manager, 311 Operations Centre

The City of Calgary launched Canada’s first 311 municipal phone service May 18, connecting citizens with non-emergency City services, and handling requests from initial intake through to resolution.

Since the launch there has been good news and bad news, according to Terry Pearce, manager of Calgary’s 311 Operations Centre.

“We have lots of people paying attention to us,” said Pearce. “We are proud of where we are, but every step we take is in unchartered territory.”Citizens want to know who they talk to and they want to have a file for their interactions with the city.Terry Pearce>Text Pearce said his team is definitely working outside the box and everything they are doing is brand new.

Calgary’s pilot 311 implementation enables citizens to dial one number, 311, 24 hours a day, seven days a week to get program information, to request a city service or report municipal problems, according to a City of Calgary press release.

“When 311 went live there was a corresponding media blitz,” said Pearce. “We had people who called us, and when we answered the phone they said, ‘Gee, it does work.'”

Pearce said that in the first week call volumes were higher than municipal planning authorities thought they were going to be.

“We have been struggling, in the mornings in particular, to meet our planned service levels for customers,” Pearce said. “By the afternoon it smoothens out and we are good until the next morning. We were able to remove some staff from the overnight shift and put them on to the day shift.”

Citizens, whether reporting a pothole to be fixed, requesting a building inspection or needing a missed garbage pick-up will receive a tracking, or Service Request (SR) number, which guarantees the completion of the work request, according to the City. This guarantee ensures that the work order was logged, was sent to the right place, and will be acted upon within a set time frame.

“In the focus groups that were held a year-and-a-half ago, SR number tracking was something that was identified as highly desirable,” said Pearce. “Citizens want to know who they talk to and they want to have a file for their interactions with the city. It is something new for a municipal government to provide citizens with a file number that they can track the progress of their request with.”

Pearce said that when his staff provides citizens with an SR number it’s a real wow factor.

“I think it is something that citizens are embracing, and hopefully they don’t have to call back because we are meeting their service guidelines out in the field,” Pearce said.

Traditionally it had been difficult to follow up service requests as Calgary used various systems to route work orders. City research shows that citizens didn’t know which municipal department to call, perusing 165-plus listings in the phone directory and sometimes dialing several numbers before getting the appropriate area.

“311 provides a vital information hub for managing citizen requests,” said Pearce. “Staff can access up-to-the-minute data on the nature of problems, location, time of day, which department responded and length of response time.”

Calgary’s 311 program coordinates with 911 emergency response so that it will be used for emergencies only, and with 211 (information/referral for social and health issues) so that the three numbers complement each other.

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