Managing high volumes of constituent calls is a challenge for many congressional offices, but the office of Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) is taking matters into its own hands to help New Mexicans get their answer when they first call the office.
Most of us take the telephone for granted - myself included - but I remember as a kid (here we go, right?) calling my friend's house to see if he could go do something. If the line was busy, I'd hunker down, exercising my redial finger until my call would finally go through. I'm happily pushing 40, but I suspect other people can also appreciate what life was like before voicemail, call waiting, texting, and all the other amazing things we now can't picture our lives without.
Congress has experienced and leveraged a great many of those advances in telecommunications, too, but still congressional offices struggle with how to effectively manage what can - at times - be an overwhelming volume of calls. I was in Sen. Bingaman's office recently and his staff told me how they were handling some of the challenges they face on the front lines with phones. I thought one approach, in particular, was innovative.
One of the hot issues recently in the Senate was 'rules reform' (the use of the filibuster, secret holds, etc.) and Sen. Bingaman was receiving a large number of constituent calls on the topic. Molly Weisse-Bernstein, a Senior Staff Assistant at the time, had the idea to load a sound bite of the Senator into their voicemail system. Then, when constituents called and wanted to know the Senator's position on Senate rules reform, the staff could take down the constituent's comments and provide the added service of offering to transfer constituents to a two-minute audio clip of the Senator stating his position on that very issue.
Molly and her two colleagues, Derek Skinner and Sarah Garcia, collaborated to institutionalize the practice in their office. So far, the office has offered a single clip at a time, but is contemplating how they could scale it up and create 10, 20, or even more clips pertaining to their highest volume calls. Citizens could be able to hear the Senator articulate his position on anything from the healthcare repeal efforts, to cap and trade, to Senate rules reform. The audio clips could be produced specifically for this purpose, of course, but the office could also leverage floor speeches or other radio or television clips.
In our work with congressional offices we encourage them to engage constituents - as much as possible - using the same method through which the constituent contacted them. That advice has never been feasible when it came to phone calls from constituents, however; it's just not practical to answer every legislative inquiry with a return phone call. This innovative approach to answering the constituents question right away is what is called 'first call resolution' in the customer service industry.
If constituents will not be able to speak to the Senator live when they call, the next best thing might be a recording in his own words explaining his position before they ever hang up the phone.