why is he not brought to the carpet for owing his children? And why, when the mother begs with her own state to at LEAST go so far as to place a lein (or some such permanent action) there is no action taken to hold this man responsible? I speak in generalities, but this is a common enough story and a problem that should be addressed. BUT if you look to see where and how to file a complaint of non-action against the DHHS, all you find is links and numbers that take you further into the hornet’s nest of “The Administration” and more non-action by higher ups. Where is the tax money spent employing these people working for children of situations like this?

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To get help with your case or learn how to apply for child support, contact your state or tribal child support agency.  This is a moderated blog. All comments will be reviewed and cleared before they are posted. See Comment Policy.

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