Durham One Call Analysis
Being a 311 call-taker is “one of the most underappreciated frontline jobs”
– call center leadership, CharMeck 311
Durham One Call allows residents to get in touch with the City of Durham. Residents can contact One Call by call, text, smartphone application, website, or email to request information or a service. Between April and September 2022, the City’s Innovation Team (I-Team) and One Call leadership conducted an exploratory analysis of the structure and performance of the service.
The goals of this project were to:
- Review success measures, like how often callers hang up before they are served and call wait times and to see how well One Call is performing compared to similar services in other cities
- Investigate Durham residents' customer service experience and preferences
- Understand the strengths and challenges of the current system through feedback from One Call staff and staff from the departments that interact with One Call most often
- Better understand training and knowledge management practices for One Call staff
- Explore alternative structures and technology for Durham One Call
Various activities were completed to inform this exploratory analysis. To start, the I-Team reviewed literature and case studies (research, white papers, news articles, etc.) to understand how other organizations run similar customer service centers. The team analyzed existing resident satisfaction and customer service data. Input was gathered from City staff through interviews and focus groups to identify the strengths, challenges, and opportunities surrounding One Call’s service. In addition, the I-Team spoke with and made site visits to other cities to compare experiences and organizational structures and to gather benchmarking data. Gathering and assessing resident feedback was a top priority. The I-Team designed and distributed a citywide survey and held focus groups to pinpoint the perspectives of community members who had interacted with One Call and customer service at the City of Durham.
Results and Recommendations
Focus groups with One Call staff highlighted a positive internal culture and supportive leadership. Employees stated that they felt supported by leadership and that the team is open to trying new ideas. Changes in how the service operates because of COVID-19 demonstrated that the team is resilient and adaptable. However, the I-Team also found that the City of Durham’s current approach to customer service can lead to resident and staff confusion. At times, residents are not sure who to call to meet their needs, and staff may be disappointed if they are unable meet a customer’s needs. Findings also showed that internal technology is not being used to its full capability. For example, One Call staff does not use a comprehensive customer relationship management system. Instead, One Call staff uses multiple software systems to store and access information, which adds complexity and could cause delays in meeting resident needs.
Conversations and visits with peer cities revealed that One Call’s structure is not aligned with how other call centers operate. Other cities reported having more staff dedicated to leadership, training, and data analysis, allowing their teams to focus on long-term goals, team building, and data-informed decisions. Cities with fewer of these positions stated that their focus was on managing their workload rather than making improvements to the service. Another key finding about staffing was that other organizations offer their call center employees more paths for career growth. While One Call staff felt support when seeking professional development, conversations with other cities suggested that more opportunities for professional development – like job promotions and training – may improve staff retention and morale.
Residents expressed overall satisfaction with One Call. The resident survey revealed that, of the 470 respondents who had contacted One Call, 59% felt that their expectations were met “Always” or “Most of the time.” Nearly one-third of those who had contacted One Call before reported doing so by phone. A combined 75% of residents had used alternative technology to contact the City, either by email, the City of Durham website, or the Durham One Call App. Survey data also suggest that people who have lived in Durham for more than 10 years were less satisfied with their customer service experience than newer residents. During focus groups, some residents expressed concerns about inconsistent answers from City staff from non-One Call departments.
Residents and City staff would benefit from a centralized customer service center. Centralizing the service would reduce overall confusion and make problem solving more efficient. Thus, we recommend a phased approach to bringing partner department customer service functions into One Call. One Call should also invest in robust customer relationship management (CRM) technology to reduce the number of systems employees need to access to meet resident needs. Investing in high-quality CRM was noted by other jurisdictions as a major key to success.
The organizational structure of One Call should ensure effective use of resources. The I-Team recommends that One Call provide dedicated leadership, data analytics, and training roles to the existing team. The City should also create more position classifications to provide call center staff more career growth opportunities. Additionally, One Call leadership and call center staff should work together to develop strategies aimed at enhancing morale and boosting retention.
The I-Team recommends that City staff collaborate to build formalized means to communicate any operational or system changes with One Call technicians and share data about resident needs. If a department changes the way a service is provided, One Call should be made aware so that they can update the information they give callers. Finally, the I-Team recommends One Call create a public communications campaign to increase residents’ awareness of their services and methods to contact the City, a sentiment echoed by participants in resident focus groups.
Why It Matters
This work was an important step in understanding and improving the way residents interact with the City of Durham to meet their needs. Using various analysis methods allowed the project team to involve a wide swath of those who interact with Durham One Call, both internal to the city and in the Durham community at-large, ensuring a complete understanding of the current service. Comparing how the City of Durham operates with other cities helped highlight One Call’s strengths as well as where changes may improve outcomes for residents and staff. This project highlights the importance of a comprehensive and collaborative analysis. For example, by expanding the focus beyond just One Call staff and processes, the I-Team learned more about other departments' perceptions on One Call, how other cities operate, and residents’ customer service experiences and preferences.