Cus­tomers-first a novel ap­proach for im­mi­gra­tion

En­force­ment mind­set out, client-cen­tred ap­proach in

Metro Canada (Ottawa) - - Canada -

What be­gan as a friendly chal­lenge be­tween im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials and univer­sity stu­dents has brought on a fun­da­men­tal shift in how the Im­mi­gra­tion De­part­ment deals with ap­pli­cants.

For ex­am­ple, now when peo­ple con­tact the de­part­ment’s Mon­treal-based client sup­port cen­tre for help, the first thing they hear is no longer a warn­ing that dis­grun­tled call­ers should not ver­bally abuse the agent.

Peo­ple also won’t be brushed away quickly for their ques­tions sim­ply be­cause their ap­pli­ca­tion has not reached the min­i­mum pro­cess­ing time that of­fi­cials think should war­rant con­cern.

The cul­tural shift from an en­force­ment mind­set to a client­cen­tred ap­proach could mark a new era at Im­mi­gra­tion, Refugees and Cit­i­zen­ship Canada, which has long faced com­plaints about poor cus­tomer ser­vice, long pro­cess­ing times and fail­ing to pro­vide timely and ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion to ap­pli­cants.

In Jan­uary, the de­part­ment qui­etly launched a client ex­pe­ri­ence branch and ap­pointed Michelle Lat­ti­more, a long-time civil ser­vant, to head the new unit, which is re­spon­si­ble for the client sup­port call cen­tre, ser­vice strat­egy and a new “ser­vice in­sights and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion di­vi­sion” of 10 staffers to make deal­ing with im­mi­gra­tion a more pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence.

An im­proved cus­tomer ser­vice, ad­vo­cates say, can make Canada a more at­trac­tive des­ti­na­tion for vis­i­tors, stu­dents and im­mi­grants in the in­creas­ingly com­pet­i­tive world of global mi­gra­tion.

“I sup­port the ini­tia­tive but it may take years be­fore it re­ally hap­pens,” said im­mi­gra­tion lawyer and pol­icy an­a­lyst Richard Kur­land. “What (Lat­ti­more) needs to do is bring down the blin­ders. The de­part­ment has in­for­ma­tion and does not dis­close it to peo­ple, forc­ing them to use call cen­tres. It is a core prob­lem.”

Lat­ti­more has been in­volved in the Im­mi­gra­tion De­part­ment’s re­struc­tur­ing of the client ser­vices func­tions since the spring of 2015 but the work was side­tracked by the new Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s re­set­tle­ment of 25,000 Syr­ian refugees.

In May 2016, Lat­ti­more spear­headed the “Fam­ily Class De­sign Chal­lenge” — in part­ner­ship with the Trea­sury Board, Privy Coun­cil and the On­tario Col­lege of Art and De­sign (OCAD) Univer­sity — to ex­plore ways to im­prove cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion with the spousal spon­sor­ship pro­gram, which has al­ways been a sore point of the im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem.

The com­pe­ti­tion pit­ted a team of civil ser­vants from across de­part­ments against OCAD grad­u­ate stu­dents. They hit the streets to do ran­dom in­ter­views about Cana­di­ans’ ex­pe­ri­ence with the fam­ily spon­sor­ship pro­gram.

One sur­pris­ing find­ing was that those in­ter­viewed said they were more con­cerned with the de­part­ment’s re­luc­tance to dis­close in­for­ma­tion dur­ing the wait­ing pe­riod than they were with the ac­tual length of the pro­cess­ing time.

“Tiny in­vest­ments make a big dif­fer­ence in peo­ple’s lives,” said Lat­ti­more, who plans to roll out more “chal­lenges” for ideas to im­prove im­mi­gra­tion client ser­vice. “It’s not new for us to view im­mi­gra­tion as a ser­vice. What’s new is we are look­ing at ser­vice from a client’s per­spec­tive.”

Con­trib­uted

michelle Lat­ti­more was ap­pointed head of Im­mi­gra­tion, Refugees and Cit­i­zen­ship Canada’s new client ex­pe­ri­ence branch in Jan­uary.

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