Thought Leadership

311 Programs Improve Service to Citizens, But Cost is an Issue

Outsourcing helps cities control rising 311 costs.

Thanks to innovative uses of mobile apps, social media, and online self-help channels, cities of all sizes in the United States are enjoying success with 311 non-emergency hotline programs.

City managers are discovering that information collected through 311 channels has great value and can help city departments work smarter. According to Governing magazine, Buffalo, N.Y., used 311 data to identify blighted neighborhoods in need of clean-up and to target city outreach programs for healthcare and employment services. In Chicago, city officials sort through 311 call data to stop rat infestations before they grow out of control.

When used effectively, 311 programs have great potential to improve non-emergency city services and the quality of life for residents. But on the flip side, cities must be conscious of program costs. An oft-cited Pew Charitable Trusts study (now about five years old) found the average cost of a phone call to a 311 center was $3.40. Some cities had much higher costs, including Detroit, which averaged $7.78 per call at the time of the study.

A recent analysis of Vancouver, Canada’s 311 program found an average cost of $5.50 per 311 calls. The city’s 311 call center’s most-asked-question for the year (about the pay-by-phone parking app) generated at least 73,000 calls at the cost of $401,500.

311 programs in large cities that incorporate contact centers, online services such as mobile apps, social media, and online self-help resources require big, multi-million-dollar budgets (NYC 311 handles some 36 million customer contacts a year, for example).

Cities anticipate that 311 program costs can be reduced (and valuable data collected) through the increased use of mobile apps and online channels, which steer citizens’ questions, different types of service requests, and complaints away from the call center.

Reducing 311 costs by outsourcing

Another strategy cities employ to reduce 311 costs is outsourcing—turning over the day-to-day management of the 311 call center to a non-emergency service provider. One reason for call centers’ higher costs is the need to recruit, hire, and train skilled and talented agents who become the “face” of the city. Hiring and training top-tier agents do not come cheap. But an experienced call center services provider will have refined and streamlined the hiring, training, and management processes required for a 311 call center. Cities have found that shifting operations to an experienced contact center services provider can bring costs under control and improve customer service to citizens.

The City of El Paso turned over the management of its 311 call center to DATAMARK in 2015. The call center is located in a City facility, allowing for excellent oversight and communication between the center and City departments. Outsourcing has allowed the City to control costs (through its contractual agreement with DATAMARK) and frees up City managers to focus on core activities such as developing long-term strategies for providing better service delivery to citizens.

Are you looking for an experienced call center services provider for your community’s 311 programs? Reach out to a DATAMARK 311 services specialist today.

The post 311 Programs Improve Service to Citizens, But Cost is an Issue appeared first on Call Center Insights.

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