Legislative Analyst Report - Call Center (file # 021047)


OLA#: 019-02

TO: Honorable Members of the Board of Supervisors

FROM: Jesse Martinez

DATE: October 8, 2002

SUBJECT:Public Works Call Center (File # 021047)


A motion (introduced by Supervisor Leno) requesting the Office of the Legislative Analyst (OLA) to research the City of New Orleans Public Works Call Center Service Request program to allow city residents to report potholes, abandoned vehicles, traffic light outages, sign damaged needs and repairs and research the feasibility of a joint online reporting system for the San Francisco Department of Public Works and Department of Parking and Traffic.


Our office conducted an analysis of how other jurisdictions determine and implement their Call Centers. Specifically, we looked at 4 jurisdictions: New Orleans, Chicago, Baltimore, and, San Jose. We discovered that all the jurisdictions surveyed had center start up costs from $313, 000 in New Orleans, to $5 million in Chicago. The average age of these centers is 16 months. Nonetheless, they all identified cost savings and recognized customer service improvements since implementing their call centers.


The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has been confronting the issue of its response capability to emergency and non-emergency situations for some time1. Indeed, the Board of Supervisors examined the possibility of developing a "Good Neighbor" policy for the City and County of San Francisco in response to citizens" needs during and following any emergency or disaster, "as well as to guide the City in the conduct of its everyday, non-emergency operations."

The issues have varied from providing a three-second-response time for emergency phone calls and a 45-second response time for non-emergency phone calls. These concerns continued into 1998, when non-emergency services (311 system) were examined. Hearings were held by the Board to consider cost and effectiveness of 311 non-emergency services in San Francisco2.

Recently, California Governor Davis signed into law a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Hertzberg requiring local public safety agencies to maintain, in addition to a "911" emergency telephone number, a separate number for nonemergency calls. It authorizes the Division of Telecommunications of the Department of General Services to, among other things, aid local public agencies in the formulation of concepts, methods, and procedures that will improve the operation of systems that will increase cooperation among public agencies3.

In addition, the City"s Emergency Communications Department (ECD) and Department of Telecommunications and Information Services (DTIS), recently prepared a proposal initiating the process to examine the feasibility of improving customer services and emergency services4.

Accordingly, this proposal indicated that currently the City does not operate a single point-of-communication for customers requesting non-emergency services and information. Indeed, the City uses a decentralized approach with approximately sixty-three departments using one or more general information telephone numbers. Even though DTIS sustains the City"s official website and staffs the main City telephone number, they found that callers are often frustrated with this decentralized approach. For instance, they note that it is not unusual for the customer to be transferred multiple times without receiving assistance.

The proposal also states that this decentralized approach inhibits the City"s ability to establish a San Francisco enterprise view of customer interactions, implement citizen response standards, optimize city-wide call center resources and evaluate call taker performances. They also established that approximately 71% of calls received by 9-l -1 Public Safety Operators are non-emergency in nature. Examples cited include citizens requesting general information or reporting non-urgent police and fire calls such as potholes, abandoned cars and traffic issues. The 9-l-l Public Safety Dispatcher personnel generally handle the calls directly or refer the caller to the appropriate agencies or resource. It is apparent to ECD and DTIS that this high percentage of non-emergency communications diverts resources and creates time delays from priority activities. These departments believe that since September 11th, local governments are placing greater focus on public safety and customer service.

According to these experts, this is an opportune time to implement available technology to improve customer service and emergency services as well as setting a standard for other local governments to follow.

The City has yet to establish a back up for the 9-l-l Combined Emergency Communications Center in the event the current facility becomes unusable for an extended period of time.

The City has a decentralized model for customer service but has consolidated all

9-l -1 and emergency communications services. In addition to 9-1-1, according to ECD and DTIS, approximately sixty-three (63) departments have one or more general information telephone numbers. Additionally, the proposal very clearly points out that the City"s official website lists 140 different "offices" with seventy-seven (77) general information numbers operating Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm; twenty-seven (27) of which operate twenty-four hours a day; and approximately thirty-two (32) teletype lines.


OLA looked at the following jurisdictions and their respective programs (See Chart I). Generally, we found that the incentive for instituting call centers was a belief that their current systems of customer service were insufficient and ultimately costly. For instance, Chicago felt that up to its change, their software and systems were cost inefficient and simply not serving the public properly and adequately. In addition, all the jurisdictions believe that the decentralization of systems was cost-ineffective as well.

All the jurisdictions surveyed reported that the call center was a straightforward manner of reflecting a managerial philosophy of improving customer service and accountability. They did report that subsequent to instituting this centralized notion, problems did arise. Most notable was resistance by many department unwilling to "give up" their perceived notion of power and control. The individual comments are below.


Baltimore implemented a 311 system in approximately June 2001 with a start up cost of $ 3 million, including technology, using municipal general funds.

Uses the system for general city-wide `accountability."

The city experienced a dramatic drop, nearly one-third, in non-emergency calls to the 9-l-l system

Baltimore also experienced a reduction in the number of emergency dispatchers needed to staff the 9-l-l function and improved 9-l-l handling resulting in quicker response times.

