Public Chats: One Year of Reaching Out to the Public

Weir2010How would you like a chance to get a quick answer to your question about a Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services program – without making a phone call or coming to our offices?

Starting a year ago, we have offered that option to the public.

Every week or two, we provide live chats with program experts on www.hcjfs.org. Our main goal is to connect with the citizens of Hamilton County and relieve pressure on our phone lines and crowded waiting rooms. We are seeing increased numbers of customers at a time of staff layoffs, so any relief is much appreciated by our customers and staff.

People with questions, concerns or ideas can chat with a JFS expert about a topic such as child support, Medicaid, food stamps, cash assistance, services for job seekers and employers, adoption and foster care, child care or child abuse.

We average about 12 individuals per chat and 20 questions in each hour-long chat. Some draw as many as 28 participants; some none. It depends mostly on the topic.

All of the chats end up getting more than 100 views within a week or so. And that number continues to climb because we offer an archive of previous chats, which ends up becoming a Frequently Asked Questions section.

Clients who participate in the chats really like the direct access and quick response. We have had great success helping people better understand how to access our services. Many are in need of public assistance for the first time due to the economic downturn. They are not familiar with the basics.

We publicize the chats with traditional media releases, online newsletter articles, mentions during community presentations and social media, mainly Twitter and Facebook. Overall, we have been pleased with the chats. They are a worthwhile component in our external communication strategy.

They have been so successful that we added private one-on-one chats with Child Support technicians in March. The chats take place 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays. You can access a tech by visiting the Child Support page, under Services on www.hcjfs.org. This video clip on YouTube explains the process.

We hope to expand the use of technology in the future because we really feel it is a great way to serve the public.

by Moira Weir

Filed Under: Communication