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311 service centre
Connecting with your customers and providing great customer service is no easy task. After all, most government agencies have a variety of clients all faced with a range of needs—enter centralized contact centres, or 311 service centres. These resource centres, most utilizing 311 phone numbers, have been around for close to 15 years. They were established to reduce the number of non-emergency calls made to 911, but they have since evolved to become a sort of one-stop shop for residents who are seeking local government services.For government agencies, the utilization of 311 call-centre technologies can be a great way to better understand and meet the needs of community members. Whether your agency is already using one of these centres or considering doing so, here is some useful information on how these centres may benefit your agency and on how to promote this service to your customers.

  • Receive and monitor service requests:  311 servicescan be a great way for residents to connect with and access government services—especially when residents aren’t sure who to call. For instance, residents are looking to report a missed trash pickup or a gigantic pothole left in the street by a snowplow. A simple call to a 311 resource centre can point them in the right direction. They are happy because they have a place to voice their concerns and get the help they need, and government agencies are happy because every request comes to one place, allowing for the easy monitoring of resident requests.
  • Standardize practices: A centralized place to log requests, complaints and feedback also allows government agencies to standardize responses, measure response time and track trends. Tracking data to monitor trends and standardized responses generally equates to increased efficiency. And increased efficiency can lead to greater satisfaction for community members and cost savings for the government.
  • Facilitate public outreach and engagement:  Many agency programs are largely underused due to a lack of awareness—people may not know the program exists, how to qualify for it or simply how to obtain resources from it. Centralized call centres provide residents access to and information about these vital government services at the touch of a button.

311 services: Anytime, anywhere
As 311 service centres become more widely used and, in turn, more in demand, so does the importance of anytime, anywhere access. 311 services are popping up in a variety of places:

  • Phone: 311 centres started as phone centres where residents could dial three simple numbers and obtain easy access to information. Most centres still operate as call centres today. Continue to promote your 311 call centre with mailer inserts, magnets and desk calendars. Be sure to include contact information and the types of services offered.
  • In person:  Some 311 centres are taking the next step by offering brick and mortar locations where residents can access information and services in person. These locations are generally strategically located—that is, they are placed in locations having high foot traffic, providing maximum accessibility to residents. Let your customers know they can stop in and take care of things like renewing dog licenses or obtaining public transit passes. Mail a reflective pet collar tag with dog tag renewal forms or hand out card holders for bus passes to raise awareness of your location—be sure to detail office hours and location information where applications and renewals are accepted.
  • Online: Expanding government website offerings to act as self-service platforms for community members not only provides convenience for residents, but it can also provide government cost savings. Many agencies are now capable of handling parking ticket payments, business license applications, volunteer and internship applications, and even animal control requests all online. Let your customers know they can handle these simple requests right from their own smartphone or computer. Next time someone uses your phone or in-person 311 services, mail a pad of Post-it® Notes or hand out a computer monitor sweeper with your 311 website imprinted on it to promote your online services.

Remember, providing community members with convenient ways to connect with and use government services can lead to a better understanding of resident needs, and more efficient and standardized government practices. And a one-stop shop approach to obtaining government programs and services, whether in person, online or over the phone, can be a great way to provide excellent customer service to residents of your community.

Moody, David, and Steve Carter. “Unlocking 311.” Open311 standard expands CRM systems’ potential. N.p., 1 Feb. 2011. Web. 30 June 2013.

County Gives Residents a New Way to Access Services.” American City & County Home Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 June 2013.

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