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State Reduces Mailings But Improves Customer Service

Abstract

The secretary of a large state’s health and human services department had a problem. His department was experiencing significant customer service and workload issues because of poor correspondence being sent to public assistance customers. Coupled with a major program expansion and a downturn in the economy, his department needed to improve service while trying to reduce customer contacts. Deloitte Consulting LLP was engaged to implement a custom technology and operational solution that dramatically improved customer service while reducing mailing costs for the department.

The Challenge

State governments are responsible for protecting and promoting the health and safety of their residents. A key responsibility of a state’s health and human services agency is to notify people about their eligibility for special assistance programs such as Food Stamps (financial help to purchase food) and Medicaid (health insurance for low-income and disabled people), among many others. Although this may sound simple, the variety of assistance programs, state and federal notification laws for them, and the average educational level and personal circumstances of people in these programs serve to make this a complex business problem with which many states struggle. Additionally, many states are further challenged by being tied to legacy systems with antiquated correspondence triggering processes and poorly designed notice layouts. The correspondence issues of this state were threefold:

  • Correspondence was sent any time a customer’s case was updated regardless of a real change in that customer’s benefits.
  • Information important to a person (e.g., benefit amounts, denial reasons and key phone contacts) was not easily found or explained in the correspondence. Additionally, significantly different benefit programs were included in the same correspondence and not discussed from a customer’s perspective.
  • Much correspondence content (e.g., rights and responsibilities, unnecessary instructions, complex benefit calculations) was not required by policy and/or not targeted to the customer’s reading levels.

The result of these issues was a customer population being bombarded in 2007 with more than 3.3 million pieces of correspondence – an average of 13,250/day at a cost of $1.3 million to the state just for the printing and postage. The average case received more than 23 pieces of correspondence a year. The state’s health and human services department needed help and worked with Deloitte to solve the challenge.

How We Helped

The state engaged Deloitte to investigate the problems with its correspondence and develop a strategic plan to better serve its customers. Deloitte worked collaboratively with the state to research what was causing correspondence issues and identify short-term fixes and a long-term plan. The goals of the project were:

  • Develop correspondence that is easy to read and easy to understand, and captures the attention of people while still meeting minimum legal requirements.
  • Develop correspondence that communicates to customers what has happened to their benefits and what they can, or need to, do about it.

Deloitte conducted surveys with front-line workers, interviewed public advocacy organizations and held roundtable forums with customers to identify correspondence issues and requirements to help develop a long-term solution. Using a collaborative and iterative approach, Deloitte helped the state develop a new correspondence framework. The framework leveraged leading practices from Deloitte’s work with health and human service agencies and with printed media to help meet all our stakeholders’ needs, while still adhering to state and federal regulations.

The project required significant modification to the state’s legacy eligibility and case management system. Integration with specialized content publishing technology also was required. The complexities across technologies, and business and printing requirements, necessitated close coordination between five key state agencies and vendors.

Solution

With this project, the state was able to balance customer service with legal mandates and its customer’s reading levels, while reducing long-term costs. The state was successful because of some key factors:

  • It clearly defined what it wanted its correspondence to do and the scope of the project (i.e., what parts of its system it was willing to modify to support new correspondence).
  • It talked to a lot of stakeholders – customers, workers, advocates, help desk staff, policy analysts and system folks.
  • It gave enough time to each phase of the process, from initial visioning with senior department staff to detailed design sessions and testing.

The results have been extraordinary. Customers actually read and understand their correspondence now. Workers receive fewer calls and get more targeted questions from customers that actually point to possible problems with their benefits; this is in contrast to earlier, when calls to workers were more frequent and from customers wanting their workers to explain everything in their correspondence.

New "true-change determination" rules cause correspondence to be sent only when a customer’s benefit changes. This, coupled with intelligent layout and information formatting, has reduced the number and length of correspondence. This has not only reduced annual printing costs to the state by more than $175,000 annually but has also made the arrival of correspondence an event that gets people's attention vs. its being discarded unread or a requiring a call to a worker. And, assuming that the  number of calls to the state’s 1,400 front-line workers is reduced by just one call each day (averaging seven minutes), this amounts to an annual workload savings of 42,000 hours a year.

The implementation of the state’s correspondence re-engineering effort has revolutionized states’ thinking in relation to customer communication.

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