Austerity. Budget cuts. Eliminated municipal services. It's on everyone's mind. But it's happening, increasingly, on 311 call centers implemented to help city residents interact with city services.
The problem is these 311 call centers, which citizens can call for information on social services, garbage pick-up, storm damage, snow plowing and other non-emergency services, simply aren't showing much of a return on investment, and many of them have become quite expensive.
Labeled with the tagline, “One Call to City Hall” when it launched in 2005, Detroit's 311 Call Center fielded calls with customer service representatives, who, according to the 311 service's Web page, were equipped to help with more than 400 different requests
The problem became apparent in the years that followed: the cost was too high. Detroit had one of the most expensive 311 call centers in the country, according to analysis by Pew (News - Alert) Charitable Trust researchers who found that, among the cities examined, Detroit's was the priciest, coming in at about $7.78 per call.
When the city realized this was the case, it made a quick decision to suspend operations at its 311 call center on June 30, 2012, the close of its fiscal year, according to Government Technology. The city now directs residents to its services website and the telephone numbers of the municipal departments that can answer their questions or deal with their issues.
Spencer Stern, a consultant in the 311 industry, told Government Technology that while municipalities have greater need to prove a return on investment for non-emergency call centers in the current economic environment, it can be done. City leaders see the 311 centers as a way to streamline their operations and improve customer service. “You’re going to get a higher level of customer service and if you can do it at a break-even point or even be able to save money in the long term, that's a bonus,” Spencer said.
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Edited by Braden Becker