Project: Call center

Jurisdiction: Berkeley, Calif.

Agency: City Manager's Office

Vendor: Bethesda, Md.-based Lagan

Date completed: September 2007

Total project cost: $800,000

Last fall, Berkeley, Calif., opened a call center to field residents' non-emergency phone calls about anything from missed garbage pickups to business license requests. By having one call center with specially trained employees to answer questions concerning several departments, the city is improving customer service and reducing its call transfer rate.

A few years ago, complaints from residents about customer service were understandable. Reaching the correct person among the nearly 400 department telephone listings was a challenge for most callers. “One of our strongest supporters was accounting because they start with ‘A,’ and everyone would look at the list and just call accounting,” says Susie Monary-Wilson, customer service manager.

City officials consolidated the customer service functions for many departments into a central location and directed residents to one phone number for their questions. Customer service representatives were hired from several groups in the city, such as solid waste or business licenses. “We identified 19 little groups sprinkled throughout the city that were taking customer calls regularly,” Monary-Wilson says. “We're really just trying to do it within the existing head count budget.”

To help them answer questions, the city installed 311 non-emergency call center software from Bethesda, Md.-based Lagan that stores information about city operations, tracks service requests, and connects to other city databases and the city Web site. Service representatives can type in, “What are the hours for the North Berkeley Library?” to find the answer. Now, when residents call the Berkeley general information phone number — 981-CITY — or two others, one of seven customer service representatives can answer their questions, submit work orders, and accept parking ticket, business license and other city bill payments. In the future, residents also will be able to submit service requests directly through the city Web site.

The center is located in a section of the finance department and operates during normal business hours. Berkeley officials expect the number of customer service representatives to rise to 11 as the call center supports more departments. Also, city officials are working with AT&T to set up a 311 phone number to replace all other phone numbers for general information inquiries.

Since opening in September 2007, the Berkeley call center has answered 60,000 calls, with an average answer time of 22 seconds. And, the transfer rate — the number of calls that cannot be answered on the first try — has been reduced 36 percent.