Ms. Melero is a visionary who transformed the agency’s service delivery strategy from a traditional call center model into a multi-channel, interactive engagement platform. The new service model integrates digital self-help tools with live support and gives applicants the ability to manage their case themselves, right from their computer, tablet, or cell phone. The transparency USCIS now offers users translates to greater customer confidence, the benefits of which, for this overwhelmed population, cannot be overstated.
Her most lasting achievement, perhaps, is creating a user-friendly online filing portal that external users praise for its practical ease and visual appeal. Building an effective “front door” where applicants can reliably submit immigration forms allows the agency to realize a hard-fought goal of transforming its case management system from paper to electronic files. The full extent of the efficiencies gained from paperless processing remain to be seen. However, now that online filing has gained traction with USCIS customers, Melero is credited with paving the way for a striking, reimagined digital presence for the nation’s overseer of lawful immigration benefits.
Millions of people approach U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) every year seeking citizenship, permanent residence, refugee status, and help bringing family members into the country. Applicants face a steep and difficult learning curve, often with limited English proficiency. The process is intimidating and uncertain, and mistakes can be costly. Mariela and her service-driven created a nimble, transparent platform that delivers the help people need faster and more easily, using language and means tailored to their personal needs and preferences. The transformed multi-channel engagement platform integrates digital self-help tools with live support to provide users with unparalleled access to information and resources.
At the forefront is myUSCIS, an online “one-stop shop” for immigration information. The portal features tools like a practice civics test, Find a Doctor, and Explore My Options, all of which are accessible from any mobile device. User metrics reveal the enormity of the team’s achievement: use of myUSCIS almost doubled in Fiscal Year 2018 to 31 million sessions by 10 million users. myUSCIS is now recognized as a paradigm shift in government design and service delivery.
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT FOR DELIVERING SERVICE TO THE CITIZENS
DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF CITIZENSHIP AND APPLICANT INFORMATION SERVICES,
U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES
Another innovative access channel Melero’s team created is “Emma,” the Department of Homeland Security’s first interactive virtual assistant. Emma answers almost 1 million questions per month in English, with a success rate of more than 90 percent. She also navigates users to relevant web pages that users can bookmark and reference later. In June 2016, Mariela deployed a Spanish-speaking Emma to help the 1 million users who visit the USCIS Spanish website each month. Like all of USCIS’ digital tools, Emma is mobile-ready and accessible from any device, anytime, anywhere. This is especially important to Spanish users, as almost 80 percent of those visitors use a cell phone or tablet to access USCIS’ Spanish website.
Melero and her team have also upgraded the agency’s flagship Case Status Online tool, which allows people to track the progress of their cases and sign up for automatic case alerts. Annual volume consistently exceeds 50 million visits, placing it among the top 10 most popular government sites in the United States.
Melero prioritizes the development of online content and tools so users have a full spectrum of ways to get what they need, when they need it. However, she also realizes some customers prefer telephone contact with a real person. USCIS’ bilingual call center now uses a callback feature, which enables customers to receive a return call and keep their place in the queue. This significantly improved wait times during peak call periods. In addition, Melero’s team is testing a feature called live chat that allows users who ask Emma a question and want more information to seamlessly escalate their inquiry to a live representative at the USCIS contact center.
As a refugee and a product of the immigration system, Melero combines her experience as an immigrant with feedback from applicants to hone in on what people really need. She instituted aggressive user testing and reimagined the agency’s approach to product development to put customer needs first. She knows that giving great service is more than making people happy; delivering great service benefits the agency’s bottom line.
For example, Melero’s team recently overhauled the processing times webpage, which is among the 50 most popular U.S. federal webpages. The team’s modifications reduced inquiries about cases outside normal processing times by 22 percent and saved more than $1 million in less than a year. Moreover, the team improved the readability, accuracy, and transparency of the webpage.
Similarly, the investments Melero’s team has made in building a user-friendly online filing system have completely remodeled and modernized how the agency processes immigration forms. Stakeholders and users alike have praised the design, which is based on real user input. Operationally, the benefits include applications that are more complete, no rejections, and making the agency’s long-term quest of a paperless case management system a vibrant reality. With limited but targeted promotion, users are steadily adopting online filing in lieu of paper applications. Almost two-thirds of all Green Card replacement applications—one of USCIS’ highest volume forms—are now submitted online.
Melero’s steady vision is giving fee-paying applicants high quality and transparent service while improving efficiency throughout USCIS’ digital environment. The ideas and designs Ms. Melero has brought to life build users’ confidence and trust as they navigate the challenging and uncertain terrain of U.S. immigration law.