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C06/2013 Open Door Policy: Improving DVA's communication with its clients

Document

DATE OF ISSUE:  22 March 2013

Open Door Policy: Improving DVA's communication with its clients

Replaces DI No.

N/A

Purpose

The purpose of this instruction is to seek the assistance of compensation delegates to deliver improved client service by incorporating a phone call to applicants at the start of every claim process, whether for a first or subsequent claim.

Many delegates already undertake this step and understand the benefits it brings. The procedure set out in this instruction will allow delegates to take ownership of their communication with clients, improve service delivery performance and our clients' understanding of the claim process and thereby increase client satisfaction.

Results from other agencies who have implemented similar programs show that adding steps such as this provides mutual benefits to clients and delegates alike, as better client service resulting in increased client satisfaction improves job satisfaction for decision makers.

Background

Good communication is the key to a good relationship.

Phoning clients at the start of the claim process will build rapport between delegates and their clients from the very beginning, provide a better understanding of the claim process for clients and may make it easier to deliver bad news as well as good news at the end of the process.

The purpose of the initial phone call is to establish expectations about the length of time it takes to determine a claim, the likely milestones, any possible delay points and to provide a point of contact for any concerns.

This approach also addresses a key concern raised by participants of focus groups conducted by Colmar Brunton, a research agency who have been undertaking a  review of the design of the DVA veteran satisfaction survey. One of the common themes emerging from the feedback was that too little personal contact is incorporated into the DVA claims process.

Empathising with the client

The aim of this approach is to show that DVA appreciates clients' needs and to help guide client expectations.  People often feel high levels of anxiety and uncertainty during a claim for compensation. While DVA aims to avoid an adversarial approach to determining claims, clients can sometimes feel they are 'fighting the system'.

Communication at the start of a process can alleviate a significant amount of concern, worry and anxiety. If you did not know what is occurring you may worry, you may make an irate phone call and express displeasure and essentially escalate a common delay into a very stressful conversation (for both parties). When you are given an explanation of what is going to happen and what is the likely timeframe, even if you do not like it, the situation is diffused.

Our clients are often facing additional high stress factors – physical and/or emotional ill health, financial concerns, job security worries and uncertainty about their and their family's future. Consider this with respect to the difficult phone calls we often encounter in our roles as delegates become a lot more understandable.

Will adding this call increase my workload?

A telephone script is at Attachment A, timed at approximately 2.5 minutes, however, it is acknowledged that this timeframe will be the minimum time as it does not take into account applicants who want further detail about the claim process.

Management are aware that adding this step to the claims process will be an additional task and team leaders will be available to help with difficult calls, take over if necessary or even make the call if identified as difficult in advance.

Results have shown that adding this step may actually save time in the long run by reducing complaints and generally improving communication. Most importantly it will develop a genuine relationship between delegates and clients.

Leaving  a message

Some applicants will be difficult to contact. Where an attempt to reach a client results in an option to leave a message and the phone number provided is a work number, delegates must be careful to protect the privacy of the applicant.

Delegates are not expected to continue attempting phone calls. If the second call (within the space of a week) is unsuccessful, a follow-up letter should be sent and reference made to the attempt to contact by phone.

The department is investigating the use of text messages to communicate with clients, however, this option is not yet widely available.

It is expected that this process will also have value for clients who are overseas, and may even simplify some aspects of those claims. However, it is recognised that contacting clients in certain time zones will be difficult to manage and may not be practical.

Representatives

If an applicant has an ex-service representative or a legal firm assisting them, it is still important to make the initial contact with the actual claimant

[1]

For all future contact, delegates should continue to follow existing policy as applies to dealing with applications under VEA, SRCA or MRCA where a third party has been authorised to act on behalf of the veteran or dependant. In particular, all requests for information must be made through the representative, and not through this initial phone call.

[1] (go back)
.

This approach is not intended to interfere with the ESO-client relationship but is focused on strengthening the relationship between DVA and its clients. DVA already spends time investing in the relationship with representatives in other ways, and we have written to ESOs to advise them of this new approach.

As this is a change to current practice, the letter at Attachment B should be sent to the ESO or legal firm representing the client as a courtesy to notify them that you have contacted a mutual client and what was discussed.

If the client has unequivocally stated that all contact is to be made through a third party this request should be respected and the initial contact with the client should not be made. A statement such as “I appoint Mr Smith as my representative and require you to have contact with him” would not be considered sufficiently unequivocal.

When a third party, other than a solicitor or law firm, advises the department that they represent the client, confirmation should always be sought with the client. This is consistent with current guidelines to meet privacy requirements.

Power of attorney

Where the applicant is unable to handle their affairs and the nominated representative has power of attorney (POA) delegates should apply the approach outlined in this instruction to the holder of the POA.

CLU clients

If an applicant is being managed by the Client Liaison Unit, Service Coordinator or a Case Coordinator, the delegate is not phone the client directly unless the CLU, Service or Case Coordinator agrees it is appropriate to do so.

The Comcare experience

This approach has been implemented for over 18 months by Comcare and overwhelmingly the response has been positive. Their experience is that even claims that are not accepted are more easily explained due to the ongoing relationship that has been developed between the applicant and the delegate.

Comcare began Project Service Excellence a few years ago, with one of its key deliverables to improve communication and expectation setting with employers and injured workers. The project has resulted in several benefits:

  • information is coming back more quickly,
  • delegates' confidence to use verbal communication instead of, or as well as, written communication, has increased,
  • significant reductions have been made to their TTTP - from 72 days down to 41 days,
  • fewer ministerials.

