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Detroit Closes 311 Call Center Due to Cost

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July 16, 2012

Detroit Closes 311 Call Center Due to Cost

By Susan J. Campbell, TMCnet Contributing Editor

Emergency call centers established to protect the public in the event of an emergency are common and needed facilities within any populated area. Non-emergency call centers, however, must be able to justify their existence or risk being shut down. For one non-emergency call center in Detroit, the return on investment has not been proven.

This recent Government Technology article highlights the plight of this Detroit-based call center. Why the problem? According to the Pew (News - Alert) Charitable Trust, the call center has the most expensive cost per call among analyzed cities. At $7.78 per call to simply answer resident questions related to services provided by the city, Detroit can no longer afford to keep this call center running. 

Citizens who still need questions answered are encouraged to reach out to individual departments using direct lines and e-mail addresses, all made available on the city’s website. 

This move marks the failure of the “One Call to City Hall” as the city dubbed its 311 call center initiative. Customer service representatives were used to field calls, each one trained and equipped to handle more than 400 different types of requests. Now, the city will be faced with justifying the cost of handling those calls within individual departments.

One 311 industry consultant, Spencer Stern, told Government Technology in an interview that proving the return on investment for a non-emergency call center is a challenge for municipalities. Even with the current economic challenges, it is possible to demonstrate the value in such a center. For city leaders, these facilities are a way to streamline operations and deliver improved customer care. 

One of Stern’s specialties is assisting cities throughout the nation with key elements of the 311 call center implementation, helping leaders make the business case to decision makers, while also consulting on the implementation of the necessary technology to manage customer interactions. He currently works with call centers in Omaha, Neb., Elgin, Ill. and Carlsbad, California. 

Stern believes cities can benefit from the 311 call center by looking at key savings. For one, citizens that take the time to contact the city directly may think they know the best extension to call, but even the most informed guess is often wrong. As a result, city staffers spend time redirecting individuals to the right office or contact. The agent in the 311 call center is better equipped to respond to the call, regardless of its purpose. 

Improved city workflows are also enabled with the 311 call center as they help to reduce overtime for city staff and facilitate quicker resolution on citizen interactions. Likewise, self-service tools offered by CRM vendors can also incorporate into the mix. Citizens able to solve their problem or find the answer to their problem on their own are also saving the city money. 

While Stern is not privy to the financials of the city of Detroit, he still advises that all municipalities conduct due diligence on true value versus cost before closing a 311 call center.

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Edited by Allison Boccamazzo

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