By: Justin Lai and Christina Steen, 8/17/23


The Unemployment Insurance (UI) program was initially developed in 1935 based, in part, on the assumption that claimants would submit their application for benefits from a field office location, where they could receive in-person support from a staff member if any questions arose. While UI claimants in many states can still visit field offices to file their applications in person, 72 percent of UI claimants now file their applications online. This represents a significant shift from a high-touchpoint application process (between UI customers and field office staff) to a largely self-service model.

Online, claimants often have access to various resources including instructional guides, claimant handbooks, and help text on the UI online webpages to guide them through the application process. However, many UI claimants are still left confused and overwhelmed when attempting to navigate the UI system online. We have seen how this confusion at scale can lead to high call-center volume, increased claimant application errors, and overpayments, leaving state UI programs with additional work to resolve and remediate the uncertainty and resulting errors; these avoidable additional impacts to a state UI system can be characterized as administrative waste. 

With thoughtful customer experience improvements, state workforce agencies can reduce this administrative waste, reducing the instances where UI claimants might require otherwise unnecessary staff intervention of claims. 

One way that states can try to reduce administrative waste is by taking a strategic and data-driven approach to measure the impact of online user confusion on administrative resources. One example of the potential success of this approach is the North Carolina Department of Employment Security's (DES) efforts to analyze call-center volume in a continuous fashion to assess claimant confusion at scale. The agency’s work in this area, and the improvements to its system that it has been able to implement as a result, are described in more detail below.

Case Study: Taking a data-driven approach in North Carolina   

For the past several years, North Carolina DES has been working to implement a continuous improvement approach to address common claimant experience issues quickly and efficiently. DES staff took an incremental and strategic approach to identify the root cause of high call center volume, using this information to identify opportunities to reduce inbound calls through the continuous analysis of call center notes. The urgency of this work accelerated during the pandemic, with call center volume spiking to all-time highs across the country. 

North Carolina DES directed their staff to pull select calls to better understand why callers contacted the call centers, and why the self-service options (e.g., claimant portal, website, etc.) weren’t sufficiently clear. They also analyzed chatbot data/claimant queries and compiled a “frequent caller” list, which included notes detailing why the callers were repeatedly contacting staff. Notes were compiled for each of these frequent callers that documented how the process was followed internally to handle the callers’ issues, while also making suggestions about how the same situation could be handled differently in the future to resolve issues more efficiently. 
Throughout this process, North Carolina DES staff collected, summarized, and synthesized feedback into a repository, developing a roadmap of improvements to tackle. Multiple staff in North Carolina would review the data and share select findings and recommendations for prioritized improvements with their vendor. All recommendations shared with the vendor were evaluated by staff who considered four essential questions surrounding the overarching theme of call center volume reduction:

  • How would this proposed change impact call center volume over time? 
  • How much of a reduction in call center volume might we expect? 
  • What are the implications and impact to the system? 
  • Is this change worth the time, and will we have added value

North Carolina has identified and implemented numerous changes through this continuous improvement approach. Some of these changes include the deployment of a claim status tool, along with updates to their interactive voice response (IVR) system (Where claim status tool options are now available by phone). Noteworthy impacts include:

  • IVR implementation of a claim status tool: NC added common call issues to the IVR, providing the caller with the answer to common questions. This resolved questions before claimants needed to reach an agent (call deflection). Claim status call deflection rates were as high as 94% during the pandemic.     
  • Since implementation of the claim status tool in June 2020, the online tool has had more than 36 million views, and the phone feature was used more than 1 million times.
  • From January – June 2023, the online claim status tool was viewed 1,689,728 times and the phone feature has been used 208,730 times. 

Below is an example of the claim status tool North Carolina DES implemented:

An example of the claim status tool North Carolina DES implemented
An example of the claim status tool North Carolina DES implemented

Long-Term Success in CX

North Carolina’s recent and ongoing work shows that customer experience improvements not only benefit claimants—they can also benefit the agencies and staff administering unemployment insurance benefits when done thoughtfully. The two-pronged approach of continuous analysis and implementation highlighted above can be key to understanding what issues your customers face and identifying which solutions might be most effective in the long term. Learn more about developing a strategic approach to customer experience in UI here