News : Sacramento 311 Service Call Centers are Overwhelmed
Sacramento, CA, USA, May 29, 2015 -- Sacramento’s goal is to answer most 311 calls within a minute. But, according to the city auditor, people usually wait much longer than that – some as long as half an hour, and that’s if their calls are even answered at all.
"I was impatient. I’d chunked a bunch of quarters into a ten-hour meter, then all of a sudden it died," said Robert Charney, one person who has had a bad 311 experience.
When a parking meter ate Charney’s quarters, he dialed 311 – Sacramento’s catch-all, non-emergency call center.
Charney says he waited, and waited on hold.
"And then just gave up and walked away from that money, because it basically wasn’t worth my time," Charney said.
According to a new city audit, Charney’s frustrating experience is not too uncommon.
"[It’s] an area that needs significant improvement," said Jorge Oseguera, a Sacramento City Auditor.
Oseguera broke down the numbers: The city’s goal is to answer four out of every five 311 calls within a minute. Out of the nearly 370,000 calls last year, that only happened 31 percent of the time.
In fact, the audit shows about one in every four callers waited more than five minutes on hold – and about in one in five calls didn’t get answered at all.
"People are on the phone for 10, 15, 20 above 30 minutes in some cases. That is definitely something we need to address, given that 311 provides such a critical service for the city, and is the face of the city," Oseguera said.
Why the long wait times, and what’s the city doing about it?
Sacramento’s IT department says call volume is way up – by about 30,000 calls each year.
To improve response times, the call center just hired three new employees. The city is pushing people to use its 311 app and redesigned website in hopes of decreasing calls. They’re also adding new technology – like voice recognition – to their phone system, so people can get things done without having to wait on hold.
"It’s really something I think could get taken care of," Charney said.
The city says the new staff has already helped improve wait times. The IT department is also looking at new ways to proactively reach out to people who’ve already made service requests so they don’t have to call back to follow up.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Monday, June 1, 2015