Throw out your preconceived notions of a customer service representative who takes orders and transfers calls. In today’s world, at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (DHW), customer service representatives are problem-solvers and communicators. They are investigators and protectors. They listen to understand, and they speak with smiles guaranteed to comfort confused and anxious callers.
Their titles today are more reflective of their purpose. They are self-reliance specialists, and they are resolute in their goal to help their customers get to self-sufficiency by assisting them in times of need.
Ambrosia Felton and Rachelle Thrower are two of the 96 self-reliance specialists (located in Boise, Twin Falls, Idaho Falls, and Pocatello) who create the defining experience for those who call Child Support Services in the department’s Division of Welfare. The callers are mostly moms and dads who are either receiving support or providing support for their children. Sometimes the callers are employers or caseworkers.
Ambrosia and Rachelle are the first point of contact for parents who need help navigating the child support collection system. Child support is based on the idea that both parents are financially responsible for their children, and Child Support Services helps parents either pay or collect child support payments. In 2018, Child Support Services administered 147,518 cases and collected and distributed more than $205.8 million to Idaho families.
Although the moms and dads can’t see Ambrosia and Rachelle in person, they immediately know they can rely on the self-reliance specialists. Their tone, their words of encouragement, and their knowledgeable responses reassure the callers they are helping. Ambrosia and Rachelle take their responsibility to the moms and dads to heart; when they pick up the phone, they know they are about to make a genuine connection.
Ambrosia, who has been with Child Support Services for 16 months, has her desk covered with reminders of why she is there. Thank you notes that speak to her dedication and a Certificate of Training that tells us she is prepared for whatever the next call brings.
When asked what she likes about her job, she quickly answers, “Being able to help people. What I do matters in people’s lives.”
Ambrosia turns to her computer. The next caller hasn’t been receiving her child support funds although the father of her child says the money is being deducted from his paycheck. Can Ambrosia help?
Ambrosia quickly navigates the screens, confirming the caller’s identity. The caller also has a new last name, and Ambrosia knows this is a new but important piece of information. “Can you cash a check in that name?” she asks the caller. The caller confirms that she can cash a check in her new name. After a few more questions, Ambrosia says, “I’m going to follow up to see if we can’t get those payments coming in for you.”
When the phone call ends, Ambrosia’s work is just getting started. She does not move on to the next caller until she can solve the problem at hand: the customer she just talked to is not getting the money she needs to take care of her children. Ambrosia immediately calls the father at one of the home numbers on file. He doesn’t answer, but she leaves a message. She calls the next number and leaves a message. She calls a third number, and finally someone answers. The father isn’t available at this number, but she requests a call back. Then she calls the father’s employer, and she leaves a message. She calls the second employer on file, and the phone rings and rings. She immediately emails an employment verification form to the second employer, and sends an amended wage withholding form to the first employer.
It’s a lot of work, but she’s making sure that mom gets the money she needs. Ambrosia knows the mom is trying to feed her children, buy them clothes for school, and keep a roof over their heads. She takes her responsibility seriously.
When she has completed all the actions she can for this caller, Ambrosia finally does her “journaling,” which means entering everything she has done in the system so if mom calls back, the next specialist who takes the call knows exactly what has been completed.
Then, she returns to the phone: “Hi, this is Ambrosia with Idaho Child Support. How can I help you?” Ambrosia is quickly focused on helping her next caller.
On the other side of the room, Rachelle is also helping her customers. She talks with her hands and laughs with her customer when he tells her a joke. He can’t see her, but she is nodding and smiling in agreement. As her customer speaks, she is taking notes, numbering each comment. At this point of the day, she’s at number 26. All over her computer are sticky notes that remind her of processes, things to remember, and questions to ask. Her caller needs some additional information she doesn’t have at her fingertips, so she puts him on hold. She’s talking to herself, as she is reaching out to various co-workers for assistance. They respond quickly and she’s back on the phone: “I really appreciate your patience. Here’s the information you need.”
Her supervisor has left her a message of appreciation and she has it taped to the top of her computer. “Rachelle has the best stories and her laugh is contagious.” When asked about it, she shows off her laugh.
Her next caller is behind on his child support payments, and he can’t keep up with the current payment schedule. He’s having a tough time financially right now. Rachelle listens, takes notes, and then asks him, “Let me see what we can do. What can you afford right now?” They agree on a number, and she adjusts his payment. “When you are back on your feet, just let us know and we can adjust this again.” Her tone is soothing, and he thanks her for her help. She turns and says, “You can tell there was a sigh of relief. He didn’t know what to expect, but I was here for him.”
When asked what she likes about her job of one year, Rachelle says, “I love it so much. We are really helping families and our communities. You get to see the result of your work, and it’s so fulfilling. I wish I had done this years ago.”
A Day in the Life is a series of stories highlighting Department of Health and Welfare employees and the work they do every day to help vulnerable Idahoans and those in crisis gain stability to live their best lives.