Illinois Court Help + Zendesk: Building more accessible support for court users
Prior to the launch of the Illinois Court Help program in May 2021, there was no statewide support for court users in Illinois. Today the program fields an average of over 50 inbound calls daily, in addition to 25 - 30 text messages and emails from court users. By embracing a digital-first approach, Illinois Court Help is rapidly improving accessibility to court forms, processes, and information for over two million court users across the state.
“Before Illinois Court Help, a single statewide support resource for court users did not exist. In the first 6 months of operation, we have helped 3360 unique people, representing 5400 Zendesk tickets and 7800 total phone calls. The launch of our program represents a huge win in terms of accessibility.”
“Zendesk improves the lives of people who are trying to navigate the court system, especially those who have a disability or are unable to come in person. Zendesk helps us close the information gap and improves accessibility for court users.”
Illinois Court Users
Daily Inbound Calls
Judicial Circuits Supported
Navigating the courts can be an unsettling and uncomfortable process for many constituents. An increasing number of court users cannot afford a lawyer and are forced to navigate court systems on their own. Meanwhile, many court users find themselves unsure where to ask for help, how to find resources, or even what questions to ask.
At a time when the public sector is working to catch up to private sector customer experience, many courts have relied on in-person communication to connect with court users. When courts were forced to limit the number of people in the courthouse in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was no surprise that many courts across the country found themselves needing to rapidly adapt how they supported their users.
“When the pandemic shut down Illinois courts, people couldn’t walk into their local courthouse to ask questions and get the help they needed with their court cases. This forced courts to rethink how they serve court users. The Illinois Supreme Court created a statewide response in Illinois Court Help. While the pandemic shone a light on the urgency for this service, in reality, it has been needed for some time,” explained Lisa Colpoys, supervising senior program manager of Illinois Court Help.
The Illinois Court Help program was founded in response to court users’ needs. The program provides easy access to support by trained court guides via phone, text, and email. The team of 5 full-time court guides answer questions about court processes, forms, and going to court, as well as directing constituents to appropriate legal and community resources.
As the Illinois Court Help team began researching omnichannel customer experience solutions, they looked for a tool that could be easily implemented, would create consistency in communication, and could provide analytical insights on court user communication.
Creating consistency across 102 counties and 24 judicial circuits
The Illinois Court Help team was also looking for a solution that would enable them to communicate with court users, regardless of their channel preference. Whether they prefer to pick up a phone, text a number, or send an email they should be able to easily reach and communicate with a court guide.
As a new program, Illinois Court Help also wanted to prove its effectiveness quickly. They needed a solution that could be implemented promptly with minimal to no coding. By using Zendesk’s help center as their website, the program was able to get up and running without hiring expensive developers, saving time and money for the organization.
“One of the reasons we chose Zendesk was we didn’t have the capacity for much IT department involvement. We wanted a solution that reasonably tech-savvy, non-developer people could manage out-of-the-box. Zendesk is just that,” said Colpoys.
With 102 county courts across 24 judicial circuits, the Illinois Court Help program needed a solution that could help support court users statewide. At the same time, court guides needed a system that would help them internally document different court processes and rules from county to county to ensure they are providing accurate support.
Building efficiency and empathy into the court process
Accurate support starts with consistency and efficiency. To help court users get the information they need on local court procedures across the vast areas of law, court guides rely on Zendesk to optimize their workflow through macros, triggers, and an internal knowledge base. The team has created an extensive list of macros or canned responses within Zendesk to give court guides a jump start on their responses. By using macros they improve accuracy, consistency, and response time.
Court guides can also quickly see the full context of a constituent’s inquiry in a centralized place. Since Zendesk tracks all communications from constituents in their user profile—whether from emails, text messages, or phone calls—court guides can see all past communications, regardless of whom the court user last spoke to.
“Hearing someone’s life story is not uncommon in our role. With Zendesk, court users don’t have to repeat their frustration or pain. Since team members are able to pick up where another left off, we save court users emotional distress while being empowered to help them more quickly,” said Helen Doig, a court guide at Illinois Court Help.
In addition to resolving court users’ inquiries more quickly, Illinois Court Help is also able to reach and help more users through a digital-first approach.
“Before the founding of Illinois Court Help, Illinois’s court users had no access to statewide support. In the first 6 months we helped 3,360 people, representing over 5,400 Zendesk tickets and 7,800 phone calls. The launch of our program represents a huge win in terms of accessibility,” explained Colpoys.
Improving accessibility across Illinois’ court system
Illinois Courts Help improves courts’ relationships with the public by eliminating the need to physically go into the courthouse for information or assistance with processes and forms. Constituents are empowered to obtain the information they need in a much more accessible way.
“Zendesk improves the lives of people who are trying to navigate the court system, especially those who are unable to come in during 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. working hours or for those who have a disability. Without a digital resource, many court users would have no access to the needed services. Zendesk helps us close the information gap and improves accessibility for our court users,” said Jessica Acosta, court guide at Illinois Court Help.
By embracing digital communication, Illinois Court Help expands access to court users who are unable to take time off work or seek help in person.
The future state of the Illinois Court Help program
As the Illinois Court Help Program evolves, Colpoys has her sights set on using Zendesk analytics to identify court system inefficiencies and help simplify unduly complex court processes.
“I want our team to identify court system inefficiencies that may be solved by streamlining or standardizing practices and forms. We are collecting data in Zendesk so we can hopefully start working on these areas of improvement soon,” she explained.
As one of the leading court support programs in the United States, there is no doubt this group of trailblazers is ready for the challenge.