How Three Cities Have Taken 311 Into the Digital Age

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This is a guest post by Gayatri Mohan. This article was originally published as part of a 311 Day series on the PublicStuff blog on March 11, 2015.

Newsom Makes Announcement With Obama's Top Information Officer Vivek KundraU.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra (L) talks with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom after a press conference announcing the launch of a national initiative to open 311 customer service centers to developers March 3, 2010 in San Francisco, California. Newsom and Kundra launched the national Open 311 Application Programming Interface (API), which will allow software developers to create web applications that will allow the general public to make service requests via smart phones directly to 311 systems bypassing often inundated call centers. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Remember Life Before 311?

Residents lucky enough to live in communities that operate 311 centers know the convenience of having one number to access a host of services and resources. Many of the communities that have used 311 the longest – places like Pensacola, Fla., McAllen, TX, New York City and Philadelphia – have benefited from evolving their 311 centers with the times. First launched for landline phones, they’ve seen a vast improvement in service delivery and city operations by merging call centers with other low-cost channels like mobile, web and SMS. Integrating the latest in communication mediums has not only delivered a consistent resident service experience, but also minimized the time cities spend entering and routing duplicate resident requests.

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311 call center success in the cities of Pensacola, Fla., Philadelphia and McAllen, Texas. (PublicStuff)

Establish a Clear Communication Strategy

Since Pensacola’s launch of its Pensacola 311 program, the city has achieved a 100% request closure rate because of its clear communication strategy to the public. For example, although certain request types on the web portal are categorized under the Police department, the city clarifies that emergency situations still need to be reported to 911 to avoid delayed response. To further facilitate the request submission process, the city offers additional resources like contact information for the Energy and Sanitation departments, so residents don’t have to go searching for them through the city website. Providing such detailed information right at the resident’s fingertips means that city officials spend less time answering common inquiries, and more time working to fix important community issues.

Build Easily Accessible Resources

Similar to Pensacola, the city of McAllen has built out a thorough library of answers to avoid spending time on commonly asked questions. Helpful articles like “Everything You Need to Know About Brush in McAllen” pop up as a resident tries to submit a request to provide immediate answers and open up time for call center staff to attend to more pressing issues. Making helpful resources accessible through various channels has allowed the city to achieve a 98% request closure rate through its call center alone.

Integrate With New Technology

Philadelphia is one of the largest US cities with a call center, and has taken more than 6 million calls with a wait time of less than 40 seconds and average call duration of 3 minutes. To offset the incredible call volume, Philadelphia has integrated its call center operations with their mobile and web platform, Philly 311. Building a connected system on the staff-end has allowed city officials to track and update submitted requests simultaneously across all platforms, avoiding duplication and manual data entry.

Using effective workflow management systems, cities have been able to route information to the right city official equipped with the required tools to fix and close out requests on time. This encourages residents to participate in improving their neighborhoods, improves the quality of community interactions, and raises public trust in government to create a continuous loop of constructive dialogue and feedback.

Gayatri Mohan bio photo 175x175About the Author: Gayatri Mohan is Marketing Team Lead at PublicStuff, a civic software company based in New York. She can be reached at gayatri@publicstuff.com.