Thank you, Mr. Chair, for this opportunity to address this committee.
I can say right from the start that the subject of this study is something that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada takes very seriously. Indeed, it is one where the minister is determined to make considerable headway.
Over the last number of years, the department has made significant strides in laying the groundwork for a modernized client experience that maintains the integrity of our immigration system.
To this end, we have implemented a global case management system for almost all of our major lines of business. Building on this system capacity, we've improved the flexibility of our processing network. We can now shift less complex client applications from temporarily overloaded offices to those with the available capacity to help out. Among other things, this approach has helped us deal with an enormous increase of more than 40% in applications for temporary residence over the past few years.
We have also put in place across the world a visa application centre network—132 centres in 94 countries—to support those clients who want personalized help in filling out their forms. As an example of the results, today a client in Beijing who wants to visit Canada can go to a local visa application centre and get help in Mandarin, have their information sent electronically to the operations support centre in Ottawa overnight for uploading into the global case management system, and then have their file ready for a decision-maker back in Beijing by the time the visa office opens for business the next day.
At the same time, today a client who needs an electronic travel authorization to come to Canada can quickly apply from their smart phone and, for the vast majority of applicants, get a decision right back to their phone within three minutes.
These types of client interactions are possible because of our sustained focus on and investment in a modernized processing infrastructure that supports our ability to be vigilant with respect to the integrity of our programs, which is in fact the foundation of good client service.
We recognize that while we've made significant progress in certain lines of business, there remain considerable opportunities for further improvement. IRCC offers clients over 75 services, but while temporary and economic permanent resident clients can apply online, not all of our clients currently have access to these service delivery channels, and we don't have processing times down to where we want them to be. Further rollout of online applications and reduction of processing times remain a key priority for us.
But we also know that the client experience is not just about online applications and reduced processing times. And so we are committed to listening to and learning from the clients who use our services. We do this in a number of different ways.
For example, we conduct a client satisfaction survey every two years, which gives us information about what clients like and what they want more of. In our last survey, clients told us that overall 85% of them were satisfied with their immigration and citizenship experience. But they also told us that they would like to get more information about their case status.
We also have a client service feedback web form online, and receive approximately 150 emails a week from people telling us about their service experience. These messages not only help to give us instant feedback when things aren't working, but also have helped us to identify parts of our instructions which are not clear.
We are trying new methods of gathering client insights as well. For example, this year the department experimented with using human-centred design techniques to better understand the client experience. We went out and talked directly to clients, NGOs, immigration consultants, academics, and others to better understand the whole experience from the client's perspective. This initiative was hugely worthwhile and has helped us to refocus much of our work on client service.
All of this information from surveys, direct client feedback, and design challenges has led us to establish three new client experience priorities for the department: first, innovating our processes so that they make better sense to clients; second, finding new ways to provide clients greater assurance that their cases are moving forward; and third, making sure that we are listening when clients need to talk to us.
While our work in gathering client insights remains important and continues, we've already launched a number of initiatives in these three areas. For example, just yesterday our minister announced changes to the processing of family class applications, which will go a long way in improving the ease of the process for those clients. We're also making improvements to how easy it is to upload documents and pay fees online.
To provide clients with greater assurance as to the status of their applications, IRCC rolled out “link my application” functionality earlier this year. It's an online tool that lets many clients who submitted paper applications get access to the same online account information as those who applied electronically.
We'll also be adding more case status information into the online account to give clients who are waiting more frequent and meaningful updates. In addition, we're also looking at new ways to reduce the amount of time it takes to let clients know we've received their application, and we will be experimenting with sending text messages to clients when their applications reach our mailroom. This will help to close the gap that exists for clients between mailing an application and getting an official acknowledgement of receipt letter.
Listening to clients and building trust is also a priority. We have piloted a new approach at the IRCC national call centre, enabling agents to provide clients with detailed case information even if regular processing times have not elapsed. We also log all calls right in the case management system so that if a client calls back we know right away what their concern was the last time and can follow up as necessary.
