Philadelphia 311 Service Calls For Help

Philadelphia's 311 contact center gets help from nonprofit to implement customer satisfaction surveys that improve non-emergency customer service.

Elena Malykhina, Technology Journalist

April 29, 2014

3 Min Read
(Source: Creative Commons, Adam Jones)

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Faced with a limited technology budget, but a need to improve the customer experience at its 311 non-emergency contact center, the City of Philadelphia did what many cities are trying: using data collection more intelligently and turning to partnerships outside the public sector.

Philadelphia's 311 contact center serves more than 1.5 million residents, businesses, and visitors seeking city-related services and information, according to the Philadelphia's deputy managing director Rosetta Carrington Lue.

One of Lue's responsibilities is serving as chief customer service officer, which led her to implement the city's Customer Service Support Plan, a performance-based initiative centered on improved customer service and responsiveness. At the heart of that initiative is the city's contact center, which needed a better way of collecting feedback from callers and coaching its employees to improve customer experience with each transaction.

"One challenge faced by many contact centers is staffing limitations to handle the volume of incoming customer traffic. There are barely enough employees to operate phones, let alone work on meeting or exceeding the organizational customer satisfaction performance goals," Lue said in a blog post on DigitalGov, a site managed by the General Services Administration's Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies.

[Free, easy-to-access government data helps the public participate in their communities. Read Open Data: Good For Citizens & Government.]

"We needed to find innovative solutions to effectively collect, and manage, accurate and real-time customer experience responses," she says.

Lue and her team turned to the private sector by partnering with a Fortune 500 company, which helped the city develop a customer satisfaction survey pro bono. The team also collaborated with a local non-profit organization for surveying and data-entry staffing support. As part of its Work Experience programs, the non-profit equipped the contact center with workers for up to 20 hours a week for a period of time or until they find employment.

The Work Experience employees receive formal training necessary to become familiar with the center's data collection processes. They are the ones who administer customer satisfaction surveys on the phone to callers who have agreed to participate. The workers then enter the results into a centralized database.

"Overall, our ability to gather customer satisfaction data has been instrumental in our growth as our city's customer service center. The data has improved our technology and business processes, external communication, and service offerings as we continue to strive for customer service excellence," says Lue.

The City of Philadelphia continues to use Work Experience programs to collect customer satisfaction surveys. Lue says the initiative also has been expanded to include social media data mining, where select agents monitor social media to see what the public is saying, such as which services they'd like to see offered or improved.

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About the Author(s)

Elena Malykhina

Technology Journalist

Elena Malykhina began her career at The Wall Street Journal, and her writing has appeared in various news media outlets, including Scientific American, Newsday, and the Associated Press. For several years, she was the online editor at Brandweek and later Adweek, where she followed the world of advertising. Having earned the nickname of "gadget girl," she is excited to be writing about technology again for InformationWeek, where she worked in the past as an associate editor covering the mobile and wireless space. She now writes about the federal government and NASA’s space missions on occasion.

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