New York City’s 311 could become a model of customer service innovation
Innovative customer service is probably the last thing you would expect from a city government. And yet, New York Mayor Bloomberg came up with just that when he introduced ‘311’: THE number for New Yorkers to call when they have *any* question relating to their city, neighborhood or the city government.
In 1996, across the US, the 311 number was set aside as a non-emergency alternative for the well known ‘911’. Ever since, a growing number of American cities have introduced it to their citizens, including Chicago, which actually won a ‘Innovations in American Government’ award for it in 2002. However, Bloomberg’s initiative is the boldest so far to date: 8 million people in the most demanding and fast-paced place on earth certainly have a lot to ask and gripe about.
311 and the accompanying 24/7 ‘Citizen Service’ call center allows New Yorkers to immediately report everything from potholes and defect street lights to loud noise and parking violations, information on trash collection schedules or community center resources, or leaving a (frank) opinion for the Mayor. All this with live operators, who amongst them speak 170 languages, and who will give callers a tracking number so that they can follow up on the status of their requests.
311 is fast replacing New York’s 30+ call centers and hotlines. It received 600,000 calls since its launch in March of this year, and is expected to handle 12 million calls on an annual basis (source: CNN). Which means that besides delivering a great service to customers, it is also at the core of a massive management information system (MIS). To have millions of eyes and ears informing you of what’s wrong, unclear or doesn’t work around town, with a centralized authority sorting and indexing all of this, will give the city of New York a unique chance to know when, how and where to serve its ‘customers’!.
Add a smart website and live chat/email functionalities, and 311 could become a model of customer service innovation not only for city governments around the world, but also for the many corporations who still do not know how to deal with AND learn from customer complaints, inquiries, requests and suggestions.One central number or email as the key to true MIS riches?! One-Contact Center experts, IT suppliers, customer service managers and marketers: pay attention!