Thought Leadership

Cities Respond to Demand for Bilingual 311 Services

As the Hispanic population grows in the U.S., more and more cities that operate 311 contact centers face challenges serving citizens who primarily speak Spanish.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the Hispanic population is projected to grow from 57 million, or 18 percent of the nation’s total population today to 119 million, or 29 percent of the population, by 2060. The census reports that 40 million U.S. residents age 5 and older spoke Spanish at home in 2015.

Although more than half (59 percent) of Spanish speakers in the U.S. also speak English as a second language (ESL), there are many first-generation immigrants and others who feel most comfortable speaking Spanish—especially when it comes to making 311 calls and 911 calls, which may involve emergencies or complex issues requiring clear and immediate communication between call center agents and citizens.

These statistics highlight the need for cities to prepare for the growing demand for equal access to bilingual 311 contact center services. In El Paso, Texas, where the population is primarily Hispanic, new hires of 311 agents are required to be bilingual—they must demonstrate proficiency in serving customers in English and Spanish. The city outsources its 311 contact center operations to DATAMARK, which also handles the recruiting and hiring of bilingual agents.

Other cities with 311 programs have also been proactive with regard to their LEP (limited English proficiency) residents. New York City’s Executive Order No. 120 requires city agencies to provide language support to LEP individuals. New York’s 311 call center’s service level requirements include a 30-second average time to get an interpreter on the line for the city’s most commonly requested languages: Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Russian.

Having a 311 program is not just a service mark of the City of New York. Similarly, San Francisco has been aggressive in finding ways to close the “language gap” in its 311 services by getting the word out to the community about its 311 center’s ability to serve Chinese-language and Spanish speakers, which make up most of the city’s ELL (English Language Learners) population.

Most U.S. city governments recognize the need to address service gaps for LEP residents—not only does it help make city services better for all citizens, but it also supports the intent of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and Executive Order 13166, which requires organizations supported by federal funds to ensure that LEP persons have “meaningful access” to the organizations’ programs and activities.

Cities that proactively develop plans and policies to support 311 services in English, Spanish, and other languages can reduce their exposure to Title VI complaints and lawsuits.

If you are a city leader or administrator interested in learning more about the benefits of outsourcing your 311 contact center services while ensuring that your citizens are served in multiple languages, visit or reach out to one of our contact center specialists for a complimentary initial consultation at or 1-877-667-2151.

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