DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT: CREATE A CENTRALIZED COMPLAINT RESPONSE SYSTEM
One of the original purposes in establishing neighborhood-based service centers was to make it easier for residents to file complaints or requests for service from the City. Experience has shown that this has led to a fragmented system of response to citizen complaints and requests for service. The complaint response system at the NSCs has few controls and no uniformity among centers; significant numbers of complaints go unanswered or are lost with no centralized record of requests made, and no opportunity for a generalized policy response from the City.
Create a centralized citizen complaint response system in the Mayor’s Office. The Mayor’s Office of Constituent Services currently accepts citizen phone calls, but it is small and not well-publicized. This office needs to be reinvigorated, with an influx of capital resources and personnel, in order to become a fully operational, effective complaint response center. Existing NSC personnel whose positions are eliminated might be primary candidates to staff the complaint response center in the Mayor’s Office (assuming 15 ‘operators’ would be required). Follow-through (with City agencies and neighborhood-based organizations) on each complaint would be critical, as would a major public education campaign to advertise the call center.
Organizational, Service Improvement
Move this function from HCD to the Mayor’s Office.
Estimated Annual Impact:
The volume of resolved complaints would likely increase substantially (and the time for resolution decrease) under a fully-integrated, centralized system. Change would result in dramatic improvement in customer satisfaction.
Estimated Implementation Costs:
An advanced central response system would require major capital costs: $50,000 or more to purchase and install (or enhance existing) call management system; unknown costs for computer software and to network system with other city departments; unknown costs to conduct an initial public advertising campaign; $25,000 + for new computer hardware; $450,000 in staff salaries with benefits (assume 15 ‘operators’); $62,000 in staff training costs; annual operating budget of $500,000-$750,000. Estimated total first-year costs would be approximately $1.25 million.
Barriers to Implementation:
Costs of significant technology improvements would be high, rendering private-sector support critical. Bureaucratic and political resistance.
1 – 1.5 years
An internal Mayoral task force, staffed with outside expertise, should be formed to design a centralized complaint system, using a toll-free number, sophisticated customer-oriented software, and well-trained personnel.
1) Staff Salary Costs
– Salary costs of new employees:
– Estimate 15 additional ‘operators’ at $30,000 annual salary and benefits = $450,000.
– Each new employee hired to work in the centralized citizen complaint response system will attend 20 hours of training, delivered over a five-day period.
– Assumes number of employees staffing the center will be 10-15.
– Assumes all employees will attend the same training session.
– Training development and delivery will be contracted out.
– Average rate (fully loaded) per contractor employee: $100.
Development of training course on handling complaints includes:
– Background research; and
– Development of participants’ manual, exercises, overhead slides with instructor notes.
— Development time: 3 people X 180 hours/person = 540 hours
— Development cost: (3 people @ $100/hr.) X 180 hours/person= $54,000
Delivery of training course includes:
– Trainer preparation;
– Printing of participants’ manual, exercises, overhead slides (without instructor notes); and
– Actual training time.
— Trainer time: 16 hrs. preparation time and 20 hrs. training time = 36 hours
— Trainer cost: 36 hrs. X $100/hr. = $3,600
— Printing cost: $10 per course participant (roughly 20 participants or $10 X 15 = $150
— Total delivery cost = $3,600 + $150 = $3,750
Training participation includes:
– Attendance of employees of the centralized citizen complaint response system at one 5-day session
– Number of employees: 15
– Average fully loaded hourly salary of employees: $14/hour
– Number of training hours: 20
– Training participation costs: ($14/hour X 20 hrs) X 15 employees = $4,200
Total Training Costs:
$ 54,000(course development)
$ 3,750(1 course delivery)
$57,750 + $4,200 = $61,950
Plus salary costs of $450,000:
Total costs = $511,950
In addition, several cities were contacted in an effort to gauge the effectiveness and costs of a centralized citizen complaint response system, as described below:
City of Louisville, Kentucky (population: 300,000)
Initiated eleven years ago in the Department of Neighborhoods, Louisville’s City Call hotline was moved to the Department of Information Technology and Communication last year when the new Mayor took office. The hotline is staffed with 1 head administrator, 1 customer service representative supervisor, 1 administrative assistant, and 8 customer service representatives. Hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. The hotline receives approximately 700 calls per day, 65% of which are requests for information. The remaining 35% are citizen complaints or requests for service, which customer service representatives enter into their computer system.
