Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Secret Client

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if social services were visited by secret clients, similarly to how secret shoppers assess businesses' quality.* I picture a secret client eyeing me suspiciously, taking notes as I sit with him and fill out the intake forms.

Assessing case managers' services isn't quite like evaluating a business though. At a social service agency, a client isn't receiving a straightforward good like food or hotel accommodations. Also, a case manager/client relationship is ongoing and collaborative, calling for a client's commitment to work on goals. At a certain level case managers have their own style as well.** This influences how well they work with different clients.

Assessing service during intake though is fairly straightforward. How's the case manager approach? Is she working on developing rapport with the client? Treating the client as a person, not as answers to a set of questions? Giving the client time to answer, asking very personal questions sensitively?

Though the secret shopper system may not work in this field this isn't to say case managers can't and shouldn't be assessed on a regular basis. It's only that criteria of doing this is layered due to nature of the job. Typically it's staff evaluating case managers' work, namely supervisors. At Empoder, colleagues offer their insights informally and sometimes even without being asked.

Still, it's valuable to know from the point of view of clients how you're doing your job. Case managers may learn this through confidential surveys from clients. One good indication that you're doing something right may be that majority of your clients come back or follow up.

* For the record, in regards to the concept behind secret shoppers: I don't think the customer is always right.

** Still, it's important within an agency that some uniformity exists in how case managers work with their clients. And clients do talk with each other.

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