While this approach is taking more time upfront, it is significantly reducing same day repeat callers, and demonstrating that an upfront investment can reduce client anxiety without necessarily reducing productivity. In other words, good client service also adds business value.
Mr. Chair, I can assure this committee once again that innovating and improving service is at the very top of IRCC's agenda. Through incremental innovation and risk-based analysis, IRCC can achieve service excellence and meet client needs while continuing to uphold confidence in the integrity of the immigration, settlement, citizenship, and passport programs.
Thank you for the invitation to be here today.
Mr. Chair, there's a whole variety of different initiatives that have already been undertaken, and a large number of them are continuing. We realize that client service has to be multi-faceted and that our strategy to attack client service has to be multi-faceted, not only in the clarity of the information that is provided up front, but also very much in giving assurance to our clients that their cases are moving and so on. It's within those parameters, which I've already outlined, that we've done a number of things.
First of all, there is the centralized intake of applications, which is a fairer process. All applications are coming into one area. We've increased our use of risk triage. What this essentially means is that we are distinguishing between those cases that are complex or non-complex and are trying to get the non-complex cases through as quickly as we can so that we can focus our efforts and time on the more complex cases. We get the straightforward cases out of the system as fast as we can, which is better client service for everyone and so on.
A number of other different things have gone on to provide better service to our clients. I could mention the open work permits for spousal cases; the intake cap for parents and grandparents, which has gone up; and the ministerial instructions, which have helped us control the intake of applications and how we manage those applications in a wide variety of areas.
Some of the things we're doing right now are very important. I think the work at the call centre is critically important, and we've made major efforts in that area since the summer. We are doing more and more to allow people to get information electronically about the status of their application so that they're aware of what's happening on that side of things. We are ending upfront medicals. We will require medicals only at the time when we're actually able to progress with the application. Also, more and more applications are online, and that includes all our temporary lines of business. Of course, express entry is entirely online. Likewise, eTA is all online.
All of this is moving in the right direction. There is a lot more to be done; we have no qualms about that. On the other hand, I think very major progress has been made in a variety of different areas.
Indeed, Mr. Chair, that is absolutely correct. What was Passport Canada at the time became the passport program of IRCC in July 2013. One of the reasons for that was to modernize the program and to make the passport program more accessible to Canadians and so on.
In general, the success of the passport program is quite remarkable. We are meeting service standards well over 99% of the time, and the satisfaction rate with the passport program from Canadians is at over 96%. There are very strong and positive views of how the passport program is operating at the moment.
We do need to make changes to ensure that the program is modernized, that it stays up to date and so on. Indeed, one of the things we want to do is to migrate the computer system from the existing IRIS system into GCMS. We're doing that very deliberately and slowly. It's a major business transformation piece, and thus we want to do it very prudently.
I cannot give you an exact date for when that is going to happen, because we do want to be very cautious on how we do it, but there is very active work going on within IRCC and with our service department, Service Canada, which actually delivers the passport program at the moment, to ensure that service to Canadians is not impacted negatively in any way.
The client satisfaction survey is done every two years. We started in 2013. For us, 2015 was the first opportunity we had to really look back and compare performance over previous years.
In 2015, 85% of our clients reported being very satisfied with our service. That was down 1% from 2013; however, there was a notable increase in satisfaction for those who were granted citizenship, likely thanks to processing times, which had sped up considerably for these clients.
The satisfaction survey results are based on responses from about 3,700 applicants. These are applicants who have completed the service with the department. It's a response rate of about 11%, so it's still low, but certainly within expectations. There is a margin of error of only about 1%.
One of the important pieces that we implemented based on feedback from the 2015 survey is actually the processing times calculator that ADM Orr referred to recently. Clients told us in the 2015 survey that they were very frustrated that they couldn't get accurate information about processing times online. We were able to implement changes to that just at the end of last year, actually, and we have seen quite favourable results from clients as a result.
Mr. Chair, I think it would be very useful and helpful for the information they have with respect to complaints to be passed on to the committee. Then we can actually go through the details of it, as opposed to going through it bit by bit at committee within my seven minutes. It would be helpful if we could get a confirmation that we could receive that information.
