311 is not as easy as 1-2-3

So we just finished a special pre-conference session on city 311 systems, and some of the panelists cited a common problem: You set up this great 311 system, and then what happens? Other departments and jurisdictions want to horn in on your success without paying their fair share or doing the work!
by | May 28, 2008
 

From Governing's Managing Technology Conference in Seattl:

So we just finished a special pre-conference session on city 311 systems, and some of the panelists cited a common problem: You set up this great 311 system so your residents can get information and customer service quickly, and then what happens? Other departments and jurisdictions want to horn in on your success without paying their fair share or doing the work!

No fair, says the director of the Chicago 311 call center, known for its smooth operators and efficient service.

Chicago's 311 call center was getting 2.3 million calls in 2001 and that number practically doubled this year, to 4.5 million, said Phillip Hampton, director of 311 City Services. In return, the call center is being pushed and prodded to take over the Chicago Transit Authority's call center.

"Once a system works well," he said, "you get demands from other agencies and sister departments."

Then there's the issue of county residents getting "free" city help. Some 15 percent of calls to Chicago's 311 are actually county-related. But the county provides no funding or staffing to help out. "We're being taken advantage of," said Hampton.

The Chicago call center reps won't hang up on people calling the city's information line with questions about county services. That wouldn't reflect well on the center, or its mission of providing quality service to all callers. So the city does the heavy lifting for the county, which does not have 311, but small individual call centers buried in various departments. Those departments are not open on weekends, when Chicago's call center is.

In July, Governing will publish a feature on regional 311 that addresses some of Hampton's concerns, focusing on the issue of regionalizing 311 systems.

The 311 forum was far from a gripe session. Speakers from around the country were there to share lessons they've learned from instituting 311:

- Get the right people "on the bus" with the right motivations; do quality assurance and foster a culture of continuous improvement. John Dejung, director, 911/311, Minneapolis

- Give careful thought to training needs and resources; develop a strategic plan for how technology will be utilized. Kenneth Gwynn, Strategic Customer Service Director, Dallas 311.

- Have a vision and create a roadmap to get there; don't open if you don't have buy-in from the top to the bottom of your organization. Julie Habiger, Communications and Public Relations Administrator, Los Alamos County, NM.

- Build it and callers will come; growth is inevitable and training is essential. Phillip Hampton, director, 311 City Services, Chicago.

- Set a realistic launch date that you can meet; maintain your business analysis process for at least two years after the launch. Mike Major, director, 311 Customer Care Operations, Denver.

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