Customers-first a novel approach for immigration
Enforcement mindset out, client-centred approach in
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.”
michelle Lattimore was appointed head of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s new client experience branch in January.