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San Antonio’s 311 Service Paves the Way for Customer Service in a Post-COVID World

Local governments emerging from the COVID-19 shutdowns into the still-uncertain world of hybrid operations have an ongoing challenge when it comes to providing citizen services. How do they handle the increasing demand for digital services and meet the elevated expectations for how those services are delivered while accommodating the needs of a hybrid workforce?

Whatever shape a post-pandemic environment eventually takes, the demand isn’t going to slow down – a fact that isn’t lost on government agencies. In the Public Technology Institute’s 2021 State of City and County National IT Survey, launching or updating digital services for citizens was rated the No. 2 priority, trailing only cybersecurity and data loss prevention. The question is how to best build on the lessons learned during the shutdowns to make services more seamless, responsive and interactive while supporting what will most likely be a hybrid workforce of employees both in the office and connecting remotely.

San Antonio Answers the Call

San Antonio, Texas’s 311 Customer Service Office is a good example of improving services by combining public outreach and a proactive approach to using technology with a focus on supporting employees with the tools they need.

Operating America’s third oldest 311 call center since April 2000, the Office has steadily promoted 311 to be the first choice for non-emergency calls among the city’s 1.2 million residents, said Paula Stallcup, the agency’s Director of 311 Customer Service. “Do you have a question, and you think somebody should be doing something about it, but you don’t know where to start? Start with 311,” Stallcup said. In developing its services, San Antonio has focused on several areas to provide channels of choice for residents.

Many channels, one message. One key to making 311 the “go-to” option for residents is allowing them to submit requests via their channel of choice, whether it’s San Antonio’s web portal, mobile app, email and, of course, by a phone call. Equally important is ensuring that residents get the same information no matter what channel they choose. “One of the things that I’ve always stressed is that if we’re going to put something on the web portal, we need to make sure that it is completely integrated and seamless to the residents using the portal,” Stallcup said.

Another factor is emphasizing user-friendliness. “We need to make sure that when we are building these platforms, that we are putting our citizen hat on,” she said. That means focusing on providing the most accurate information, anticipating additional guidance residents may need and incorporating new tech features to meet expectations.

Bots, for example, have become common in the commercial world, and are likely to become more prominent in government, said David Moody, Vice President and General Manager of Verint for Citizen Engagement, whose solution is the foundation of San Antonio’s 311 services. People have gotten comfortable with chatbots and online self-service applications, which automation can facilitate. But Moody stressed that integration is necessary to delivering a good customer experience. “Just putting something online is not enough. It’s got to be integrated with the relevant delivery and fulfilment systems,” he said.

Supporting the Workforce. When San Antonio’s 311 service launched 21 years ago, it had four telecommuters among its staff. Today, it has 18. Stallcup’s office works to provide them with the right tools and security to work from anywhere, while also being cognizant of the fact that, when some form of post-pandemic operations take hold, whether they’re working at the office or from home may depend on their individual capabilities and equipment. Although there is an ongoing debate about in-office vs. remote employees, a mix of the two is most likely. “I think in San Antonio, it is definitely going to be a hybrid,” Stallcup said.

Involving Residents in the Process. Stallcup said that in surveying customers during development of the web portal’s user-centered design, the city found that residents wanted to understand the city’s processes. “They want to understand how we work, because they want to be helpful,” she said.

“When I go out, I always say we rely on residents’ ears and eyes to tell us what’s going on, and to advise us,” she said. Now, the Citizen Service Center also gives them a look at the city’s workflows, sending updates on the status of pothole repairs or other requests. “We really have been looking to better engage residents and neighborhoods, and invest in their communities through the opportunities to address their concerns,” Stallcup said.

The COVID-19 pandemic – combined with digital transformations that were already getting started – forever changed how citizen services centers operate. By combining the right technologies with a focus on the human element, while constantly looking for ways to improve services, cities and counties can deliver the kind of personal, interactive and efficient citizen engagement governments want to provide and residents expect.

Verint helps the world’s most iconic brands build enduring customer relationships with solutions for Digital First Engagement and by connecting work, data and experiences across the enterprise. Learn more: https://www.verint.com/engagement/your-role/customer-service-public-sector/government-and-public-sector-solutions/

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