June 4, 2009 By Bill Grabner Jr.
A 311 call-center model has emerged as a proven standard for municipal communications in numerous cities throughout the world. There are many reasons why a 311 contact center is a critical component in the efficient delivery of effective e-government. For example, opportunities exist to divert calls from the 911 emergency call center, improve citizen service, and better manage costs and budgets.
Consider the following questions to determine if you should consider creating a dedicated 311 contact center to serve your community:
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then establishing a dedicated 311 contact center to serve as an "interaction hub" for citizens, businesses and other government customers is worthy of serious consideration. However, simply diverting calls from 911 contact centers will solve only a small percentage of the overall challenge. Far broader opportunities exist to dramatically transform the citizen interaction experience in a more cost-effective manner. Here are some of the benefits of a 311 center and basic guidelines to follow when implementing one.
In the absence of a 311 contact center, a large number of calls to a 911 call center concerning noncritical situations, inquiries and requests can negatively impact its overall efficiency and effectiveness. Thus, a 311 contact center represents a way to deflect nonemergency calls from an overburdened emergency police, medical and fire contact center.
Also, the 311 contact center can serve as a backup for emergency contact centers during major emergencies, either freeing up emergency contact centers to handle critical calls or serving as a backup for a 911 contact center that has gone down.
Without a centralized 311 contact center, city managers have narrow views of what citizens most frequently need because departmental contact centers separately track citizen interactions.
A 311 contact center improves visibility and management of services because leaders can obtain a holistic understanding of the most common requests, where they occur and how quickly they are resolved. Management can also gain more relevant insight into the end-to-end citizen experience. This newly found knowledge lets managers better allocate existing resources and justify new staffing and technology resource requests to meet citizen demands for service.
Your new 311 contact center should not just relieve an overburdened 911 emergency contact center. It should also be a catalyst for significant transformation -- one that reinvents the way municipalities serve their citizens, improve constituent relationships and more efficiently use contact center resources. To succeed, the 311 contact center should be designed to focus on openness, interoperability, the citizen experience, agent and employee productivity, and business-process optimization.
Regardless of who owns an issue, citizen-service representatives working in the 311 contact center must be able to deliver accurate status updates and provide timely service. This is why it's so important to have an open platform that ties into all the systems used by citywide departments, such as electronic records and management systems, work order management applications, appointment scheduling systems, and customer relationship management solutions.
Open platforms are also necessary because third-party applications are often required to enhance the capabilities of the 311 contact center software. For instance, an interface with GIS is useful to verify that information received about an address is correct so that a work order can be quickly executed.