DC's 311 Could Use A Little TLC

Walking home during yesterday afternoon's fierce 30-mph winds, I had a moment of excitement. I had my first opportunity to use DC's newly revamped 311 system!
by | February 11, 2008
 

Phone Walking home during yesterday afternoon's fierce 30-mph winds, I had a moment of excitement. I had my first opportunity to use DC's newly revamped 311 system!

Yeah, yeah: nerd alert. Whatever.

Now, first of all, it should be said that I'm a little spoiled on 311 systems. I've attended a few Governing conferences in which cities (most notably New York) have shown off their incredibly advanced 311 call centers. Cities like New York, Chicago, Denver and San Francisco have worked incredibly hard to streamline a caller's experience, often with goals like having a human being answer the phone within 15 seconds.

So I tried to keep my expectations for DC low.

Even so, I was underwhelmed.

Okay, so I was walking home when I saw a huge limb that had split off from a tree on 18 Street. It was blocking much of the sidewalk and about half of one lane of traffic on the street itself.

This, I thought, is a job for 311!

So I called from my cell to report it.

I was first met with what seemed to me an unnecessary -- and unnessecarily long -- recorded welcome:  "Thank you for calling the District of Columbia's 311 citywide call system -- your resource for city services and information."

Do I need to hear any of that? I know it's 311; I just called you.

The recording continued: "If you are calling because you have an emergency for fire, police, or ambulance, please press 1."

Isn't this even more of an argument for doing away with the first welcome script?  If you're calling for an emergency, shouldn't that be your very first option?

"If you are not calling for an emergency, please listen to the following list of options..."

There were a couple different choices for health services, etc.  Bottom line, I didn't choose any of them and just waited for a live person to pick up.

Admittedly, I was talking to a human being within probably 3 minutes of when I called. So it wasn't a huge wait. But the service I got, while totally passable, wasn't all that great.

311 Operator:  "Thank you for calling 311.  How can I help you?"

Me:  "I'd like to report a tree limb that's been blown down and is partially blocking a city street."

311 Operator:  "A tree limb?"

Me:  "Yes."

311 Operator:  [total silence for 60 seconds]  "What is the address?"

Me:  "18th and S Street, Northwest."

311 Operator:  [total silence for 60 seconds]  "Okay.  I have opened a ticket for that request.  I'm about to give you a seven-digit confirmation number for the request."

Me:  "Okay.'

311 Operator:  [total silence for 30 seconds, then, presumably speaking to her computer] "Oh, come on!"

Me:  [silent]

311 Operator: [total silence for 90 more seconds]

Me:  "Hello?"

311 Operator: [silent]

So I hung up the phone.  (I didn't even want a seven-digit confirmation number anyway.)

So all in all, it was okay, I guess -- even though the tree limb was still there when I walked by this morning. It's just that I've seen 311 systems done SO WELL in other cities. I'm hopeful that DC's can improve to be on their level.

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