Applying New Client Service Technologies Legal Aid Ontario, Canada (2010-01-07)
Applying New Client Service Technologies Legal Aid Ontario, Canada
By Charles Lafortune, Director, Strategic Technology and Innovation
Client service expectations and a need to demonstrate value for tax dollars continues to shape how legal services are delivered by public agencies in the social justice sector. Clients expect and require an engagement that is simple and transparent and which is responsive to their needs.
Service delivery mechanisms that are fully accessible, standardized and permit a seamless client service interaction are most valued. New, innovative uses of technology often allows for a detailed measurement of operational efficiency that helps lower the cost of each client transaction while meeting or exceeding client service expectations.
In December 2008, Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) launched a toll-free help line that is today a major service access point. The help line is staffed by more than 70 employees networked from locations across the province. On an annualized basis, the help line assists over 318,000 individuals. A wide range of services are available in over 120 languages, including 18 aboriginal languages and dialects.
A call centre infrastructure helps LAO increase efficiency in service delivery and makes the legal system more accessible to low income individuals. To best meet client needs, staff who respond to client calls are organized into service tiers:
-Tier 1 assists clients with general information, referrals and performs client triage; -Tier 2 provides application services so that eligible clients may receive full representation; -Tier 3 provides summary legal advice services in criminal and family law.
Technological solutions assist in providing an enhanced client service experience. Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems are being introduced and expanded so that clients may receive automated services from the help line, 24-hours a day. A new feature permits clients who do not wish to wait on the line to determine eligibility for full representation to be connected to the next available representative via an automated call back without losing their place in the queue. The technology also permits the prioritization of calls. Persons who are victims of domestic violence experience a shorter wait time than persons who are requesting general information, for example.
New, web-based software solutions form the backbone to the service. Though the client may not be aware of their existence, core software tools are critical to the effective delivery of timely and accurate information to clients. For example, as the representatives who handle the calls are located across the province, controlled use of instant messaging and social media software permits immediate staff or management engagement in situations where help is needed to respond to a client’s query. At the same time, the use of innovations, like Google mapping, allow representatives to locate specific community resources for clients and even provide clients with specific directions to help the client reach the destination. As the information in these systems are maintained by staff in their local communities, accurate information is guaranteed. What is more, the system can easily be converted into a client-facing self-help tool that allows for client self-service over the internet.
When selecting supporting hardware and software infrastructure, the focus has been to engage inexpensive, secure products that provide flexibility in configuration. We have found that there is no one silver bullet. An original attempt to move to a pure VOIP infrastructure (voice over internet protocol) resulted in a greater number of dropped calls than anticipated. However, a mix of hard lines and VOIP usage has proven to be the most reliable mix. Representatives use softphones, which have a computer screen interface. Testing is planned to provide representatives with more than one computer screen so that call management does not interfere with the delivery of substantive client services.
At all times, call center management best practices are emphasized to maximize effectiveness and value. Key performance indicators and relevant service guidelines include wait times that average less than three minutes and an abandonment rate of less than 10%. Call volume forecasts are updated daily and the appropriate resources deployed to meet the anticipated demand.
Though TTY (Teletypewriter for speech or deaf impaired) enabled, the help-line is challenged in instances where the client is unable to communicate over the telephone. For example, the client may not be able to read a document that he or she has received, or may have a cognitive difficulty.
LAO does not intend for our web-based and phone services to be the only service access points for our clients. Clients who are unable to access toll-free services can also access services in LAO courthouse locations, Duty Counsel, District Offices, and staff-operated Family Law Service Centers. The objective is to create strong links among service streams to increase continuity of service, reduce duplication and reduce the number of court appearances.
Nonetheless, LAO's ability to meet client needs and expectations is intrinsically related to our ability to embrace technological opportunities and adopt new ways of doing business. Our clients are web savvy and are accustomed to having access to a wealth of information via the internet. In fact, over 44% of clients who contact the help line obtain the telephone number from the internet. Many clients contact us from mobile or smartphones.
To keep up with client service expectations and continue to meet requirements for value-driven service delivery, LAO will continue to assess and analyze specific technological developments in the areas of mobility, software applications, enterprise systems, e-discovery data processing, social media and collaborative platforms. A perpetual review of our technology infrastructure ensures opportunities for the enhancement of client service are harnessed.
The LAO experience demonstrates that advancements in technology and the sophisticated capabilities associated with those advancements present powerful opportunities that, if properly harnessed, contribute to excellent client service and provide immense return on investment of scarce tax dollars.