interview: Customer Service at Cambridge Housing

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2012— In July the Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA) created a new position—Customer Service and Communications—and appointed Naomie Stephen to the job. What does the new job entail? Victoria Bergland interviewed Naomie to find out. Victoria is ACT's Public Housing Co-Chair.


What is your job title? What department will you be a part of? 

 My new title is Senior Program Manager-Customer Service & Communications. This position is officially under the Executive umbrella, but we envision that the responsibilities will span departments across the agency, to improve internal communication—and the bigger focus, our external communication and the overall presentation of the agency. 


How do you feel being in the new job? How much of a surprise was it? 

 I’m very excited to be given the opportunity to study the ‘experience’ aspect of what CHA does. Greg (CHA Executive Director Greg Russ) has had the idea of bridging departments and working in a more collaborative way, linking new ideas to the support we offer families and individuals in Cambridge for some time now. The creation of this position is part of a larger scope to examine our practices, set or reset standards of service and reinvigorate the programs, incorporating fresh practices. 


Before this appointment, Naomie Stephen worked in CHA's Planning and Development Department (P&D)

What are you doing now at P & D? How long will you continue in that role? 

 I am holding on to a few responsibilities in P&D, including my involvement in Phase II relocation of the Lincoln Way Revitalization project. I hope to be involved through to the completion of the project next year. Other duties such as quarterly ARRA reporting will transition to other staff by the end of the summer. (ARRA is the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, under which the Federal government granted "stimulus" funds to many agencies including CHA)


Our understanding is that you will be looking at the experience that people have at the CHA central office and looking at the website and how CHA presents information. Can you describe in more detail what your job is about? What are the first 3 things you’ll focus on? 

 One objective with this position is to improve how we deal on a day-to-day basis with the families and individuals we serve. The CHA employs a knowledgeable and dedicated staff, committed to our mission to promote citizenship, however, due to limited resources; we are not able to meet every individual need. The agency operates inside of what can be a strict set of complicated rules across all our programs. We want to look for the best ways to distribute information and services, respecting the diversity of our audience.

 The first three areas I will tackle are the front desk, the information line (switchboard) and the CHA website. The goal is to improve the quality and consistency of information being relayed. 


Will you consider how different people experience the waiting room depending on whether they speak a language other than English; have a disability; need assistance dealing with an emergency?

 While there are current measures in place to assist various users, the waiting room will evolve, especially with the upcoming office move. We will take these and other needs in consideration when exploring options for the waiting room. 

There have been a lot of problems with CHA’s phone system. (Some examples: difficulty getting through to the right person; unable to leave a message; don’t receive a response; rude treatment.) Will you be taking a look at what happens when people call CHA? 

 Yes, we are looking at ways to ensure that callers are being assisted and that inquiries are both responded to and where possible, resolved in a timely manner. 


How will you get the word out to tenants that you’re there? 

 I have shared the news of this position at some resident meetings. There will also be an announcement on the CHA website in the coming weeks. We hope that ACT will also help spread the word! I want to express that this position won’t replace the channels that already exist such as resident services, but will hopefully enhance and improve the methods already in place. 


Are you seeking input from tenants, applicants, advocates and staff? 

 As with any change, it doesn’t work if we don’t research our ideas. I hope to be able to tap into all levels of users to inform improvements. 


Will you be responding to problems that are reported to you that have to do with CHA staff? If yes, has CHA thought about how that would work? Would you investigate complaints or relay them to the director of the relevant department? Have the unions raised any concerns? 

 Yes, part of focusing on customer service will involve investigating complaints, and working with staff and the CHA community to resolve issues. Department Directors would be kept abreast of any issues, to assist with resolution of problems or conflicts. I have not had any interaction with the union in this capacity or heard any concerns. 


To whom do you report? Will you be making recommendations about things that CHA could do differently? 

 My position reports directly to Michael Johnston, Deputy Executive Director of the CHA. 


How would you like ACT to communicate the problems and concerns that tenants report to our office?

 ACT members are welcome to contact me via email or by telephone 617-520-6261