City launches new three-digit number for public inquires
Calling 311 to get questions answered and issue service requests
By Kris Scheuer
(Written Sept. 18 for Town Crier)
Calling the city to report a pothole in your street shouldn’t be that hard, but if you don’t know who to contact you could spend an eternity on the phone.
City hall’s got the message and has launched the new 311 phone line to assist residents and businesses with municipal issues.
Since 2005, Toronto has spent $35 million gearing up for the new call centre that launched Sept. 24. The new three-digit number replaces Access Toronto, which would redirect people to the right department.
With the new three-digit number, customer service reps can answer questions about multiple services without transferring the caller. In 70 percent of cases, the call centre will process requests for service such as a pothole repair or missed garbage pick-up.“All they will need to know is 311, 24/7 and 365 days a year for service requests and to have answers to questions,” explained Neil Evans, 311’s project director at a media preview Sept. 17. “It’s one call. One stop shopping.”
The call centre is located at Metro Hall and has 100 cubicles with a maximum of 300 employees working over three shifts. The staff expect to answer about 7,000 calls daily or some 2.5 million inquiries a year. “We have a service standard that 80 percent of calls are answered in 120 seconds by a live person,” Evans said. Services will also be available in 184 different languages. Callers will be given a tracking number so they can follow-up on their request and see when it’s being resolved.
The city intends to expand the 311 service over time. Later this year, it will launch an online component so people can request specific services through the web. In 2010, people will be also be able to access 311 services in person at Metro Hall.
The annual operating costs to run this program is $11 million but there’s no net increase in expense to the city as existing call centre employees are being transferred, Evans said.
Businesses and residents will be able to call city employees in any department and are not limited to just the 311 service.
“The city has not done away with its hundreds of phone numbers so if, for example, you regularly call one of the city’s golf courses you can continue to call that number,” Mayor David Miller said in a statement. “The beauty of the new system is if you don’t know the number (to call), you just dial 311.”
The city is aiming to answer all calls promptly.