A Comcare a client described their experience: “I used to feel like I was intruding on Comcare and that I had to wait months before anyone would contact me or followed up on things. I am happy with the obvious changes in service delivery. Talking to Comcare is now soothing to my condition after I have worked up the energy to talk to Comcare.”

Follow-up letter

In most circumstances it would be considered appropriate to send a follow-up letter, particularly when a representative has been appointed (see Attachment B for an example).

Secretary's support

The Secretary and EMG have endorsed this approach to client service. In Volume 11 Issue 3 2012 of @DVA, the Secretary noted that “if you can make a client's life a little easier by simply picking up the phone and giving them a call, I encourage you to do so.”

If you know you're going to make your own life a little easier by picking up the phone, then you've got two great reasons to do it!

Training

Keeping the phone call professional, short and targeted can be difficult to achieve. Lifeline/Comcare run a course called the "Accidental Counsellor" and one of the skills is about learning to manage time on phone calls. It is proposed that this course will be offered to delegates as required.

Feedback

The experience of delegates as they trial this new process is of strong interest. Your feedback is greatly valued, please email your thoughts and experience at any time to Liability & Service Eligibility Policy Section. In one month team leaders will be asked to provide a short summary of experiences through the new process.

Review

A review will be conducted in July 2013 at which time an extension to Income Support will be considered.

Sean Farrelly

First Assistant Secretary

Rehabilitation & Support Division

22 March 2013


ATTACHMENT A

Script for RCG delegates – this is intended as a guide.

Statement

Supplementary

"Hello, I am [name] from the Department of Veterans' Affairs and I will be the delegate looking after the claim for [insert condition] you submitted recently.

Is now a good time to speak?

I am responsible for making the decision about [liability/permanent impairment /incapacity] with respect to your claim.

If the applicant is unable to talk now, ask when would be a good time for you to call them back.

Tell the applicant which DVA office you are located in.

If the claim is being determined in a different state, advise the applicant why (eg privacy, conflict of interest).

Note: Avoid calling applicants with mental health conditions early in the morning.

I wanted to let you know that your claim has been allocated to me. I have had a preliminary look through your application and will be starting the process to gather the information I need to determine your claim immediately.

Prior to phoning, establish what documentation, medical records, appointments and assessments you will require before being able to make your determination. If any information is missing, and they have not appointed a representative, ask if they are able to provide it. If a representative has been appointed, advise the client that you will write to them and their representative seeking further information.

I want to give you an idea of the timeframe for determining your claim. Currently the whole claim process under [MRCA takes on average 5 months/ SRCA takes on average 5 months/ VEA takes on average 2.5 months].

Key performance targets apply to all claims. The timeliness requirements (standard TTTP) for determining a claim are:

  • 20 days for MRCA and SRCA
  • 75 days for VEA

The reason it takes this amount of time is because there are steps I have to go through and I'll quickly explain what they are.

Essentially, I need to determine the correct medical name for your condition, then I need to look at the links between that and your service.

This means I will need to order your service documents and health records.

Do you have any relevant records that you can provide?

I may need to contact your doctor. I may also need to arrange for you to see specialists.

I would like to take this opportunity to reassure you that DVA treats all information gathered in the claim process confidentially, and that your privacy is protected by law.

If doctor's details are not on form ask to provide name and contact details.

I rely on other departments for some of the steps I mentioned before. This accounts for some of the time it takes to determine your claim.

E.g. the Department of Defence.

You may have eligibility under more than one Act and this can mean your claim will take longer.

.

If applicable: I note that you have nominated X (of X) to act on your behalf with respect to your claim. Where appropriate, I will address communication regarding my investigation of your claim to your representative.

However, please be aware that if you should have any concerns with the manner in which X is handling your claim, you can contact me directly.

Be familiar with the various protocols that apply when dealing with applications under VEA, SRCA or MRCA where a third party representative (ex-service organisation or solicitor) has been authorised to deal with the claim on the veteran or dependant's behalf.

I will be sending you a letter today which outlines what I have just told you on the phone. If you have any questions throughout this process or just want to check on the progress please do not hesitate to give me a call.

Goodbye.

Provide DVA's general number (133 254 or 1800 555 254) and tell them to ask Veteran's Access Network officer to put them through to you if the call is in relation to their claim.


ATTACHMENT B

1234567

ACT OFFICE

Dear

I am writing to advise you of contact I made recently with our mutual client, INSERT NAME of INSERT ADDRESS (DVA File Number reference INSERT FILE NUMBER), regarding their claim for INSERT CLAIM TYPE.

The purpose of my phone call was to introduce myself as the delegate who will be assessing their claim and provide them with general information about the Department's claim process. I am sure you will be able to appreciate that this step is also a positive step forward in improving the communication channels for our client, providing each party with the opportunity to put a “human face” to the claim process.

The following issues were also raised during the course of our conversation:

  • [INSERT HERE ANY ADDITIONAL TOPICS THAT WERE RAISED DURING THE PHONE CALL; and
  • SUMMARISE WHAT ADVICE YOU PROVIDED]

As you are the nominated representative for this claim, I will continue to address any further correspondence regarding the investigation of the claim through you, as per normal procedures.

Yours sincerely

INSERT YOUR NAME

Delegate

INSERT YOUR POSITION

DATE