Additionally, after implementing 311, Baltimore experienced:

78% decrease in callers getting busy signals;

67% reduction in average answer time;

35% reduction in average abandoned time;

82% reduction in calls receiving a recording; and

17% decrease in times operators are busy on calls.


In May 1999, Chicago commenced planning and coordinating their 311 Call Center at a start up of approximately $5 million from municipal resources.

Chicago created its 311 Call Center by relocating 300 employees from various departments who already preformed call center type functions, combining them into a single call center facility.

Response time to service requests was a major focus in Chicago. With the new 311 Call Center, customer requests must be acknowledged or responded within two and a half hours, which allows for an opportunity to measure results and improve service delivery.

Chicago also has a Web interface for creating service requests that are handled through the online service request system that supports their 311 Call Center.


The city"s efforts in instituting a 311 call center are relatively new and close to 1 year old. Initial costs were about $1.2 million coming from reallocated municipal funds. Unfortunately, since the program is considered new, measurement of success is simply too soon.


The call center was first conceived in 1996 with initial structuring commencing in the Spring of 2000 and with a start up cost of $313, 000, excluding equipment or on-line development.


Our research shows that all the jurisdictions examined were prompted to change old systems of customer service and to institute centralized call centers by the managerial philosophy of improving customer service and enhancing city accountability. In addition, even though all the jurisdictions are in their early years of having installed the centers (an average of 16 months), all reported savings to the their respective municipalities.

In San Francisco, we found that efforts have commenced to explore the feasibility of installing a centralized call center. City does not operate a single point-of-communication for customers requesting non-emergency services and information. Indeed, the City uses a decentralized approach with approximately sixty-three departments using one or more general information telephone numbers.


The Board should examine the proposal prepared by the ECD and DTIS to review the feasibility of instituting a call center. Specifically, to review their suggestions on conducting a study assessing requests for services to the City.

Find ways to assist ECD and DTIS in supporting their efforts to improve customer service and City accountability and explore funding possibilities for a call center.








1. Why did you decide on a Call Center?

Customer service was deemed insufficient.

Outdated software and decentralization of service request system was inefficient.

Had no accurate way of responding and tracking service requests.

Based upon the recorded customer comments, the system was found wanting.

2. Have you had successes? What kinds of performance indices are used?

Improved customer service; we use the number of service requests, number of work orders, and status of work.

Successes: Dept. of Sewers reduce response time by 83%; Dept of Streets saved 100s of worker hours by minimizing service duplication; auto Pound inventory reduced due to improved tracking.

Indices: number of service requests and response times.

Program has saved "millions of dollars."

Indices: response time, answer time, operational performance.

Started in 2001, initial customer comments are `favorable."

Measurement indices: `abandonment" rates and percentage of calls answered within 30-seconds.

3. What are the problems?

Underutilization by customers; Work order status cannot be accessed online; not many city agencies using the call center.

Resistance by departments to a transparent system and technological data interdepartmental conversions.

Human resources-identifying professional customer service personnel and redeployment.

Mainly internal. Most city departments are finding this new centralized routine difficult.

4. Has there been a decrease in complaints due the use of the Call Center?


Not sure.

There"s been an increase due to promotion of an improved service and the public"s expectations.

Unable to measure this at this stage.

5. Managerial philosophy?

Improve customer service by making government more accessible.

Leveraging city services efficiently.

Mayoral priority in improved city efficiency for the residents.

Enhance customer service.

6. Has this been `oversold" as a customer service tool?



Only if not used for city "accountability."


7. How many personnel are needed?

12 FTE

78 FTE

45 FTE

13 FTE

8. How best adopted to meet the needs?

Eliminated the duplication of service requests by centralizing complaints.

Improved customer service and decreased costs in increasing response time.

Increase efficient customer service and city accountability.

Increase efficient customer service.

9. What was the approximate timetable for implementation?

The Call Center was first conceived in 1996. Initial structuring and work. Began in Spring 2000 and continued through December 2000.

The Call Center became fullyoperational and open to the public in February 2001.

Approximately 1 to 11/2 years of planning and coordination, starting in May 1999.

About 15 months.

About 1-year.

10. What are the real costs of start-up and type of funding?

For start-up, $313,000, excluding equipment or online development.

Approximately $5 million with funding from municipal resources.

$ 3 million for technology with an annual recurring of $4 million including labor; funding from the general fund.

$250,000 workstations/cubes - 9;

$250,000 hardware and software - database tracking system;

$200,000 telephone system ;

$500,000+ on staffing - biggest cost to 24 hour operation is employees due to shifts, leave, coverage;

$50,000 - initial training.

Type of funding: reallocated funds.

1 Board of Supervisors, City and County of San Francisco, April 1990, file 270-90-5.3, Resolution No. 285-90

2 File 98-0040, Board of Supervisors, City and County of San Francisco.

3 AB 669, Hertzberg signed into law by the California Governor on September 20, 2002.

4 "City and County of San Francisco, Government Service Center, 311 and Customer Relationship Management proposal," March 25, 2002,ECD and DTIS.