Crew Spotlight: Client Services

Client services a ‘big job’

Working in client services is a ‘big job’ according to Deb Swereda, Client Services Manager for Harvest.

At the very heart of it is the call centre, volunteers man the phones and emails from people who are looking for food.

“(Client Services) is like the core of Harvest, right? Because every other department works to ensure that the clients receive food. Without clients we wouldn’t be here,” she said.

The call centre books and rebooks appointments with food banks and agencies for clients. Its goal is to make an appointment for new clients within five days of their first call. The department makes sure that the food bank is no more than a 15 minute walk or 20 minute bus ride for clients.

Monthly, on average, the call centre is contacted by 8,000 households or 23,000 unique callers a month looking for help in Winnipeg alone. In August, more than 10,000 calls or emails were received by the call centre from people who had an interruption in their benefits, were struggling because their income didn’t cover their expenses, and by some who are new to Canada.

According to call centre volunteer, Rod Soviak, the most difficult part of his job is making sure the communication lines between him and the client are good.

“Sometimes when you’re on the phone, the connection isn’t always the best so trying to understand what a person is saying when they’re trying to spell their name or address. You kind of have to use some patience and some repeating of the names… Some of the clients too they’re just getting on to English so you kind of encourage them on to go ahead because they sometimes feel a little (self-conscious) because their English isn’t good…sometimes it’s just trying to hear them correctly can be the most challenging thing to help them,” he said.

But when communication lines between the client and the call centre become difficult, mistakes can happen and that causes a lot of problems.

“The hardest thing is if a mistake happens and a client doesn’t receive food because of it. That is so much pressure on us all the time to ensure (they get their food and that there are no mistakes). We’re client services and we’re all about the clients and ensuring that everything works well for them,” said Swereda.

“Another thing that’s hard is when we cancel at the last minute (due to a holiday), because then we have to call every single client and a lot of them their phones don’t work. If that doesn’t work, then we have to send a letter, we need to make sure that (the change) effects the client’s life as little as possible.”

But there are rules to using a foodbank’s services, according to Swereda. When a client does not go to get their food at the food bank, without cancelling a head of time, they are just given a reminder. The second time it happens they might not be able to rebook with the food bank. The third time in a row that it happens, then the client might not be able to go to that food bank again and they are rebooked to another food bank.
“If you’re missing three times in a row and you’re not calling in. Chances are there is a good reason – that foodbank doesn’t work for you. So, let’s look at a different food bank… A lot of these food banks are small they don’t have storage.”

The majority of food banks in Winnipeg are located downtown, Point Douglas, and River Heights.