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Call Center/Contact Center Support for States

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Technical Assistance
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In an economy with a growing demand for services and heightened expectations for expedient and quality service delivery, states continue to look for administrative improvements to improve service delivery to their citizens. One of the most common forms of interaction with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) clients is the telephone. In many states, these calls come directly to case workers who interrupt their work to serve clients. State officials are asking: Would a call center alleviate some of the pressures on local offices in my state? What do I need to have in place to provide good customer services in a call center?

While some local offices designate a worker or two to handle incoming calls (a mini-call center) for their office, this may be less efficient than a true call center. In other states, the calls are made to common 1-800 phone numbers, and the call is taken by dedicated call center workers who have the ability to answer the vast majority of calls as they have access to the case records electronically.

Approximately two-thirds of the states already have a call center operation that supports SNAP operations, and it is expected that states will continue to establish new call centers, expand existing call center operations, and/or replace older technologies. Call centers can provide support to the certification process in local offices by reducing the time local certification offices spend answering phone calls concerning:

  • General SNAP information;
  • Application and benefit status information;
  • Application and recertification interviews;
  • Customer complaints; and
  • Processing changes.

In some states, call centers go beyond these functions to directly certify and re-certify households, thereby supplanting the local office for a portion of the application processing workload.

While it is the focus of this report, it is not possible to discuss call centers in isolation. They are frequently an important component of states' more general efforts to modernize the administration of their human service programs, including SNAP. States that have enjoyed the most success identified their business needs before determining the functions and services to be provided in their call centers. For example, in many states, the call center is not the only access channel in the service delivery model. States have taken a "hybrid" approach in which SNAP beneficiaries and applicants can access services through the call center, as well as through local offices or via the Web site. These call center services support and complement a state's overall service delivery model and goals. For more information on how to determine what services a call center should perform, refer to the Business Processes and Scope chapter.

Document imaging is generally a prerequisite, and telephonic signatures would facilitate application processing in call centers. Placing this functionality in call centers can provide a state with significantly increased flexibility in managing fluctuations in workload. While states' experiences over the last decade indicate that call centers can help improve the efficiency of their SNAP (and other program) operations, a number of factors need to be considered before deciding to implement a call center.

Page updated: April 20, 2022