Connecting state and local government leaders
With more calls coming into its legacy social services help lines, New York City turned to a cloud-based platform that reduced the number of dropped calls and gave agents easy, digital access to essential customer information.
Cloud-based software is speeding contact center response time, facilitating reporting and improving user experience for city workers and residents alike at the New York City Human Resources Administration/Department of Social Services (HRA/DSS).
DSS contact centers and interactive voice response (IVR) systems have historically operated on two on-premises platforms. Until Jan. 30, the Infoline Call Center team handled most incoming calls regarding any benefits with a legacy Nortel telephony platform for which support ended in 2017. And until June 2022, an Avaya platform supported city residents needing to recertify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Although that platform was newer, the department depended on manufacturer support because the system relies on telephony integration with the city’s case management system.
Additionally, since the pandemic altered DSS processes, the system makes more outbound calls, but they must be managed and documented manually.
“On average, we get around 44,000 calls on a daily basis just for Infoline,” said Susheel Balachandran, executive director of telecom infrastructure/engineering at DSS. “What was our biggest problem before was that we had limited trunks coming in, we have limited codes for licenses for IVR, so most of the calls will either get busy tones or they will just drop…. We actually offer them a call back, which a lot of people are opting to, and we are able to service more claims. I would say 89% of the calls are being handled by the agents.”
Another pain point for DSS has been the number of customer-facing phone numbers and menu options, making it difficult for callers to know what number to use or what choice to select to get the information they need. This has led to a greater number of calls and handoffs, increased hold times and more dropped calls—that is, when callers don’t get a busy signal in the first place.
“For the agents, initially, it was all physical forms,” Balachandran said. The SNAP group had access to more background on the caller, but “Infoline agents were just presented with the call…. There was no time for them to look at a report, do a call analysis.”
For help, DSS partnered with NICE, an artificial intelligence-powered customer service platform provider, to use CXone, including CXone Platform, CXone Recording and Performance Management.
“The very first thing they’re doing as part of this modernization is bringing all of that [information] onto a modernized cloud native platform,” Laura Bassett, vice president of product and content marketing at NICE, said of the disparate elements. “Then those call center agent groups could actually see customer information across the different ways they’re engaging in the business.”
Data, analytics and reporting have also been a focus for the department. Before, DSS relied on vendors to build reports, but now, agents can run them by pulling information from their dashboards. Plus, supervisors can monitor dashboards and, for instance, add more agents to areas getting higher call volumes.
“We report back to the state or federal or city officials about how many calls we got, how many cases were worked upon,” Balachandran said. “We do see if there is any repeat caller, and then we can figure out why they’re calling again and try to resolve issues.”
“Now, they can also have a very consolidated view because they’re bringing everything together, and I know that they’re already playing around with creating their own reports—it’s easy to do with the tools—and looking at how that matches against their different KPIs,” Bassett added. “They’ve implemented Performance Management, so that they can really use that to learn how they can help their agents to better handle those customer conversations.”
Although the effort is part of a multiyear modernization program at the department, she credits the DSS team with starting with the basics: customer experience. “They’re truly saying, ‘Let’s serve the core problems first.’ That’s the abandons, that’s the busy signals, it’s the call volumes. They want to—I’m using air quotes—modernize to the place of digital, but they’re not getting out in front of their skis,” Bassett said.
One of the biggest benefits DSS has seen is faster contact center response time, Balachandran said. “Most of the clients who call in are already authenticated,” he said. Because “we have backend integration, so they go and authenticate themselves so by the time the call comes, we know what the person is calling for.”
DSS has not seen cost savings from the switch yet because it’s so new, but there is the potential to shutter physical contact center locations if their usage falls off enough, Balachandran said.
What’s more, DSS changed its pricing model from paying for a fixed number of licenses to a subscription model based on the number of agents activated.
Another aspect of the modernization that Balachandran and his team are discussing is a time frame for integrating with ACCESS HRA, an online portal through which residents can apply for some benefits, submit documents and manage their cases. One plan is for a chatbot that can connect customers to live agents as needed, he said.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.