CB2: Hey 311, Let’s ChaCha!
I have a new guilty pleasure: ChaCha. In a nutshell, text any question you have to ChaCha (242-242) and a human on the other end will Google it and text you back the answer at no charge. While it’s great for folks without smartphones, it’s also addictive for those who do – knowing a real person is on the other end settling debates with my vertically challenged friend such as, “how short must my friend be to legally qualify as a ‘little person’?” (4’10” by the way).
ChaCha makes its money in-part by sending you text advertisements along with your answer. They also have a bit of a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy going on at ChaCha.com
. Their employees/answerers make between $5-$10/hr Googling your question from home and are paid immediately via a ChaCha debit card.
All this got me thinking: government needs to get on this. Uncle Sam, it’s time to do the ChaCha
. What do I mean? Cities such as San Francisco
and New York
have impressive 311 services where dialing 311 connects you immediately to a customer service rep to help answer your question. Certainly these city representatives are sitting in front of a computer where, like ChaCha, they can look up a citizen’s question.
Picture asking “I live at 629 7th Ave N. Where is my polling place?” Or, “Is there trash pickup on Thanksgiving?” Or, “What is the phone number for the Tax Collectors Office?” Or, during a crisis when SMS is most reliable, “Is St. Petersburg under a mandatory evacuation?“
SMS does come with a higher communication cost than telephone calls (around 2 cents per text), but then again, the customer service agent isn’t tied up with you on the phone while s/he looks up your question. It probably wouldn’t be all that expensive to implement.
How could a city get started on this? If you have your own developers, a basic two-way SMS communication tool could be build on Twilio
. Or, my team would be willing to build it for your town at no cost to evaluate its usefulness, just as we did recently for schools with a bullying SMS tipline
. Perhaps an SMS gateway would help with the 2 cents to build a model (looking at you San Francisco with Twilio in your back yard). Of course, you may be able to strike a deal with ChaCha as well – provided they don’t send texts like “text YMJ to receive daily yo mamma jokes.” (I did, and they’re priceless
So what do you think about SMS-based 311 for your town or agency? Would it work? Why or why not? Chime in with your comments below.
*Yes CB2 is usually on Wednesdays, but you get it a day early since it’s difficult to send my candied yams as a Thanksgiving treat to you instead.
Chris Bennett is a self-proclaimed emergency management innovator who is trying to make government better by improving citizen preparedness and crisis communications. He’s a graduate of Wharton with a master’s from Harvard with in “Technology, Innovation, Education.” His portfolio of companies and former projects include OneStorm Hurricane Preparedness, ReadyTown, GovLive, TexasPrepares and America’s Emergency Network. Chris was the recipient of FL Governor Crist’s 2008 Public Information Award. He lives in St. Petersburg, FL, loves to fish, and has been spotted sharing a pint with GovLoop Founder Steve Ressler in Tampa.
What does CB2 Mean? “Chris Bennett’s Crisis Blog.” It was originally CB Squared but the superscript 2 never took, so now we’re rocking the big 2.