UNICEF and UNDP Strengthen National Hotline for Social Services
With a modernized system for the 114 hotline, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs will ensure better access to information for citizens
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Since 2015, the 114 hotline is Armenia’s dedicated toll free number to get information on social services, directly from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. It deals with a myriad of issues from assistance for children and families, social benefits, and employment services to pensions and support for children and persons with disabilities. On the day of our visit, 27 March, the hotline service got 2,729 calls that were managed by the 12 staff of the call center, as well as handled through the new automated system, supported by UNICEF and UNDP. Albeit new, the new system has already doubled the amount of calls that the center responds to from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm every Monday to Friday.
“The new system is very flexible and allows for real-time monitoring of statistics on the number of calls, resolved or pending issues,” noted Aida Grigoryan, Advisor to Minister of Labor and Social Affairs.
“As a result of the modernization, we have succeeded to increase the share of answered calls from a daily 36 per cent to 76. Recently we automated the response to calls enquiring about the payment days for pensions and social benefits, and now on those particular days about 1,500 enquiries are answered through the automated system. We intend to continue improving the system. Our goal is now to reach 96-97 per cent daily response.”
During the coronavirus infection outbreak the number of calls pertaining to public assistance programs increased exponentially, in view of which the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs approached the UN agencies in August 2020 for support. UNICEF and UNDP responded and embarked on the work within the framework of the joint “COVID-19 and Resilience in Armenia: Mitigating the Socio-Economic Impact on Vulnerable People and Communities” project, funded by the Multi-Partner Trust Fund. UNICEF ensured the upgrading of the system and new furnishing for the call centre, while UNDP renovated the premises and organised training for the operators. The operational expenses of the new system will be covered by UNICEF till October 2021, after which the Ministry will take over.
“When emergencies strike, the volume of hotline calls quadruples, making it impossible for the call center staff to respond to all calls efficiently and in due time. The hotline service often receives calls regarding urgent social protection cases and, as a rule, these involve people in most vulnerable situations. The modernization of the hotline service was of utmost importance for UNICEF so that every citizen and every family can have access to information and support that is delivered efficiently.”
“The modernization of the hotline service was yet another joint successful endeavor between ourselves and our partners: the World Bank, the UN Development Programme, the World Food Programme and, of course, Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, to improve access to information about social services and rapid response capacity. By converging our efforts, we aim to establish a unified system of social protection with a common database and a uniform information system. The information from the hotline might subsequently be connected to and logged into this common database so that it can be forwarded therefrom to the respective social worker or the structural unit or specialist responsible to deal with it,” explained Armenuhi.
“Working on the hot-line and being the gatekeeper on numerous requests and needs, the number of which has drastically risen due to COVID-19, is quite stressful, and it is important to have the supporting environment for the most efficient work. In addition to physical and technical upgrade of the center, the trainings conducted on psycho-social, behavioral, communication and self-care aspects will help the operators better understand and respond to core issues of the applicants,” said Marina Malkhasyan, UNDP Programme Manager/Governance Rule of Law and Social Clusters.
“On average we successfully cater to 150 calls a day. I feel so rewarded when I’m able to resolve an issue that people call with. The beneficiaries on the other end of the line are always very grateful for information. I have talked to grandmothers or grandfathers who ended the call with their blessings; it warms your heart.”
Tehminé has studied law, and in her current position bring together a number of useful skills and experiences. “First and foremost, this job hinges on your communication skills, resourcefulness and empathy. Of course, knowledge of the available services matters too, one must be well versed in the system, the policies, and public programmes, in order to be able to provide appropriate guidance to callers. It is also important to have continuous training for skill development,” explains Tehminé.
“The Hotline service ensures the connection and communication between citizens and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. We take up the issues and problems raised by the citizens and their recommendations, and attempt to find solutions to them within the existing policies and programmes,” explains Lusiné Abrahamyan, Head of Hotline Service at the Ministry. “The upgraded system allows to classify every call by sector or subcategory. Upon hanging up an explicit entry is made on its outcome: whether it was a referral, explanation, requires calling back, needs an in-depth follow-up, or some other action. This data is then analyzed to gain an understanding of the share of calls that were successfully dealt with, the frequently asked questions and recommendations. Some calls highlight gaps in the legislation that take note of and forward those concerns to respective departments.”
Mrs Seda Galstyan has worked at the call centre since 2013.
“The system has definitely improved. In the past we used to spend more time on the preparation of assistance requests and their forwarding, whereas the current automated system allows to record calls and enter real-time notes on the recommended course of action. Without doubt, the system is now much more efficient and cuts the time it used to take to tend to all calls,” said Seda. “Some people often call with an issue that they are very concerned or annoyed about. When they see that the person on the other end of the line cares and does her best to help, they gain trust towards social services, which is important in the long run.”