The City of Philadelphia, Philly311

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
Before 2008, the City of Philadelphia did not have a centralized customer contact center. While there was a source board, which served as a directory for City departments, there was no agency that functioned as a customer service initiative and no agency to provide citizens with accurate and consistent information about municipal services. This left the 1.5 million residents of Philadelphia with an inaccessible and unresponsive City government. Without a centralized customer contact point, service delivery was delayed and fragmented. There was no single system to send out service requests. If the City failed to answer a request, they were not held accountable, because there was not a system that provided them with consistent request information. The City could easily deny responsibility, citizens’ requests would remain unfulfilled, and ultimately, resolutions to simple internal and external issues were being neglected. The need for a customer service center was most apparent in the increase of non-emergency calls made to the City’s 911 center. Philadelphia 911 center was receiving more and more calls about potholes, graffiti, and missed trashed collection. The Philadelphia 911 center experienced spikes in non-emergency calls during times of extreme weather. When 911 operators were preoccupied with non-emergency calls, actual time-sensitive emergencies were not being addressed, putting the citizens’ safety at risk. In short, prior to 2008, the Philadelphia City government was not properly serving citizens, or leveraging its municipal services to substantively impact the quality of life in a positive way.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
When Mayor Michael Nutter first took office, he outlined five strategic goals for the City of Philadelphia. Goal number five on Mayor Nutter’s list stated, “Philadelphia City government works efficiently and effectively, with integrity and responsiveness.” In order to become more efficient and effective, Philadelphia’s city government needed to be accessibility, accountability, and provide excellent service delivery. The way to fulfill this goal was to create Philly311. The strategy behind Philly311 was to create a centralized contact point for non-emergencies, to have a reliable system with current information for citizens and departments, and to create a platform for interdepartmental communication. The 311 system would essentially serve as a robust customer service center for city government. Residents, businesses, and visitors would be able to contact 311 to enter service requests, receive phone numbers for government and pseudo-government agencies, and obtain information about the municipality or special events. In addition, Philly311 would establish and regulate service level agreements from servicing departments. The data collected from Philly311 would prove invaluable when assessing overall citizens’ service needs and prove to be a critical component in the justification of resources, performance management efforts, and communication with City council on the needs and service of specific districts. Philly311 created a way for residents and visitors to communicate with Philadelphia city government and for Philadelphia city government to communicate with itself.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
While many city governments have implemented a 311 system, very few have transformed and innovated as well as Philly311. Using private-sector customer service practices, Philly311 has utilized a multichannel approach to customer engagement. Customers can contact Philly311 and enter service requests by calling the 3-1-1 number, using the web-self service portal, visiting the Walk-in Center in City Hall, sending mail, sending email, or by tweeting @Philly311 on Twitter or leaving a comment to @Philly311 on Facebook. The center is accessible long after the 8 a.m.- 8 p.m. weekday timeframe that so many call centers are limited to. Another feature that’s unique to Philly311 is its ability to be used within police vehicles. Over 2,000 police officers have been trained on the 311 system, further extending the system’s customer reach. In a response to Philadelphia’s growing digital divide, Philly311 also created the Philly311 Mobile App to meet customers who have adopted a mobile lifestyle and may not have home access to Internet. The Philly311 Mobile App—which is free for all iPhone, Android, and Blackberry devices— allows users to enter service requests directly into the 311 system through their phones. Users can attach custom pictures and descriptions to their requests. The Philly311 Mobile App also includes an Election Day widget with a polling locator and candidate information, widgets for resources in times of extreme weather, and a Licenses and Inspections widget to find specific property history. The Philly311 Mobile App dynamically translates to 17 languages including English.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
Implementing Philly311 was a collaborative effort. It was imperative to receive the approval of the Mayor, along with people who have assisted in similar system applications. In 2008, project managers Jeffrey Friedman and Patrick Morgan engaged an external consulting group to develop a plan and scope for the 311 system. In June that year, Mayor Nutter and City Management Director and Executive Sponsor, Camille Barnett, approved the implementation strategy. Rosetta Carrington Lue joined Philly311 project team, which collectively worked to develop civil service testing requirements for the contact center agents. Thirty departmental liaisons assisted in populating Philly311’s knowledge base with over 2,000 articles about city services and municipal information. In September of 2008, the National financial crisis caused a drastic cut in Philly311’s budget, affecting its technology implementation. However, the project team viewed the crisis as an opportunity to rely on established city services. Rather than implementing a software-based Customer Service Relationship Management (CRM) system, the project team worked with the City’s Department of Technology to implement a less expensive web-based solution to serve as the CRM system. This solution allowed agents to look-up municipal information and directly enter service requests into the integrated work systems of servicing departments. Philly311’s new budget constraints also caused a shift in its hiring plan. Instead of hiring external, experienced contact center agents, Philly311 decided to hire internal transfers and employees who would have been laid off due to a revised City-wide budget. Between October and November 2008, the Philly311 Project Team implemented its new CRM system and trained news employees. By December that year, Philly311 accepted its first phone call.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The Philly311 system was the vision of Mayor Michael Nutter. The initiative was implemented by, then, Managing Director Camille Barnett and Project Managers Jeffrey Friedman, Patrick Morgan, Rosetta Carrington Lue, and the consultation of 30 liaisons from city departments.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