With respect to complaints, I have one issue that my office often gets. People phone the call centre and cannot get informative information. It's an ongoing cycle of not getting information, and the level of frustration is beyond measure. I've tried it myself. You phone the hotline, and the information you get is so generalized that it is hopeless and, frankly, useless.
I then phone the minister's office. I've experienced this myself. I get the information from the minister's office and it's contradictory to what the government had announced within the time frame that the application would be processed, for example. I'm sort of left standing there and thinking, who do I believe? I don't know what is the real information anymore, and I hardly know what to tell my constituents. No wonder they're so frustrated.
How can we improve on this? How is it that people phone the hotline and get such general information that it's basically rendered useless?
Perhaps what would help is that I'll take this opportunity to tell you about a project that we worked on this year with the Privy Council Office's innovation hub and the Treasury Board Secretariat, as well as OCAD University in Toronto. It was to work on what we called the family class design challenge. For us, the family class design challenge was an opportunity to document the service experience for the first time from a client perspective and to then identify new and innovative approaches to changing the way we address client concerns.
One of the things that was really significant for us that came out of that study was that clients were really unhappy with our call centre. They found that the language we used wasn't helpful and, for those 50% of clients who were contacting us to get case status information, we weren't giving it to them. We were redirecting them to our website.
Based on this insight that we received from clients during the design challenge process, we've actually changed things very significantly at the call centre since the middle of August of this year. In August 2016, we started piloting new work at the call centre, where, for family class clients only—because we really wanted to track results and see if this meant something to clients—we changed a few things. We changed the language we used. We started using more welcoming language. We started actually going into client files for those clients who were looking for case status information in order to deliver to them the assurance they were looking for.
This, of course, has had an impact on business. It's taking us a little longer to deal with those calls, about 16% longer, but one of the other pieces we've actually seen is a significant 30% decrease in same day repeat calls at our call centre. That, to us, indicates that things are working well. We've also received positive feedback from clients who are telling us that they feel more assured, and that they don't feel the need to call back multiple times. We've never seen results like that before.
I think that's good, but I can tell you about my direct experience of phoning the call centre from my office and not being able to get information. We sort of get the runaround of: “We'll get back to you in a couple of weeks”. They tell us to do different things. Some cases are quite urgent, so we phone the ministerial line to get that information. As I said, the information that's received from the minister's office contradicts what the government has announced, which is concerning to me. I just want to flag that as something for you to look into. I hope that can be rectified.
I also want to ask this question. Oftentimes people get rejections, for example, for their travel visa, and they get these boxes ticked off. The information is so generalized that it leaves the person who's made the application wondering how they can perhaps improve the application next time. Financial security is one piece that's often the box ticked off. There's no indication, though, as to what parameters within financial security they need to be in, in order to get the approval, or what goal they could work toward, for example. In other situations, it seems there is little consideration with regard to people's travel history. Some people may not have a lot of resources, so they don't have a whole lot of travel history. It's not within their norm. Yet that's an automatic box. If you haven't actually travelled, then automatically you are out of luck.
Again, this is a very important thing for a lot of people. How can we improve on this?
Thanks so much for coming back today and for your great presentation.
In my area, one of the things I find is that 52% of the people in my riding of Davenport weren't born there, so there are a lot of people whose first language isn't English. I couldn't understand why so many of them were using immigration consultants. I wondered why they were using these people. Then I started realizing that because the process is so complex and their first language isn't necessarily English, they're using immigration consultants because, for them, in many cases, it facilitates their getting through a process that they find very, very onerous.
You talked about your design challenge. I'm assuming that's the same thing you're talking about on page 6, where you mention that you talked “to clients, NGOs, immigration consultants, academics”. Did you actually sit down with groups of people who didn't speak English and ask them to go through the process so that you could actually understand how people whose first language isn't English or French might actually understand the system?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I would like to thank the witnesses.
Over the past 10 years, my office has provided a great deal of assistance on various files. Very often, incomplete requests or forms are sent to the department. This, of course, eventually causes delays in the process.
