Established in many communities throughout the United States and Canada, 311 is a nonemergency telephone number that provides citizens with fast, easy-to-remember access to a range of municipal services. Major U.S. cities that have implemented 311 include Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

San Francisco launched the 311 service on March 29, 2007 to handle the city’s massive influx of calls and letters from residents. The city’s governmental organizations looked for ways to reduce the estimated workload of 7 million phone calls, 4 milllion in-person visits, 1 million e-mails and 150,000 faxes. Of critical importance, many citizens were calling 911 for nonemergency situations, distracting personnel from real emergencies and increasing 911 hold times.

When considering the 311 implementation, city officials wanted the service to handle all citywide nonemergency calls, including those involving the police department, while also serving as a back-up 911 call center.

Processes direct implementation

To evaluate and establish the 311 service, San Francisco formed a team that included a communications director, customer relationship management (CRM) director, various consultants and liaisons from all city departments. Senior leadership, from the mayor to all department heads, supported the effort from beginning to end.

The city conducted a full request for proposals to select a vendor. In addition, officials looked to best practices for implementing change-management strategy.

By instituting integrated practices and strategies for implementing 311, results were successful. The city’s 311 Customer Service Center took its millionth call on Oct. 23, 2007, approximately 6 months after its launch in March.

Tips for project success

Bill Price, president of Driva Solutions, a CRM consulting firm based in Bellevue, WA, offers advice that can lead to successful 311 implementation:

• Kick off your communication strategy with the support of your senior management by having the mayor speak and/or inviting inspiring guest speakers.

• Insist on 100 percent participation from department heads during initial stages of the project, followed by having a single point of contact from each department to be part of the project team.

• Make sure senior and middle management continue to set the tone of complete support for the project.

• Do not mandate transition of 100 percent of calls to the new contact center on day one, and do not mandate the content of the knowledge base. Listen to your information “customers.”

• Give those less comfortable with the project abundant support, plenty of time and specific responsibilities on the project team.

• The project team needs to make and meet project milestones.

• Make a point of overtraining your first agents.

• Be mindful that your audience may have limited experience with successful projects involving technology and change management.

Along with David Jaffe, consulting director of Limebridge Australia, Price has co-authored a book, The Best Service is No Service: How to Liberate Your Customers from Customer Service, Keep Them Happy and Control Costs.

For more information about the book and customer relationship guidelines, visit

Bill Price submitted information for this best practices study of San Francisco's 311 service.