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Bar News - December 16, 2011

All the Answers: Circuit Court Call Center Begins Jan. 4


Circuit Court Call Center staff includes three representatives with subject-matter expertise in each of the three Circuit Court divisions. Pictured, left to right, Cheryl Herbert (Family Division), Lisa Cassavaugh-Deschene (District Division), and Sheri Warburton (Probate Division), with Jane Bradstreet, Call Center manager.
On Jan. 4, the Circuit Court takes another big step toward converting to a modern, statewide court when its centralized call center begins answering the 45,000 telephone calls the courts receive each month.

Jane Bradstreet, manager of the call center, said the staff, based in Concord, wonít be answering calls from all 36 Circuit Court locations immediately; courthouses will be relieved of initial phone-answering duties in phases over several months as the 22-person (16 full-timers and 6 part-timers) call center staff gains experience and works out any bugs.

A pilot study conducted in spring 2009 indicated that up to 70 percent of the phone calls fielded by the circuit courts deal with general information inquiries or questions that can be answered by accessing the Odyssey case-management system. Fewer than 30 percent of the calls require accessing individual case files or other types of questions.

"The call center is one of the most important initiatives for the development of the Circuit Court," said Administrative Judge Edwin Kelly. "It will provide better and more consistent customer service. When someone calls the Circuit Court, they will get the same answers, no matter where they are calling from."

Brigette Siff Holmes, a Circuit Court administrator who helped set up the call center with Bradstreet, believes that the hiring process has gathered a staff with sufficient knowledge of all of the courtsí jurisdictions to make sure the answers are well-informed. Holmes said the call center staff comprises more than 200 years of combined experience working for the courts. Three of the call-center representatives have been selected to serve as "subject-matter" experts for particular divisions of the Circuit Court.

The call center will improve service for those who call the courts, and it will improve service for those who make it to the courthouse, Judge Kelly says. Courthouse staff, relieved of the bulk of phone-answering duties, will be better able to focus on dealing with the public at the counter, and, with fewer interruptions, they will be more effective at processing case paperwork.

While the call center will answer all calls initially, it is not intended to be an obstacle to attorneys or callers who need specific answers, Kelly said. If you need to talk to someone at the courthouse, you will be put through as quickly as possible, Kelly said.

Attorneys will find that the call center will be able to answer some of their questions. The call center operators will have access to the statewide Odyssey case-management system which provides docket information. Thus they will be able to answer: "Yes, that motion you filed last week was granted." Or provide updated information on scheduling.

The call center representatives also will have access to the financial portion of the Odyssey file and will be able to answer questions about amounts owed for fines, court costs or other obligations to be paid to the court.

Bradstreet, who retains her elected position as Merrimack County Register of Probate, was hired for a staff position when the Circuit Court began operation last June. "I thought that it fit my talents, I have always cared about customer service" said Bradstreet, who had run the probate office for 12 years. As an elected official running the probate administrative office, she said, she saw the patrons as "not just customers, they were my constituents."

Bradstreet and other court officials have consulted with other court systems, with the Division of Motor Vehicles and Delta Dental for best practices on setting up a centralized call center.

Kelly takes pains to differentiate the "call center" from a service center. The purpose of the call center will be to quickly answer calls and either address the callerís need or put them through to the courthouse where they can speak with someone with access to the needed information. "Service centers" such as those set up by probate division when it was a separate court, address informational inquiries and provide one-on-one help.

Nevertheless, the call center will be able to point callers with procedural questions to resources on the courtís website. Holmes and Bradstreet have been developing email templates that the call center staff can quickly dispatch to a caller to provide them with links to answer their questions.

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