Yesterday, I was fortunate to present in a GovLoop webinar titled “A Case Study in Government Community Engagement Excellence” as part of The Changing Face of Customer Service training session. Packed with challenges and innovative solutions, I think the Philly311 case study had a lot to offer this webinar.
Aligned with Mayor Nutter’s Strategic Goal 5, “Philadelphia government works efficiently and effectively, with integrity and responsiveness” the Philly311 Contact Center was implemented in 2008 and tasked with providing 1.5 million residents, businesses and visitors with non-emergency municipal and special event information, directory assistance and field services. While implementing the 311 system was a task in itself, there were two key initial challenges that later helped lay the framework for how Philly311’s services evolved.
Challenge 1: In an organization as far-reaching and intricate as Philadelphia city government, customers are not often knowledgeable about specific processes, protocol or available resources to resolve problems.
Challenge 2: There were “zero” budget dollars allocated to promote the Philly311 operations to the public.
As these challenges informed one another, it became a priority to innovate, create programs and open our communication channels to meaningfully engage citizens. More specifically, it led to the creation of the Neighborhood Liaison Program and the Citizens Engagement Academy.
In 2009, I created the Philly311 Neighborhood Liaison Program. This program integrates the 311 system with the community by training residents as part of the Philly311 team. Once trained, liaisons are given individual accounts to directly enter service requests into the city work system. The Neighborhood Liaison Program helps spread the word about Philly311 and provides our contact center with “grass-root” customer service reps. The program is also empowering for communities, having knowledgeable residents in their neighborhood who can take action. Since its implementation, we have trained over 600 liaisons.
In 2011, I created the Citizens Engagement Academy. This 8-week program connects citizens with city services and local government through education. Through the courses, citizens are taught about how to best utilize various city services directly from the city officials who know those services best. The academy also provides a forum for citizens to voice concerns and ask specific questions about city services or departments. The Citizen Engagement Academy has proved to be an effective customer service effort for the Philadelphia city government. The program is currently used by PhillyRising, a service delivery initiative which targets neighborhoods plagued by crime and quality of life issues.
In addition to these two programs, we confronted some of our initial challenges by implementing a multi-channel approach to connect with citizens. This approach includes standard channels such as phone, email, faxes/letters, a website and walk-in center but it also includes connecting with citizens in a way that best meets their changing lifestyles: through social media and a mobile app.
As part of our social media strategy, Phily311 has completely extended its services through Facebook and Twitter. What that means is that a citizen can “Tweet” @Philly311 or post to our Facebook page about a pothole, graffiti or any other non-emergency municipal concerns and a contact center agent will respond via social media. We also use WordPress and YouTube to provide information to citizens.
September 2012 marked the launch of the Philly311 Mobile App. Through this app, citizens are able to send service requests with pictures and personalized descriptions through any smart phone. Citizens can also view or comment on nearby requests and get city news or view a city official directory.
The mobile app has also served as a platform for a more instantaneous and versatile government. During Hurricane Sandy, for example, the app added a “Hurricane FAQs” widget to provide citizens with real-time, storm-specific information. The app also added an Election Day widget which provides citizens with a polling locator, candidate information and voting rules. The Philly311 Mobile App translates to 16 different languages and has been downloaded 14,000 times. In December 2012, the app received City Paper’s Big Vision Award in the category of Government and Politics. In 2013, the Public Technology Institute recognized the mobile app as a “Significant Achievement” in their Technology Solutions Awards.
As we look toward the future, Philly311 is currently in the midst of a widget contest which asked citizens to create their own widgets, the winning widget being added to the mobile app. We also have plans to engage our city’s youth through the mobile app and a Youth Neighborhood Liaison Program. Another endeavor is a Philly311 TV Show for guests (city officials) to talk about how citizens can best utilize city services. The show is currently in pre-production.
While this post was a very high-level overview of our initiatives, I hope it was informative about how Philly311 has confronted its some of its challenges and set its sights on “changing the face of customer service.” I am most thankful to Gov Loop and Oracle Public Sector for inviting me to participate in their webinar. If any readers have questions about our other initiatives or future plans, please feel free to leave a comment below.
MyPowerPoint file for this presentation can be downloaded here: Philly311 Case Study
Rosetta Carrington Lue is the Chief Customer Service Officer and Senior Advisor to the City of Philadelphia’s Managing Director. Follow Rosetta on Twitter @Rosettalue.