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Learn How 311 Has Inspired Others Outside of Local Government

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”

A government leader focusing on improving customer service excites me! In this case, Governor Tom Wolf’s announcement about a Customer Service Transformation for the state of Pennsylvania grabs my attention. This undertaking will make it is easier for Pennsylvanians to connect with agencies and services. Also learning the 311-model is the inspiration for a similar statewide number makes me smile. On July 24, Governor Wolf told the Philadelphia Public Recorder:

“I learned in the private sector the most important part of business is trust and excellent customer service,” said Governor Wolf. “Pennsylvanians deserve the same from their state government. I am launching this groundbreaking new initiative that will transform how the state provides services to make it as easy and convenient for people as possible, whether it is online, on the phone or in-person.”

Three main initiatives of Customer Service Transformation in Pennsylvania:

One Secure Online Account
A single online platform and login for Pennsylvanians to access all Commonwealth services.

Continuously Improving Customer Satisfaction
A vehicle for the public to provide feedback about the service they receive. This data will assist in making improvements to services and innovation.

One Phone Number
This will model the 311 systems in existing in many municipalities.

In fact, this reminds me of other non-local government rock stars using the 311-model to improve customer service. Let’s take a look.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

MyVA311  is the single-number go-to source for Veterans and their families (1-844-MyVA311 (1-844-698-2311). Consolidating more than 270 call centers with an annual 140 million calls is daunting. Likewise, this endeavor requires an expert to take on such a challenge. Rosetta Carrington Lue, the former Chief Customer Service Officer for Philadelphia, who is responsible for the Philly311 system, was appointed as a White House Presidential Executive Fellow. In this role she spearheaded MyVA311 and the 24/7 White House Veterans complaints hotline. MyVA311 eases the frustration and streamlines the directory navigation for both Veterans and employees.  Accordingly, MyVA311’s grand opening was on Veterans Day  2016.


“Just as we did in Philly — and others have done in 311 operations — we wanted to be able to launch this and get a better understanding of why people are calling,” Lue said. “And so the thing that I found very insightful here is everything we did was designed on a human-centered experience.”

U.S. Navy 

In a like manner, the Navy 311 concept mirrors the 311 non-emergency centers accessible in over 300 major cities. Identically, it serves as a single point of customer service delivery through phone, email, web, text, chat, and other channels. It allows fleet, sailors, military families and civilians on-demand information assistance for non-emergency and non-tactical issues.


“The NAVY 311 service desk is always available,” said Kris Leonard, Sea Warrior (PMW240) assistant program manager for NAVY311. “We support over 1.3 million requests annually and provide a gateway to assistance on a number of issues, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

The Republic of Panama

The Republic of Panama is known for the newly expanded canal, boxer Roberto Duran and being a great place to visit. But just as important is its Centro de Atención Ciudadana, the 311 Citizen Services Center. During my conversation with Edgar Eduardo Tejada, the Director of 311 Citizen Services Center, early this year he led me through their mission. Opened in 2011, they serve a population of four million across the federal, state and local governments. Moreover, the receive approximately 160,000 contacts monthly with 65 agents. He highlights the influence of 311 in a blog for the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School of Government:

“To get started with this effort, we reviewed how 311 centers operated in North America and as such were able to design an initial model taking into account various learned lessons that have been helpful in achieving our results. Some of these were creating an appropriate legal framework and budgeting sufficient resources as well as defining early on that technology would be at the forefront of this effort.”

The success of 311-model continues to inspire and ignite innovation. In other words, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” — Oscar Wilde

Janice Quintana is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. A government nerd, customer service practitioner and 311 pioneer, she has worked in local government as the Director of 311 in three different municipalities. She is fascinated with innovation, technology, data, service delivery and community engagement. When Janice is not following local government rock stars or trends she enjoys her status as a tennis enthusiast and travels the globe to watch a good match. She currently lives in Charlotte, NC with her two chihuahuas. You can read her posts here.

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