|City's 311 Call Center to Hit 1 Million Calls Today
|September 23, 2009 - When the City of Knoxville’s new 311 Call Center opened its lines for business on the morning of May 5, 2005, the initial response was 14 long minutes of silence.
“The first call we got was for a courtesy box, a dumpster,” said 311 Director Russ Jensen. “That was the very first one, at 9:14 a.m. We were just doing the Public Service Department (calls) then.”
Since that first morning the phone lines at Call 311 have rarely fallen silent and around 3 p.m. this afternoon the city’s customer service center will answer its one millionth call.
As with past milestones in the small office on the sixth floor of the City County Building this one won’t be celebrated with popping champagne cork, bells, whistles and flashing lights.
Instead one of the Call 311’s seven staff members will answer the call and quickly respond to a Knoxville citizen requesting a service, reporting a problem or seeking information about the city – just like they do more than 5,000 times every week.
Establishing a 311 system for city residents was one of Mayor Bill Haslam’s goals during his first term in office. He wanted a city customer service center where Knoxville residents could call a single number to report a problem or get information.
Before 311 was instituted city residents faced a sometimes bewildering network of more than 100 different numbers to access various city services.
“This is a great accomplishment and I’m very proud of the folks in 311. They do a wonderful job and this is a reflection of their efforts,” Haslam said. “We expected 311 to be success because it makes its easier for people to contact us, makes it easier to get their requests to the right department and makes it easier for us to act on those requests.”
“But I don’t think we envisioned getting these numbers this quickly and I think this shows that people are really satisfied with 311 and are comfortable using it. I couldn’t be more pleased,” he added.
Jensen, who has directed the office since its beginning said he was a little surprised at reaching the million mark this soon.
“I thought it would take three years longer,” he said. “I thought we would top out at 160,000 to 170,000 calls a year. I’m pleased I was wrong.”
The 311 customer service agents take calls for city departments ranging from Public Service to Parks and Recreation to Engineering and Community Development. So they get everything from complaints about potholes to questions about traffic tickets and softball schedules.
Experts on the city and its services, they can usually provide the information within a minute and a half.
Service requests are submitted to the proper departments and entered into the city’s tracking system. That allows both the caller - and city managers - to keep up with the status of a request. The 311 Center also provides comprehensive data to city departments that managers can use to better plan and provide services.
“The single most important thing we have done is to make it easier for citizens to navigate the myriad of services the city provides,” Jensen said. “We’ve created a single point of entry for government services.”
The 311 customer service agents include Shawanna Tipton – the only one left from that first day – and Jay McRae, Lisa Wood, Justin Bradley, Breyaunna Holloway and Denise Johnston.
The most common calls are questions about City Court or are from people making overgrown or dirty lot complaints.
Jensen will have pizza and cake for the 311 staffers today to celebrate hitting the mark, but it won’t be a long celebration.
“No, because we’ll be on to one million and one right after that,” he said.
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