In total, nearly $200,000 was spent on implementing Philly311. The national financial crisis, which resulted in citywide downsizing, allowed Philly31l to pull from internal resources. Employees, who would have otherwise been out of work, were relocated to Philly311 to build knowledge base, perform circuiting, and help develop policies and procedures. Volunteers from the private sector, who saw the potential of Philly311, offered their services as well.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
The following outputs contributed to the success of Philly311’s customer service goals for Philadelphia city government: 1. The establishment of a contact center allowed for the collection of departmental servicing data. This laid the groundwork for the establishment of the City’s performance management system, PhillyStat. 2. The Philly311 Mobile App was created to engage and service customers who had adopted a mobile lifestyle. 3. The Philly311 Neighborhood Liaison Program was created to establish community partnerships and train community leaders on the 311 system. Similarly, the Youth 311 Neighborhood Liaison program was created to help educate youth about public services, and to teach younger generations how to make a difference in their neighborhood. 4. Philly311 has received an average 1.2 million calls each year from its customers.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
Philly311 manages the performance of contact center agents through the establishment of “teams” which are managed by supervisors. Philly311’s supervisors meet with their teams daily to discuss upcoming events, changes in information, and recent performances. Supervisors also conduct live and recorded monitoring of customer calls. Philly311 uses externally collected customer satisfaction data that is obtained by follow-up, and on-the-phone surveys. Philly311’s telephony system collects data on the contact center’s performance (i.e. customer wait time; number of customers in queue; etc.) and displays current performance levels on reader boards located throughout the call center.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
The biggest problem encountered during Philly311’s implementation was severe budget-cuts. This affected implementation but was overcome by using a smaller, web-based CRM system, and by working with the City’s Department of Technology. The City’s Department of Technology integrated the City’s servicing departments’ work order systems, and developed a smaller web-based CRM. This CRM was used instead of a new and larger CRM system. Philly311’s staffing plan was compromised. Budget-cuts forced Philly311 to be limited in its hiring process. Instead of relying on outside hires, the City was encouraged to use transfer hires, and hire employees who were to be laid off due to citywide budget cuts. While Philly311’s original staffing plan focused on the hiring experienced contact center agents, the Project Team created a robust and interactive internal training program to provide inexperienced agents with the tools and knowledge they needed to serve customers effectively from day one. Like the alterations that were made to both Philly311’s CRM and hiring process, the system’s marketing budget saw cuts as well. To combat this, Philly311 developed an effective community engagement program to spread the word on a grass-roots level and educate community members on the service. Through the program, Philly311 sent a community engagement coordinator to community meetings to provide free training sessions on how to use the 311 system. Once trained, community members were given personalized accounts and could directly enter service requests into the 311 system. These trained liaisons often became the centralized voice of their communities and evangelists for the 311 system.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
The largest impact of the Philly311 is that it created a centralized customer service plan for the City of Philadelphia. Since its inception, Philly311 has received an average of 1.2 million calls each year. Philly311’s multiple platforms provide easy access for customers, embodying Mayor Nutter’s goal five initiative. The Mobile App, which now accounts for 18% of Philly311’s received requests, reflects the City’s effort to integrate technology into city government. The app also received City Paper’s Big Vision Award in 2012 in the category of Government and Politics and was named a “Significant Achievement” in the Public Technology Institute’s 2013 Technical Solution Awards. Over 1000 Philly311 Neighborhood Liaisons have been trained across the city. Philly311 data is shared through and used as the basis for the city’s performance management system, PhillyStat.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
As Philly311 has grown, it has sustained itself by engaging customers through digital channels. Digital channels have provided customers with more autonomy in their requests for service (24 hours-a-day access; customizable descriptions; user-submitted pictures; etc.). Digital channels are also less expensive than traditional customer channels such as the telephone or city hall walk-in center. In addition to being cheaper, digital channels engage a younger demographic of customer and help the service to stay relevant. 311 systems across the country have implemented a mobile strategy in the model of Philadelphia’s. Philly311, however, has a mobile team that aggressively develops widgets to fit the day-to-day needs of constituents (i.e. the Election Day widget). The Philly311 Mobile App was also the first 311 application in the country to provide dynamic translation. In sum, Philly311 has changed the face government customer service, especially on the local level. The initiative has leveraged private-sector practices and leveraged cutting-edge, digital channels to treat constituents as customers. This initiative has transformed Philadelphia city government and continues to be a national leader in improved service delivery in public service.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
More than just a phone number, Philly311 provides tools to improve a neighborhood’s quality of life through community engagement trainings, its web self-service portal, and Philly311 Mobile App. The initiative has offered an engaging and effective connection with city government that has not existed before in Philadelphia. A lesson learned is the initiative's lack of funding. Philly311 was subject to budget cuts which affected its technology implementation and hiring of experienced customer service professionals. This resulted in less-efficient internal processes and longer new-hire training programs. In December 2014, Philly311 will be implementing a robust Salesforce CRM system which will seamlessly integrate the City’s knowledge base, servicing departments’ work order systems, and community engagement programs to encompass one, effective customer portal to connect with the city. A recommendation for the future is to expand the Philly311 Neighborhood Liaison Program. By hiring more community engagement coordinators, Philly311 could have a representative at every neighborhood association meeting to enter requests, answer municipal questions, and train community members on using the 311 system.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   The City of Philadelphia, Philly311
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Rosetta Carrington Lue
Title:   Chief Customer Service Officer  
Telephone/ Fax:  
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Postal Code:  

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