It seems that people have trouble doing the basic work and obtaining the necessary information. We often find that a document is missing or has not been signed, or that a supporting document is missing. This really bogs down the system and delays processing times.
People come to see us and we have to start the whole process over again with them. We take the time to sit down and look at the form. We go back to the beginning of their application and review the entire process as far as they have reached to see what is missing. Departmental employees do nonetheless provide valuable assistance. They remind us of things.
Is there a lack of information initially? Are there enough agents to provide assistance from the outset? If an hour or more were invested with each person, people would be able to fill out their forms properly in the first place, and that might eliminate days, weeks or months of delays.
Going back to my colleague Jacques Gourde's line of questioning, just so you know, for all of us around the table here it is an enormous amount of work in our constituency offices to deal with immigration casework. Again, just to re-emphasize what some of my Liberal colleagues have said, this is a non-partisan thing. We have very small operating budgets, and I also will say that I have a full-time employee in my office who deals just with client service delivery issues.
I'll preface this by saying that the decision made earlier this year to take away MP access from embassies, as well as the ministerial advisory office, was very poor. It was a terrible decision. It really affected service delivery within our office. I'm glad to see that it has been semi-reversed.
I'm not sure what some of my colleagues would say, but certainly for me and my office, one of the biggest complaints we get from people is the reporting of failures in customer service by the call centre in Montreal. I would say that's probably, by an order of magnitude, the number one complaint that I get. People experience very long wait times on the phone, as well as very onerous automated call menus, especially for people whose English or French is their second language. The number one thing I have to respond to in my office is that they don't understand the information that was given to them or that it's confusing, or the charge is that it's unhelpful.
Do you track the call centre usage at all? We are going to write up a report here. Is there anything that you think could be done to overcome this? It's such a burden on our offices right now.
I guess I'll just close with this, and it's more of something to explore with my colleagues around the table. I think it would be really useful. I've been doing this for five years now. We want to be your allies, and we want you to be our allies because immigration processing works when we're all giving the same information and messaging and it's arm's-length and it's not politicized. I think there's often a disconnect in terms of what MP office staff, especially new MP office staff, understand as your service delivery algorithms, and there's really no feedback in terms of saying, “Hey, this isn't working”, because what we're getting are the complaints all the time.
I would just suggest that if the department, as part of this survey, would be willing to provide greater information on where your algorithms are right now, we could provide feedback as well in terms of where we see the friction points on that, and then hopefully have some sort of continuous feedback mechanisms with MP office staff as well, too.
I think that, for me, would have been the first step, before changing the call centre process, because at the end of the day, we want to be on the same team here. I'm not sure if there's been any thought given to that sort of thing, but certainly I would offer this up in the time I have, and as a QA process as well.
Certainly, Madam Vice-Chair, monitoring the error rate is something that we do very regularly, because the error rate can be indicative of a number of things. One is that sometimes it can be that our kits or application forms are not clear. As Ms. Lattimore has mentioned, in some cases where that's the issue, we provide that feedback to the individuals who are responsible for providing the kits. We say that they provide functional guidance. We do that because sometimes that's a very real issue where our clients can't understand. Other times, there is error rate because clients simply don't comply. Some things may seem simple to you, for example, making sure that the document is signed, or if we need the birth certificate, marriage certificate, which are essential documents to the application. We monitor that very closely in the quality assurance that we do.
In the changes that are being made, such as the changes which the minister announced yesterday around family class sponsorships, we're also as a department simplifying the forms. As Ms. Lattimore pointed out, the work that we did with OCAD University and talking to front-line staff is really leading us to try to simplify application forms, change, for example, the upfront requirements that we made. For example, Mr. Orr made reference to the fact that we are not going to be requiring the upfront medicals because we were in fact causing a delay because sometimes the medicals expired.
It's really a multi-pronged strategy. It's not just one thing, but it's a lot of things that the department is trying to do to really improve the client experience, improve the client service, and at the end of the day, to process cases more rapidly.