Thursday, July 23, 2015

Philly311 – A Journey to Creating a Connected City




By Rosetta Carrington Lue
Chief Customer Service Officer
and Executive Director

Philly311 Contact Center
City of Philadelphia





It Started with a Simple Idea

In 2008, Mayor Michael A. Nutter came to me with the idea for Philly311. The goal was to make city government more effective and transparent by creating a contact center that could manage all of the citizens’ requests. The system would improve efficiency by submitting the requests directly to the appropriate department in the proper format. He had a simple requirement – he wanted all calls to be answered by the third ring. That was his standard for service in 2008, but since then we have accomplished so much more. We have more than a 90% customer satisfaction rating. The contact center is available on many channels; including a mobile app that is one of the few 311 apps in the country, and our award winning social media services.

Anytime a service is being provided, the person receiving that service is a customer of the provider, even in the public sector. This article explains how Philadelphia became a more connected city by focusing on our customers, getting our staff to believe in our mission, and changing the culture of government to be more accessible, responsive, and adaptable.

Treat Citizens like Customers

This customer-centric model is still relatively new to government. We have taken a traditionally private sector ideology and applied it to the public sector. Using the private sector as an example, we re-evaluated local government’s relationship between citizens, visitors, and business owners. With this new perspective, citizens, visitors, and business owners are the City of Philadelphia’s customers, and their customer experience becomes a priority. The City of Philadelphia wants all of its customers to be satisfied and to continue to live, work, and play in our City. By incorporating new ideas and values into our process, we are reinvigorating city government in Philadelphia. We are creating a culture that focuses on our customers and that operates with integrity and responsiveness.

Get the Staff Invested

At Philly311, ensuring that employees are fully invested in our mission is key to building a customer-centric culture. We wanted to make sure that all of our employees and city departments understood the reason for and value of being a service oriented organization. This took time, planning, and consistent follow through. As a result of our efforts, we now have an amazing team of highly motivated individuals. When your agents believe in the work they are doing and understand our ultimate common goals, they can work more independently, and will strive to achieve the best results possible without being micro-managed. A staff that is inspired by what they do will always produce better results than a staff that is worried about consequences or meeting the bottom line.

Transform the Culture of Government

Philly311 is a vehicle to establish a standard of customer service for all of city government. Our customers are at the center of our day to day operations. Additionally, we are creating a new mentality of customer service in city government. Philadelphia takes an innovative approach to connecting the community to the City with dynamic communication models, and citywide initiatives. We offer resources and workshops to train city employees on how to deliver outstanding service. We help other departments set measurable outcomes, performance metrics, and share best customer service practices about how to meet their goals. We understand that any interaction a customer has with a city department or agency can impact the way they view city government overall.

Be Available at the Customer’s Convenience

For example, we have multiple channels to engage our customer. We want our customers to reach us on a platform that is comfortable and easily accessible. Anyone can submit requests through our call center, walk-in center, mobile application, social media platforms, self-service web portal, or email. Our mobile app and website are operational 24/7, the call center is active from 8am-8pm, and walk-in services are available from 9am-5pm. Our mobile application comes in 17 different languages to ensure that everyone has a chance to be heard, and to honor the incredible diversity of Philadelphia.

Be Responsive and Adaptable

We listen to our customers’ concerns, observing trends in request type and location, and obtaining meaningful user feedback by monitoring social media, reviewing reports to analyze data, and taking customer surveys. With these tools, we are able to adapt our system and our services to meet the customers’ needs. We want citizens to feel like government is really working for them. We aim to empower citizens to make a difference in their communities by giving them a direct line of communication to their government. We are increasing accountability and internal communication as well.

Be a Leader; Set an Example

More local government officials are coming to understand how a 311 system can improve the relationship between citizens and their government. Philadelphia is a national model because of our innovative strategies, successful growth, and high customer satisfaction. Putting our customers first revolutionizes the way that the City delivers important services that affect the quality of life. We hope that other cities can learn from, implement, and expound on the work we have done in Philadelphia to create a connected city.


Rosetta Lue has over 15 years of hands-on experience in business operations and senior leadership in both the public and private sectors. She is recognized as an expert in customer experience management across diverse industries in both the private and public sectors, including domestic and international markets. 

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