Customer service representatives (CSRs) initially received an extensive 10-week training course that included instruction by staff from each city agency, county government staff, the telephone company, utility companies, and non-governmental agencies in the area. The purpose of this training was to educate CSRs on the full extent of services available in the area and to identify the range of services within each office. In addition, CSRs attended a 2-day customer service telephone training seminar, conducted by the General Electric Answer Center. They also received significant instruction on the software used with City Call. Due to budget constraints, newly-hired CSRs now participate in approximately 2 months of in-house training, reading manuals and relying on other CSRs for hands-on instruction.
Annual staff salaries (11 FTE positions) include:
– Head Administrator: not available
– CSR Supervisor: $34,000
– CSRs: $28,000
– Admin Assistant: $30,000
Although plans are in progress to move to a Windows-based computer system, City Call currently uses Citizen Information System software developed by their Data Processing Division.
This software is address-based (linking Census tract and congressional district information to each call), and is part of a network of computers in each city and county department. When a request for service comes in, the CSR will code it so that a work order is immediately sent to a printer in the appropriate department. It is the responsibility of each city department to follow up with their own work orders. However, if a citizen places a second request to City Call, CSRs will often use a contact person in the appropriate department to request follow-up. City Call has a good working relationship with all departments, and typically stays abreast of larger issues (major road work planned in city regions) and passes this information to citizens in affected areas. Using the address-based system, CSRs can advise citizens on their specific recycling, garbage, or yard-waste collection schedules, or direct them to their local councilperson.
In the event of a community emergency, City Call lines are open around the clock. During these times, work orders are sent directly to printers in the emergency operations center, where members from the Red Cross, Salvation Army, FEMA, and the fire and police departments meet.
Customer Service Hotline
Cincinnati, Ohio (population: 365,000 )
The City’s Department of Public Works instituted a ‘one-number’ service in 1995 in order to accommodate the high volume of calls it received for a wide array of street repair, refuse service, and other information requests. In May 1998, the Cincinnati City Manager decided to utilize the DPW one-number service for all city service and information inquiries. The current hotline number (513) 591-6000 was instituted that month, and two months later, the City Hall operator was also folded into the hotline operations (though it is still a separate number.) All hotline personnel are currently housed in a single DPW facility located 12 miles from downtown.
The hotline operation remains a division of the Public Works department, and the hotline manager reports directly to the Director of Public Works. The annual operating budget totals $788,533, as follows:
– Staff (18 FTE positions): $595,500
– Fringe Benefits: $153,200
– General Overhead: $ 24,064
– Non-labor expenses: $ 15,769
– TOTAL: $788,533
In addition to the hotline manager, 2 administrative supervisors oversee a total of 5 hotline operators, 8 dispatchers, and the City Hall operator. Dispatchers are available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week to respond to emergencies. During normal weekday business hours, 3 dispatchers are working or available. (The hotline manager reported that additional staff are needed to handle the enormous volume of calls, many of which are for non-city services such as county questions, non-profit referrals, federal and state inquiries, etc.) Non-emergency calls are logged, and hotline operators inform the caller of which city department or agency would best handle their request, and what types of assistance are available. The hotline manager stated that operators try not to simply ‘transfer’ callers to other city departments.
The hotline operation continues to use the original DPW customer service software that has been in place since 1996. Calls are entered into an electronic system, but tracking remains problematic. Hotline personnel must still request paper-based reports from other city departments in order to determine whether calls have been resolved and how. The hotline manager reported that the need for superior customer service training is critical, as is a broad and deep knowledge of all city agencies and services. Maintaining the flow of information between the hotline personnel and other city staff has also been difficult.
The hotline operation is now examining new integrated computer software (called ‘MAXIMO’) that would allow for case input, work-order tracking, and quality control functions.
