The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

Citizens will be able to track their requests online, decreasing repeat phone calls to 311

thumb IMG_5782On Oct. 17, the Standing Policy Committee on Utilities and Corporate Services met to receive an update on the progress of the City's 311 service improvements.

311 is a service provided by the City of Calgary where citizens can call in with general questions, complaints and other service requests.

 After hearing concerns from his constituents about 311, Ald. Peter Demong decided to put forward a notice of motion to the committee this past July. The notice of motion called for a review of 311 processes.

"The problem we have in the city is communication," Demong said after the meeting.

In September alone, more than 44,000 phone calls came in to 311. There are more than 450 different kinds of public requests dealt with, said Terry Pearce, manager for Citizen Services and 311. Calls can range from issues with potholes on roads to applying for permits.

Between the volume of incoming calls, the various public requests, the amount of IMG 5782In July, Ald. Demong put forward a notice of motion that called for a review of the 311 processes. One of the issues is that city business units and 311 operate on two different computer systems.

Photo by Deja Leonard
data received in 311 and the varying city departments, communication becomes an integral part of the entire problem resolution process.

Demong said that the City departments and 311 operate on two different computer systems, causing confusion for 311 operators. Miscommunication may cause 311 operators to give callers incorrect information. Repeat phone calls and unresolved requests may increase as a result, he said.

Also, an ongoing issue is that citizens are unable to track the progress of their requests, resulting in repeat phone calls to 311. Calgarians often have no idea what has been done about the issue.

In September a group of six city departments heads were formed to create the 311 Guiding Coalition. The coalition examines 311 processes and discuss how it can be improved. The group now meets monthly.

The main issues

"We would like to improve our back and forth communication (between 311 and city departments)," said Terry Pearce, manager for Citizen Services and 311.

One of the issues is that city business units and 311 operate on two different computer systems.

The 311 call process

1. A citizen calls in with a question, concern or request. This is called a Citizen Service Request, or CSR.
2. The 311 operator obtains as much pertinent information as possible.
3. The caller is given a reference number and call ends.
4. The operator will send the CSR to the appropriate city department. For example, if a citizen calls with a road maintenance request, the 311 operator will send the request to the city's Transportation department.
5. Once the request is received by the appropriate department, it determines whether the situation is worth pursuing depending on the City's standards.
6. Citizen may receive follow up call from the City department. Otherwise, the citizen must call 311 back if they'd like to receive an update.

Ald. Demong said that in order for a department to add a request into their work plan, 311 operators must close the citizen's service request file. As a result, citizens are being told their request has been closed even though the problem has not yet been fixed.

"We've got to make sure these systems are talking properly," Demong said. "The way the different computer systems are talking to each other is causing a confusion for 311 and the message that they send out to the questioners phoning in."

It was outlined in the meeting's agenda that 311 inquiries should be resolved mostly on a first call basis. Failure to solve problems on the first call may result in repeat phone calls. In addition, having a high number of unresolved service requests will result in a lack of customer confidence and overall quality of City service.

Making improvements

The following are a few of the major improvements proposed by the 311 Guiding Coalition, as outlined in the Oct. 17 meeting:

• Establish an online tracking system where citizens can follow the progress of their request, as well as follow up with citizens via the 311 centre.
• Create an automated system that will allow City business units and 311 to communicate more efficiently.
• Redefining work completion deadlines for each City department.

Ald. Demong noted that these changes will take time to implement.

"The fact that we're meeting regularly, that all the department heads are at the same table and that there's a good attitude going forward–that something needs to be done–is very encouraging."

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Have you ever had problems with the current 3-1-1 system? How do you see online tracking of 3-1-1 requests benefiting you? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.