Over the past five years, the child support caseload has been in a decline throughout the state of California. The caseload in the medium-sized Yolo County child support agency, located adjacent to Sacramento in northern California, is no exception. In addition, we found that the percentage of Yolo County cases with current monthly support owed was disproportionately low. Knowing that child poverty in Yolo County continues to affect one out of every five kids, we knew we had a problem.
We began by tackling separate parts of a problem that plagues many child support agencies nationwide: we have a no-cost or low-cost program, and we have data showing that many people could benefit from it, but they simply don’t. Why? We settled on three main reasons: branding, business environment, and access.
We Have a Brand Issue
The general public doesn’t know exactly what we do, and we are too-commonly confused with Child Welfare or Child Protective Services. In addition, misconceptions of our program being “anti-dad” are exceptionally damaging, considering the rise in single-father households, more shared custody, and more female breadwinners/mother-obligors. We have an image problem: we need to change the customer’s experience to improve the word-of-mouth messaging. Jeff Bezos of Amazon noted that “Your brand is what other people say about you when you are not in the room.” We realize that we don’t have a good brand.
New Business Environment
The business of child support is built and reliant upon the brick and mortar. Customers no longer interact with businesses that way, at least not exclusively. We need to make our program more available online, where the customers are. The customer service paradigm has changed, and we feel we need to change with it.
The Public Has an Access Issue
After looking at the steps a community member would have to take to apply for our services, we found that it’s not as easy as it should be. The California Department of Child Support Services developed VIOLA (Virtual Interactive OnLine Application), a great step in the right direction, but, on average, completion of the application is still incredibly time-consuming for the user.
Unsure of where to start and being unfamiliar with the arena of marketing, we were fortunate enough to bring in someone with marketing experience. Graciously volunteering time, the marketing expert helped educate us on some of the better ways to identify our audience and more effectively reach people online. Now better prepared, the staff came together and developed a more inclusive brand and new messaging for our program. Embracing Jay Baer’s philosophy, to be prepared to “Hug your Haters,” we were as ready as we were going to be to start building our social media accounts and communicating with our community in a new way.
We created Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts to deploy our new content and develop online relationships with other community stakeholders. We started promoting family-friendly activities and services, which in turn helped promote and spread the word about the child support program. Facebook is proving to be a more successful platform, with page likes and follower growth of more than 940 individuals since we created our business page in October 2016. We created animation shorts to air on social media and for use in local movie theaters. The theaters have also proven to be a successful partner in helping us get our message on the big screen to reach more than 274,000 moviegoers, with the potential of an additional 99,000 impressions on theater lobby screens over a one-year reporting period. (www.facebook.com/YoloCountyChildSupport; www.instagram.com/yolocountychildsupport; https://twitter.com/YoloCountyDCSS)
Our rebranding strategy didn’t only look outward. We anticipated that some staff might not be enthusiastic about our efforts to try new things and allocate resources on new outreach initiatives. During the main planning phases, our department used change management training and more transparent communication with all staff along the way. This has helped facilitate staff buy-in for new efforts and better customer service outcomes for participants.
Social media outreach wasn’t the only way we wanted to expand our new business environment. We identified that our department website was out of date and didn’t offer much in the way of child support resources to our community. A completely new website was developed to incorporate more current content, fresh visuals, and smart-device-friendly functionality and navigation. This allowed us to more easily share the website as a resource and a referral tool. It’s early, but Google Analytics show us that over the first six months of site launch, we have experienced an increase of more than 23% in the number of users, a 15% increase in the number of sessions, and a 10% gain in new visitors. (www.yolocountychildsupport.org)
We confirmed our public access issue after having some of our establishment specialists “apply” for our services using traditional methods. The specialists timed themselves and discussed issues they encountered or that a potential customer might encounter. We found that even a dedicated case-opener took at least 30 minutes to complete the easiest application method. In an age of instant business online, we believed we were missing a large customer base and potentially losing new cases. So, we set to work to figure out a way to get the application time as low as possible in a smart-device-friendly way. Through trial and error, the Yolo County Quick Application was created.
The Yolo County Quick App saves the applicant time by shifting the burden of data collection onto the child support professional. Collecting the minimum amount of non-sensitive information needed, the Quick App is an online contact page with a Request for Support Services form that can be completed in about one minute. This sets up an introduction for our staff to reach out to the applicant as soon as possible to have a conversation, collect more information, and open new cases. Through the first six months of launch, Quick App referrals contributed to an increase in new never-assisted cases and accounted for 17% of all gains for this metric. (http://bit.ly/YoloCountyQuickApplication)
We are very excited about what we have produced thus far. We are seeing good preliminary outcomes, but it is still early. We have more original content planned for social media, including new animated videos and further updates to the website. Although we are pleased that our caseload decline is less than the state average, our goal is to better serve our community and increase the number of families served. We will plan to provide further updates regarding the success of our efforts as time progresses. In the meantime, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and see what we have to say.