Customer Care continues to take calls during district closure

Business Operations Customer Care Team Leader Johnetta Branch has a new three-step routine when she arrives at her office — put on her face mask, sanitize her hands, and have her temperature checked.

The district may be closed, she said, but there are still employee and parent questions to be answered, payrolls to be processed, maintenance requests to be filed, purchases to track, and fire and burglar alarms to monitor.

“Fifty-six of us used to come in every day, but many are parents and with schools and daycares closed, they aren’t able to come in,” Branch said. “So now it’s five people working at one time to accomplish the same tasks. I’m here to do whatever needs to be done.”

Branch is part of Customer Care’s reduced 20-person workforce. Previously available 24 hours per day, seven days per week, Customer Care is currently operating Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and can be reached at 713-556-9400.  

Each shift is staffed by four customer care representatives and one team leader, all positioned six feet apart.

Customer Care and Operations General Manager Patrice Humphries said her team has found ways to continue their vital work.

“Despite the obstacles during the COVID-19 pandemic, adjusting to a new way working hasn’t changed our commitment to serving and helping,” Humphries said. “Although work schedules and environments have changed, our dedication remains the same.”

Previously, the team spent much of its time focused on transportation-related concerns and campus work orders and maintenance requests. Most of the calls Customer Care now receives are internal — employees asking about paychecks, retirement benefits, and other similar inquiries.

Early on the team also received calls concerning the HISD @ H.O.M.E. online learning platform. But Customer Care and Operations Senior Manager Delorian Moore said external calls decreased after the HISD @ H.O.M.E. Hotline — an academics-focused resource that provides timely answers to questions from students and parents about distance learning — was well established. The HISD @ H.O.M.E. Hotline is available weekdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 713-556-INFO (4636).  

“We still get some calls from parents because they’re used to contacting us,” Moore said. “We try to answer their questions, but if we can’t, we direct them to the hotline.”

In addition to calls, Customer Care employees spend much of their time manually entering payroll data for over 1,000 employees from Facilities, Maintenance, and Operations, Nutrition Services, and Transportation Services. The team now also manages COVID-19-related purchases, such as masks, gloves, and sanitizing wipes.

While the work continues, the pandemic has led to many changes for the team, including some less tangible than others, Moore said, noting that working apart has been like losing touch with close friends.

“Team leaders set up meetings to make sure everybody’s OK emotionally,” Moore said. “We’re available and willing to help. We do our best to meet everyone’s needs.”