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News : Knoxville City Call Center Takes Over Contract for United Way Hotline
Knoxville, TN, USA, July 20, 2015 -- Tennesseeans seeking help finding food, shelter and other basic needs have slowly begun speaking to employees in Knoxville's 311 call center as the city takes over the United Way's hotline.
Since July 1, city officials have worked with cellular carriers and landline companies to direct calls away from the United Way's subcontractor in Nashville and instead to the sixth floor of the City County Building.
"I looked at it and kicked it around, ran numbers and tried to figure it out six ways to Sunday, to find out if it's doable," said Russ Jensen, director of the city's 311 program. "The caveat is that I can't use taxpayer dollars to pay for customer service for people outside of Knoxville. It's a pretty cool little partnership."
The city's one-year pilot contract with United Way is worth $72,000 — the cost of hiring another employee to handle the call volume along with additional computer software and equipment.
The city has maintained a call center for the government's 311 hotline, where residents can report potholes or blighted properties and ask about garbage pickup, athletics or other city services.
While the United Way's 211 hotline does not add a lot of additional calls to the queue, the calls do take significantly longer to handle, Jensen said. The typical call about city services lasts about 90 seconds while the operator runs down the answer to the caller's question.
The 211 call, however, is usually someone with complex issues and the operator must work to connect then individual with the right combination of nonprofits to get the services they need.
On Tuesday, the call center operators answered 753 calls on the 311 hotline. They took 47 calls on the 211 hotline, lasting an average of 6 1/2 minutes, Jensen said.
"Just today I had a legally blind woman we connected to TennCare because she wasn't able to dial the phone," Jensen said. "I had people from adult protective services call."
Officials with adult protective services were urgently trying to help a resident with disability issues secure housing, before the individual became homeless, Jensen said.
He counted the call as a success in connecting the caller with the right services, "because they didn't call back," he said.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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More Editorial From United Way
About United Way:
United Way is a coalition of charitable organizations.
About Knoxville’s 311 Call Center:
Customer Service is what the City of Knoxville 311 center is all about. City residents can dial 3-1-1 to access information about services provided by the City.
Published: Tuesday, July 21, 2015