Dial 311

What is 311? It is the ability to dial 311 from your local area and be connected with a local government contact centre that is able to quickly answer and effectively handle the broad, diverse range of questions that we as businesses and home owners may have of our local or regional government.

From an end user perspective, it is similar to the 411 directory assistance, in that no matter where you call from, you are pointed to a contact centre that has people that can provide an appropriate phone number for you. For 311, the idea is the same, except the contact centre staff are geared to provide information related to municipal government service information.

What is happening around 311?

Having worked with numerous governments on telecommunications, customer service and technology strategies, we have participated in, observed and continue to do research on 311 trends.

Our goal, particularly in the research area, is to understand the challenges, barriers and hindrances so that we can assist our clients (whether telecom customers or telecom vendors) provide effective technology solutions.

Many municipal governments in Canada and the U.S. are in the process of moving towards a 311 information service to help serve the public more effectively and efficiently. Some of them are further along in the process than others, and have uncovered a common discovery. 311 is not only about technology; it is about re-engineering how governments serve the public in providing their diverse range of services.

Governments have many taken different approaches on how they re-engineer their human capital to support their 311 contact centres. Their approaches to designing and implementing the people and technology solutions are diverse.

They range from putting more live agents with the right technology and information tools to answer the calls ‘live’ and triage the calls trying to provide information and answers with the first call. Others have used technology solutions as the filter, and then attempted to route the calls to the appropriate department, still trying to minimize the number of transfers and efficiency of the calls.

What are the challenges of implementing 311?

For government departments and various personnel:

If the front line staff, management and leadership do not understand, embrace and implement the concepts of business re-engineering as part of the 311 strategies and implementation, the technology solutions will not be successful in being able to improve efficiencies and customer service.

Government groups will also not be able to gain efficiencies and improve service without looking at the big picture beyond the contact centre front door.

Given that 311 is about business re-engineering and not only technology, many governments start with the technology first and then discover the difference. Without considering the business and people impact, it will not be possible to gain operational efficiencies to support the necessary offset technology investments that may be necessary.

Communications and collaboration are also key for a successful implementation. By this we mean human communications; between the departments, the vendors and the public at large.

From our research and experience, most of the successful campaigns for 311 projects have had the politicians, the administration and the vendors working together to educate and inform the public constituents’ of the project; from start to finish.

Some of the U.S. projects have even had public councils with the public providing guidance, recommendations and input as to how they would like to see government support them. This is a novel concept, and we applaud the governments that took this approach!

For telecommunications vendors:

Many telecom industry professionals incorrectly position 311 as a technology-only solution with their government clients. This technology only narrow view does not enable the governments to successfully implement a 311 solution. Why, you wonder?

The 311 contact centre staff need to have the information available at their fingertips about the many government functions, operational requirements and processes in order to be able to handle the public inquiries with the least amount of time and effort.

This approach involves information and performance management solutions from a variety of inputs whether that is contact centre performance data, information tracking (i.e. trouble tickets) and even skills and department data (i.e. who does what within the many departments of government).

The effective solution really is a complex data warehouse solution married to the contact centre solution, aligned to the current and future government businesses processes.

What are the benefits of 311?

For the public:

An effective 311 solution enables the public to call, e-mail or Web browse to get the information they want with the least amount of time and effort on their part. Additionally, if they are required to contact the government again for follow-ups, they are able to minimize the amount of time involved as the personnel they are working with have the visibility and information about their previous inquiries so that they don’t have to start over from the beginning.

For the administrative, operations, management and elected officials:

There are numerous benefits for staff, administration, management and politicians including:

–improved customer service and efficiency;

–improved contact centre staff morale by being able to solve the public’s problems the first time and not dealing with service escalations and complaints;

–visibility to volumes and types calls, types of problems and concerns (for staff, operations and politicians) and;

–being able to do more with the same number of headcount through improved efficiencies

In some cases, we have even seen increased sources of government revenue (we can provide further details)


We encourage municipal and regional governments to look at the broader picture of 311 and embrace the business re-engineering approach, combined with multiple technologies.

It starts with a long-term customer service strategy, then evolves with the end state being a multi-medium 311 contact centre solution and implementation to be successful.

We challenge the telecommunications and IT industry vendors to consider the total technologies approach of information triage and information management, which is way beyond the traditional call centre with its narrow performance management metrics and measurements.

We also request that they consider, embrace and adopt the ‘big picture’ business re-engineering approach to ensure that their technology solutions will be successful.

Lastly, as government customers ourselves, we welcome the evolution of municipal governments being able to provide effective 311 solutions to minimize our time, effort and stress

As always, Roberta welcomes your thoughts and feedback. Feel free to contact when dealing with local governments. We hope they get there soon!

her at editor@foxgroup.ca or 1.866.FOX.GROUP (369.4768).

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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