SCENARIO: A large county Department of Social Services (previously referred to as “the public welfare department”) comes to mind. It is located in the shell of an old department store with high ceilings and a myriad of small worker cubicles somewhat resembling a mammoth beehive. All outside windows have been sealed with bricks because of “the heating and ventilation problems.” No one really knows what that means. However, everyone inside the building knows that the building’s interior is isolated from the outside world. When entering the main door of the building, it is extremely difficult to figure out where to go for what kind of services. This is true even if you’re a professional social worker, let alone if you’re a client entering the building for the first time. Consider what it would be like if you were a client applying for services from this agency. You probably have to stand in line for fifteen or twenty minutes simply to get the information you need simply to find out where to go. When you finally wander into a waiting area for the services you need, you have to stand in line again for another 20 minutes or so to get the forms you must fill out for the services you need. You then take the twenty pages of complicated forms, which you fill out meticulously, and take a seat. The chairs are made of hard plastic. There are large “dust bunnies” (sometimes referred to as “dinosaur dust bunnies”) rolling around your feet. It then takes approximately an hour to fill out the forms. This is assuming you can read well in English. You probably do not understand some of the questions so you leave the spaces blank. You then take the forms up to the desk where they are placed in a pile. You must wait your turn in order to see an intake worker (that is, someone who begins the process to provide services). You wait two to three hours. Finally, your name is called and you are instructed to go to Cubicle 57 to see Ms. Hardmoney. You enter Cubicle 57 and see Ms. Hardmoney sitting at her desk and reading your forms. You then begin a discussion with her concerning the additional information she needs in order to process your application for services. It seems, she indicates, that a number of critical elements of information are missing. Look at those blanks. She then says you must get the critical information before you can continue the application process. The critical information is somewhere at home. Well, that’s all right. Just go home, get it, and start this whole process over again tomorrow. At least you know where the waiting room is now. Discuss the following questions: 1. What problems are portrayed in this internal agency environment? 2. In what ways might the agency have been more responsive to the needs and comforts of clients? 3. Improvements usually involve higher costs in terms of financial resources and staff time. To what extent do you feel the benefits resulting from your suggestions for improvements merit the costs?

1. The following problems are portrayed in the agency environment:

Lack of customer service – The department is not bothered about the level of service they provide to people who walk in. It is a social services department and people coming in would have some needs. I believe they are already in some sort of problem and the department environment is further depressing
Lack of ease of navigation – There is no process defined to help the customers. Most of it is self-help / self-figure out and it seems there is no one to guide the client on where to go, which form to fill and how to fill. There are no sign-boards which can help clients navigate once they enter the building.
Bureaucracy – After 3-4 hours of a tedious wait when you finally meet an intake worker he/she rejects your form on the basis of process. However, there is no process to help the client understand those forms. Further, the ultimate purpose of the department is social service and considering client has waited for so long they could have accepted his/her form and ask to come directly to the concerned department with pending information. However, he/she was told to start all over tomorrow.
2. The following ways can be used by Agency to be more responsive to the needs and comforts of clients. My response here considers there is no budget constraint.

a. Improve the department’s building – The building is isolated from outside world. From the reading of it having a beehive etc. gives a scary impression. A lot of clients may not want to get enrolled seeing the situation in the department. Improve the ventilation and get rid of the heating problem with the renovation.

b.Improve bare minimum cleanliness – Dust bunnies are an absolute no-no and they need to keep the internal environment absolutely clean. Also, need to remove the bee-hive, it can be hazardous for clients and employees as well.

c. Make process client friendly – This can be done by printing self-help brochures which can be kept at a place in the department. This can include information like – Whom to contact, Which form to pick for which program and How to fill the form. Also, this can have details on documents you need to have with you. In case they are absolutely necessary you can go back and pick them up before starting your process. Further, for collecting different forms you can have different queues instead of having one long queue for everything. Sign-boards can also be added in department for ease of navigation.

d. Reduce administrative burden – No form should be 20 page long. Department needs to figure out ways to make it 2-3 pages. Further, if the form can’t be shortened they must consider having 1-2 employees dedicated to helping people fill out the form so that they are not rejected by intake workers for having filled form incorrectly.

e. Have comfortable seating space – Department can consider replacing chairs with comfortable sittings like sofa, cushions and some recliners if the waiting period is going to be too long.

f. Reduce waiting time – Waiting for 2-3 hours to meet intake worker is too long. This needs to be shortened by having more intake workers.

3. From the above suggestions I would prioritize the following to be corrected immediately and the rational in terms of financial resources and staff time:

Improve cleanliness – This will not have a significant cost but will drastically improve the level of the feel-good factor of being in the building. Department can have a one-time full-fledge cleaning done which includes removing bee-hives and then continue to have a regular daily cleaning to maintain the internal building. This will not take up staff time, a couple of cleaning workers would need to be hired.
Improve customer service / Make process customer friendly – Again, this is an important aspect to improve. Clients entering the building must be serviced properly. Department can consider having sign-boards and self-help booklets to educate clients on the process and where they need to go. This will significantly reduce the hassle one goes thru in the current process wherein you take at least 45 minutes to figure out the forms you need to fill and where you need to go. Staff may get freed of queries like – Where to go and what to do next? And they will have more time to service customers.
Reduce Administrative burden – Staff would need to carry out a one-exercise to reduce the length of forms and figure out how to reduce the number of fields. This may not have any financial implications apart from printing new forms which are 3-4 pages and hence save a lot of money in terms of printing them. Further, as suggested if form length cannot be reduced we must hire resources to help people with filling the form.
Hire more intake workers – This may be a significant cost but waiting 2-3 hours to just meet the intake worker is too long. If we reduce the form length, probably some of the waiting time would also reduce as intake worker needs to go through lesser details. Still, my recommendation is to hire more resources to cut down wait time by at least 1-1:30 hours. I believe we can’t cut down the waiting time by just making administrative changes, there seems to be a definite resource crunch.
Long-term measures – 1. If the waiting time after all the above process is still over 30 minutes, department must consider making some financial investment in making the waiting space comfortable. This will be again a one-time investment in getting sofas, recliners etc. but will help a lot in improving client experience with the department.

2. In the long term department must make a choice of relocating to a new building which is aesthetically better and has proper ventilation OR can consider making changes to the current space. As the population increases, there will be more and more people requiring social services. Hence, the department must be equipped to serve these clients in a proper manner.

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