How to build an integrated 311 system in a small town
In 2012, the Borough of Princeton and the Township of Princeton were consolidated into one municipality: Princeton, NJ. After the merge, Princeton needed a centralized information center for residents to connect with the newly organized services that the city provides. This information center became known as “Access Princeton” — a central hub for citizen services in Princeton. Access Princeton transitioned to an integrated 311 system, facilitating most of the internal and external communication and workflow related to customer service in Princeton. Citizen services software dramatically lowers the cost of customer services for municipalities, allowing smaller communities like Princeton to leapfrog the traditional 311 model and deliver top notch service at a fraction of the price.
Princeton’s 2012 merger caused some confusion for citizens and city staff regarding public services and communication. Following the merger, services were not presented in a unified manner to residents, and it was not clear where residents should go with concerns or questions. The Princeton administration knew they had to do something to improve clarity for residents.
Overall, Princeton’s goal was to centralize work, track data, and — most of all — make services accessible to all of Princeton residents.
The Mayor, Deputy Administrator, Director of Public Works, IT Director, and many other folks along the way put their heads together to develop Access Princeton — a completely new and separate department in the Princeton administration, dedicated to providing residents with one number to call to find information and report problems in their neighborhood as well as to be transferred directly to the necessary individual or department.
Once this idea had been conceived and developed, the Princeton administration sprung into action. By hiring internally and utilizing technology Princeton was able to build Access Princeton without any new staff costs.
Development of the department was also eased by utilizing modern mobile and web technology. Choosing an off-the-shelf, Software as a Service (SaaS) solution allowed Access Princeton to focus on the people and process that would make the department a success.
Making it Mobile
Princeton worked with the software provider to develop their own Access Princeton-branded mobile app. The Access Princeton app gives Princeton citizens a free and simple way to report non-emergency issues (i.e. potholes, graffiti, etc.) — issues that previously were submitted by an array of other channels such as phone, email, and in-person conversations that were difficult to track and provide follow-up. Princeton citizens can now provide staff with a rich amount of information about the issue through the app, including pictures, videos, exact locations, descriptions, and further commentary or updates.
Making it more than Mobile
Princeton wanted to be sure that Access Princeton was catering city services to Princeton’s diverse range of residents. Although an increasing number of citizens prefer using their smartphone to communicate, some folks only have access to or only feel comfortable using a desktop computer or traditional phone.
Any desktop user can report an issue to Princeton by heading to a single website. To make this process even easier for residents, Princeton uses the website reporting tool to add intelligent reporting directly to the town’s webpage.
Building a Call Center
By promoting self serve tools to citizens, Access Princeton is seeing more and more issues reported through mobile and desktop channels over traditional methods (i.e. phone, email, etc.). Even with this increase, however, some citizens’ primary method of communication is still through a phone call.
Access Princeton had two goals related to managing phone calls: 1. Inbound phone calls and phone follow-ups should be easy to handle; and 2. Activity should be tracked to improve the quality of their overall data. A Call Taker Interface has helped Access Princeton to accomplish these goals, by giving Access Princeton a central system to track, analyze, and follow-up all request information more efficiently.
In addition, Access Princeton has the ability to turn these callers into self-serve users. “In the past 2-3 months, we’ve started using the ‘Report on Behalf of Someone Else’ button when logging new issues,” said Rothman-Iliff, “When people are calling, we’re gathering their email address and entering issues as if they had entered them themselves [with mobile or web].” By entering their email, the citizen will now receive email updates of the status changes, comments, etc. of the issue. Because of this, Access Princeton is seeing that more and more citizens are transitioning to self-serve users on mobile and desktop. Self-service not only improves the experience of citizens, but reduces cost and time per issue for Princeton.
The Call Taker Interface isn’t the only opportunity for Princeton citizens to self-serve. Over time, Access Princeton noticed that a large percentage of incoming citizen requests were actually questions which traditional static FAQs simply don’t cover. To address this problem, Access Princeton has been using the Knowledge Base: a comprehensive and dynamic information database where citizens can search for answers, ask questions, and even answer questions about the town.
Having an active Knowledge Base has reduced calls for Access Princeton. Once again, Princeton is using technology to allow citizens to self-serve — improving user satisfaction while reducing cost.
Managing both internal and external
As described, Access Princeton has a variety of ways for citizens to report issues. But what happens to those issues once they come into the system? Princeton, like many towns, needs to monitor and manage these issues as they are routed, assigned and resolved by municipal officials.
To manage this process, Access Princeton uses a Citizen Request Management (CRM) system to track phone calls, drop ins, emails, and tweets and routes these issues manually or automatically (based on the location and request type) to the right department with the right information. Once routed, Princeton’s departmental staff are notified within the CRM that work has been assigned.
As the work is updated and subsequently closed, the citizen receives automatic updates in the form of canned responses and status updates.
Princeton departments then proceed to print work orders and use mobile and web apps to manage the workflow to completion. The CRM will track both internal and external communication, work activity, assignment and time to resolution. This allows managers to run detailed reports and visualize requests using mapping tools by type, assignee, neighborhood and keyword. For example, Princeton uses heatmaps to see a density view that helps them to identify the problem areas to plan preventive actions for the future.
By leveraging modern request management systems, Princeton has been able centralize citizen services for their residents.
The web-based, SaaS system is easy-to-use, is streamlined, and reduces workload. This has allowed the department to hire from within with no need to hire any additional staff. Also, through tools like Knowledge Base and the Call Taker Interface, Access Princeton promotes citizen self-service — improving the experience of residents and reducing staff time and costs. In addition, by channeling requests and questions into one system, the quality and quantity of data has expanded— providing Princeton with continual insight on where and when issues occur around the town.
And, Princeton is seeing results. Usage has been going up steadily — in fact, now Access Princeton receives more than 150 calls per week. These calls and activity are not only managed, but also tracked for data and easy follow-up.
Residents are responding with increased usage and positive feedback. “We’ve been receiving a lot of positive feedback”, said Rothman-Iliff, “And our call volume is increasing, use of SeeClickFix is increasing.” Mercantini echoes Rothman-Iliff: “[Citizens] want to know that the town is listening to them and their concerns. SeeClickFix is a great way to do this, people become ‘engaged’...and most importantly they can see their tax dollars at work.” By increasing the accessibility of citizen service and reducing the costs related to this service, municipalities like Princeton are a model for the future of 311 in small towns.
“SeeClickFix is a wonderful reporting system; every town should be using it,” said Debra Mercantini of Access Princeton, “It’s user-friendly and there are parts of the program that can be customized according to the needs of the city or town that is utilizing it.” Access Princeton has customized the SeeClickFix platform to fit Princeton’s needs with customizable issue types, tailored messages and secondary questions, and featured custom mobile buttons.
SeeClickFix was designed to be nimble, adjusting to the unique needs of a wide range of cities. These needs will continue to evolve, but the goal will stay the same: to provide centralized, trackable and accessible citizen services for both residents and governments. To learn how an integrated system with Call Taker, Knowledge Base, Citizen Request Management, and other unique components can be tailored for your community, see gov.seeclickfix.com.