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Evanston 311: City Celebrates Five-Year Anniversary of Its Successful 311 Call Center

Evanston 311: City Celebrates Five-Year Anniversary of Its Successful 311 Call Center

This post is part of our weeklong celebration of 311 Day on March 11th. Use the hashtag #Getthe311 to follow the celebration on Twitter.

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Earlier this month, the City of Evanston, Illinois, celebrated the five-year anniversary of its successful 311 call center. The success of the program can be summed up by this July article in the Chicago Tribune.

Columnist Christine Wolf describes how, following an accident involving her son, Evanston 311 helped drive change that brought improved signage to a dangerous intersection. “Knowing I had someone to call about an issue important to me kept the lines of communication open and positive – a much-needed reminder for this working mom,” she wrote.

Since implementation, the City has received 678,101 calls, 132,270 requests, 9,916 live chats and 1,459 texts. What makes Evanston 311 worth celebrating is the City's commitment to public service. In addition to a 311 line, the City offers SMS, live chat, web and mobile channels for residents to submit a request or gather information.

I spoke with Sue Pontarelli, Manager of Evanston 311, about the anniversary, customer service and how Accela Citizen Relationship Management has contributed to a successful program.

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Since the launch of Evanston 311, the City has introduced new channels for communication.
One such channel is the Accela Citizen Relationship Management mobile app.

How are you celebrating Evanston 311’s five-year anniversary?

The idea to celebrate our five-year anniversary came from Wally Bobkiewicz, the City Manager. He has been a staunch supporter of ours, and he organized all department heads, who acknowledged the team.

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The team behind Evanston 311 (Sue is seated far right).

In what ways has customer service changed in those five years? Do you see a difference in government customer service vs. customer service in the private sector?

I believe customer service doesn't necessarily change – the focus is always on how we can help you. You asked me the difference between government customer service and customer service in the private sector, and I really don't see much of a difference. Both sectors still focus on this simple question: "What can we do for you?"

Government call centers are mostly associated with large cities. Why did Evanston (population 75,658 based on 2014 Census estimates) decide to implement 311?

We wanted to increase efficiency, accountability, convenience and accessibility. In order to see increases, we needed to offer a single point of contact that would make it easy to manage citizen/city communication.

To prepare for implementation, we looked at six call centers in the area to learn best practices and what might work in Evanston, and on March 1, 2011, we launched Evanston 311.

There are many different types of "customers" in Evanston, from young families, to college students, to long-time residents, to non-English speaking residents. How does your team use different channels to reach residents?

We have two Spanish-speaking customer service representatives in the call center and a language line with access to over 100 languages. [22 percent of Evanston residents speak a language other than English.]

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With Accela’s One Voice technology, Evanston residents can submit
a request via the mobile app or web in their native language.

As is the case in college towns, students prefer to text or chat, rather than call in. We provide a mobile app, live chat and live text features for those who prefer those channels. In general, we made a conscious effort to offer many channels, in order to accommodate our many types of residents.

By having multiple channels, our call center isn't just open 7-7. With the mobile app and web portal, we are open 24/7.

What are some of the common requests you take in the city?

Special trash pickups and building permits are the two most popular requests. [Since April 2014, 11,395 special trash pickups and 9,707 building permit requests have been submitted.]Residents also like our “Ask a Question” request, which makes it easy for them to submit a question if they don't identify the exact service request. [Through Accela, Evanston 311 also offers a detailed resident-facing knowledge base with answers to common resident questions.]

What sort of promotion have you done in Evanston to make sure residents know how to report an issue?

We make a conscious effort of engaging our community to make sure they are aware of Evanston 311 and the services we provide. Through a partnership with a local car dealer, we received a vehicle that promotes the program as it travels through Evanston and while stationed at local events through 311 messaging on decals.

We’ve gone to the Northwestern University campus and engaged students directly. To promote our mobile app, we include information on water bills that go to Evanston residents.

Where would you like to see Evanston 311 go in the next five years?

In the next five years, I’d like to add more services and expand Evanston 311 to other agencies and organizations in the city and neighboring suburbs. Involving more groups expands 311’s value to residents and consolidates resources.

Right now, we are piloting a partnership with Open Communities, a fair housing agency, and we also hope to incorporate information about social services for children and aging individuals.

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For more information on Accela Citizen Relationship Management, click here.

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