From "there's a chicken in my hallway" to "when does the library open?" city government gets a far wider range of customer service calls than do most businesses.
That doesn't mean that cities can afford to be any less responsive. In fact, they might need to be more so. A disgruntled citizen who can vote someone out of a job can have greater power than a disgruntled customer no longer buying products.
The need for a centralized repository of city information has inspired 311, a phone line similar to 911 that was reserved for police non-emergency calls when it was created. Not all cities are utilizing 311, but Indianapolis is preparing for it and New York City's 311, the largest 311 operation in the country, just recently celebrated its two-year anniversary.
"The first year and a half, we focused a great deal of effort on increasing our level of service and access to government for citizen callers," said Dean Schloyer, executive director of NYC 311. "We wanted them to be able to call a single number, get any type of service or information and not have to navigate New York City government themselves."
In the past two years, the New York City Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications went from 40 disparate municipal call centers and hotlines into one center under NYC 311. It has logged 18 million calls, an average of 40,000 a day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week in 170 different languages. NYC 311 has reduced the number of non-emergency calls to 911. In 2003, 911 handled 255,000 less calls than the previous year.
The city didn't have long to launch the system either. In January 2002, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his vision for the 311 service and by March 2003 it was up and running.
"There is a perception, probably rightly so, that a lot of problems reported to government don't get solved or get ignored," Schloyer said. "That focused our attention on customer service."
NYC 311 implemented CRM technology from San Mateo, Calif.-based Siebel Systems Inc. with help from Accenture Ltd., a Bermuda-based technology consulting service.
The primary tool for the 311 call center is a search tool. In the beginning, agents came from 40 call centers serving separate departments and possessed expertise only in limited areas. They needed to be able to quickly navigate through the information on the city's 6,000 services across more than 50 agencies. Accenture and NYC 311 spent a lot of time structuring the city's database of services in a way that would facilitate agent searches.
The project has helped to identify areas where there is unmet demand for city services and to determine departmental responsibilities, while also providing quick answers for citizens.
Moving forward, NYC 311 hopes to add field service capabilities, as well as BI and data warehousing features to leverage the data the system collects, Schloyer said.
NYC 311 staffs about 170 agents at peak calling times, usually Mondays or Wednesdays between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., and employs 450 total agents. It has an operating budget of $30 million.
Indianapolis's MAC attack
Halfway across the country, Indianapolis is working on a slightly smaller scale.
A 12-year-old citizen response system for the Mayor's Action Center (MAC) needed to be revamped. In fact, the company that created the old system is now bankrupt and offered no support, said Pat Holdsworth, MAC administrator. Indianapolis does not yet offer a 311 service, but will eventually, and this new system will be the backbone of it, he added.
Citizens call into a regular, seven-digit phone number and are routed into one of the four main areas: the Department of Public Works (where the frequent pothole calls are entered); the Animal Care and Control Division; the Division of Compliance for zoning, building inspection and permitting questions; and the Health and Hospital Corp., part of the county board of health. The center is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with 18 agents answering phones.
The new MAC, another Siebel Systems installation, provides a city-wide master database for agents to verify all addresses in the system. This in turn offers one of the most important features, the Global Information System (GIS), which connects every incident to a map of the city, Holdsworth said.
"There's a huge difference in private versus public CRM," Holdsworth said. "All these companies that have tracking systems, they want to know about the customer -- what you bought, what you should buy. For a municipality, everything we do is based on a location -- where something happened."
With all service requests entered into the system, citizens are able to track the progress of their request online and in real time.
Since June of last year, when the city turned on the switch, the center has fielded an average of 1,700 calls per day.
Additionally, the mapping and tracking capabilities allow the city to see where the gaps are in city services. There is no more finger-pointing between departments.
If there's one thing other municipalities should consider when looking at CRM systems for managing relations with citizens its working with their GIS departments, Holdsworth said.
"311 is inevitable for any major market; it's going to become the citizen's way to report things," Holdsworth said. "Our approach is we needed to get the CRM system in place first. 311 is the iceberg above the water, CRM is the iceberg below. You've gotta have that base."