As spokesperson for the Department of Human Services, Hank Jongen knows a thing or two about what it’s like to be interviewed on radio. We sit down with Hank to reflect on his time on talkback radio over the last decade.
How did you start on talkback radio?
At the time, there was a high demand for information for customers and the department was constantly being contacted to appear on programs such as A Current Affair and Today Tonight. We made the conscious decision to proactively go out on talkback radio, where we could provide an opportunity to explain payments, services and policies to customers, and to manage their customer service expectations.
My talkback sessions have evolved from short, 10-minute interviews to guaranteed minimum half-hour segments. I’m presented as someone who is senior in the department, someone who listens and someone who resolves issues.
When I meet staff in person, I often joke with them that I’m a ‘glorified call centre operator’ – the difference is that instead of speaking to one person at a time, I can reach anywhere between 100,000 to 250,000 customers at once.
What’s your favourite part about doing talkback radio interviews?
Unquestionably my favourite part is the interaction I have with customers. On occasions, I’ve been able to intervene when people are lost in the system. As a result of my appearances, I also receive a lot of emails from customers about issues they are experiencing. Staff go the extra mile to resolve these issues, which I appreciate immensely as this reflects back on my credibility. It’s also always rewarding to receive thank you emails from customers after their issues have been resolved.
What’s the hardest part about doing talkback radio?
The hardest part of the job is the unexpected nature of the calls that come in. There’s no way for me to anticipate the calls I’m going to receive and I can’t just take calls “on notice” – I have to be well across the technical aspects of our payments and services, which requires a great deal of preparation.
So how do you prepare for an interview?
Technology has helped a lot! I used to have to carry around two big folders of briefs, but now everything is on my iPad. I work closely with the department’s media officers who give thought to the types of questions callers might ask, and then they put me through the hoops to test my knowledge.
Are there any calls that have stood out to you during your talkback sessions?
Although it’s a very rewarding job, it can also be tough when the situation is out of our hands. One of the most heartbreaking calls I’ve ever received was from a customer in receipt of the Disability Support Pension. It was late at night and I was appearing on Tony Delroy’s Nightlife program.
The customer told me he was living in a friend’s garage in Sydney because that was the only rent he could afford. His friend was about to sell his house and he was desperately looking for help.
I’ll never forget the anxiety in his voice, which has stuck with me to this day. I spoke to him off-air after the program and was able to put him in touch with one of our department’s Social Workers. I just can’t imagine being in that situation – it’s something I will never forget.
Do you have any other stand out memories?
Another time that stands out to me was my involvement in the Brisbane Floods in 2011. I spent four solid days traveling from news crew to news crew, updating them with information and reminding people of the support and payments available. From there we travelled up to Northern Queensland, which had been devastated by Cyclone Yasi. This experience made me realise how important our department’s role is during an emergency. It all comes down to the fantastic work our staff do, and I’m proud to represent the best values of customer service that our staff provide.
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Hank also provides monthly updates on the department’s YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/HumanServicesGovAU