Neighborhood Preservation Customer Service Line
Phoenix, Arizona (population: 1.2 million)
The City’s Department of Neighborhood Services instituted a central citizen service line in the mid-1990s. The hotline (open 8am-5pm Monday-Friday) receives an average of 5,500 calls per month, most of which pertain to property maintenance and zoning issues in the neighborhoods. Citizens are also able to walk-in to the center, which is housed in the City Hall. One supervisor and 11 full-time ‘technicians’ staff the service. Technicians are trained in customer service and data entry, and receive orientation on the range of city departments and services in order to properly respond to requests. Technicians are bi-lingual in English and Spanish.
The system is a combination of automated greeting and live person assistance. Technicians ‘log-in’ to the system, which automatically routes new calls to the staff person(s) with the least volume of inquires that day (ensuring an equitable distribution of calls). Technicians also rotate into ‘lead duty,’ in which they help walk-in customers, provide technical support, conduct case research and follow-up, etc.
At present, the software is not truly integrated to allow full tracking of case disposition. Cases are logged and then referred to the appropriate city agency for action. For example, code violation calls are routed to housing inspection staff, most of whom later update records when the case has been resolved. The city is currently negotiating a contract for new integrated software that will enable better follow-up and case management capabilities. (The ‘Tidemark’ system is likely to be selected.) The telephone service operation is a division of the Neighborhood Services Department. The annual operating budget totals approximately $550,000, with technicians earning about $35,000 and the supervisor $45,000.
CITY OF ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI (POPULATION: 380,000)
Citizens Service Bureau (CSB)
The City’s Department of Neighborhood Stabilization was one of the first in the country to implement a ‘customer service’ hotline. In 1985, the new Mayor and his transition team studied the customer service operations of the local utility companies. Shortly thereafter, the Department implemented the current Citizens Service Bureau (CSB) system, which is focused primarily on recording, tracking, and resolving daily calls on pothole repair, sidewalk and tree maintenance, code violations, etc. The CSB handles approximately 10,000 calls per month, 85% of which are requests for city services; the remainder are general information requests. The hotline uses the ‘DataFlex’ computer software, licensed through Novell Corporation. The city’s MIS personnel customized the software to accommodate the specific fields and questions which were deemed most important. The automated call management system is from Perimeter Technology of New Hampshire. The call management system cost approximately $50,000 to purchase and install; annual maintenance runs $3,500 under a maintenance agreement with Perimeter. The cost of a computer workstation is approximately $2,000 for monitor, keyboard, CPU, etc. There are 10 workstations, plus 2 workstations for walk-in customers.
The Citizens Service Bureau is staffed with 1 management supervisor, 1 assistant, 1 lead operator, and 10 customer service representatives. CSRs receive a 2-month orientation to the array of city departments and agencies. CSRs average $23,000 per year, the manager’s salary is $60,000. In addition to the hotline, a City Hall operator utilizes a separate line to handle calls for general information; the City Hall line is advertised heavily in order to relieve call volume at CSB.
The hotline operation is a division of the Neighborhood Stabilization department. The annual operating budget totals over $400,000, as follows:
– Staff (13 FTE positions): $403,000 (including fringe benefits)
– Supplies: $ 3,000
– Contractual expenses: $ 8,000 (mainly maintenance agreements)
Customer service reps answer calls, and key in the complaint. Each city department has a numeric code, as does each general type of complaint. When a complaint is keyed in, the software automatically prompts the operator with specific information and questions to ask the caller. It also displays a typical timeframe for case resolution, which can be altered based on department workload. The telephone system is networked with most other city departments. The software also can generate a form letter to the citizen summarizing their call and its anticipated resolution. The system at this point becomes paper-based. Written work orders (on 3-part carbon paper) are sent to the appropriate department within 2 working days, and a work order number is assigned for tracking purposes. (Cases are held in the system for 4 years, then purged into an archive file.) Once a city department has resolved a case, staff from that department generate a written disposition report, which is sent back to the CSB and keyed electronically into the CSB system.
The CSB is staffed during regular business hours Monday- Friday; however, the city also has a 24-hour automated information line which citizens can use to help answer general information