The City of Philadelphia takes serving its citizens seriously and reaching city government is a snap for residents through the Philly 311 Call Center, which just celebrated its fifth year anniversary December 31. Citizens may get answers to city questions by simply dialing 311.
"It’s really City Hall in the palm of your hand. You call that one number, easy to remember – 311. You don’t even need to know anybody at City Hall to get things done. This is about treating our citizens like customers," said Rich Negrin, deputy mayor and managing director.
Just a week before its five-year anniversary, the six millionth call came into the contact center. The call was underwhelming, a question about trash, but it was a major milestone for the operation.
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"It’s exciting, something different every day. You never know what you are going to get. It’s pretty fulfilling knowing that you are going to help the citizens of Philadelphia," said Morris Hobson, who's been taking 311 calls for the past two years.
"There’s a number of crazy calls we get from people asking for the number to ShopRite and to wanting to just vent sometimes. Sometimes we are acting as operators and sometimes as therapists, just friends."
Since the center launched, the average call length is 3:07 minutes, and the wait time is less than 40 seconds, according to Negrin.
"What 311 does is it actually gets people involved. It’s really a good community engagement organization. It gets businesses together to clean up their area. It helps (connect people) with the police, fire and L&I," said Barbara Kelley, of the Point Breeze Community Development Corporation.
Kelley is one of 900 neighborhood liaisons who facilitiate requests in their communities. One such request was to make the city aware of a home that became an eye soar in the 1900 block of Titan Street. After the issue was reported via 311 and the property improved, the block saw a transformation.
Since its inception, Philly 311 has not seen a drop off in the number of calls. Every year, there's been more than 1 million calls into the center. Rosetta Lue of the office of the Managing Director believes it's because the customer service experience has been good and citizens tell their friends about the service and the swift results.
There are 40 contact center agents, or operators, that take the public's calls from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each weekday. The agents faciliate service requests and handle questions not relatred to city government by directing callers to the information they are seeking.
Recently, Philly 311 has added digital channels to its customer service. Citizens may contact the call center via a mobile app, email, website and on social media. There have been 23,904 mobile app service requests to date and 48,355 visits to the walk-in facility in City Hall. The most popular service requests are about residential maintenance, trash collection, graffiti removal, street light outages and illegal dumping.