Denver Announces 311 System Upgrade with Social Listening Capabilities

The consolidated city-county is making significant changes to how it interacts with more than 650,000 residents.

by / April 4, 2017
David Kidd/Government Technology

Denver, a consolidated city-county, is making ongoing changes to how it interacts with more than 650,000 residents, resolves service issues and gets ahead of potential community problems as they develop.

On Tuesday, April 4, more than a year after it went live, city and county officials announced their 311 system upgrade built on the Salesforce Service Cloud Einstein platform. But the new system isn’t the only solution in the works.

During the “last couple weeks,” the city-county's deputy CIO told Government Technology, Denver also quietly went live with the Salesforce Marketing Cloud solution, and with its Social Studio, which enables municipalities to track and aggregate local online conversations via social media.

“We’re just on the cusp of that but we can already see that that’s going to be very popular," said Christine Binnicker, Denver's deputy CIO. “It can be call deference or interaction deference. It can be us responding more proactively to hot topics.”

Originally designed to limit the number of non-emergency calls to police and fire departments, 311 systems centered around informational, non-emergency city hotlines. Baltimore originated the first 311 in 1996, followed by major and smaller cities nationwide.

Two decades later, however, cities from Los Angeles to Marshfield, Wis., are finding that their older 311 architecture doesn’t work as well as it could. They’re opting to replace it with newer solutions powered by more modern customer relationship management (CRM) software, which offers the 24/7 multiple channel availability residents accustomed to social media now expect.

Salesforce, the San Francisco-based cloud computing company, is one such provider. Its 311 Service Cloud Einstein platform gave the city-county functionality to offset the infrastructure demand placed on the region by the average 1,000 people a month who move to Denver.

The push to modernize, Binnicker said, was felt citywide and not just from the C-suites. City-county staffers found the old system difficult to use right down to periodic updates. On the front end, Binnicker confirmed the system generated high call abandonment rates, requests weren’t always seen immediately by staff, and residents weren’t notified of results.

The old system lacked a good user interface, which prompted staffers to create shadow spreadsheets or access databases to track service requests, she said, noting that on the front end, it also was missing a quick and easy way to let citizens know their requests had been fulfilled.

The new platform, which went live at the end of 2015, lets residents get answers and make service requests through pocketgov, Denver’s mobile app. It also loops in Twitter and Facebook 311 pages; notifies staffers when residents reach out, and lets officials easily respond back when services are complete.

It also offers “smart word routing,” whereby the software uses key words to route requests directly to the appropriate divisions; is integrated with Denver’s mapping system; and facilitates cross-agency collaboration.

Denver also retains ownership of all the data that’s generated — an issue state and local agencies nationwide are concerned about. Data generated through 311 will help the city identify areas that generate the most calls, and where DMV and property issues like weeds and overgrown vegetation are more prevalent. Institutionally, the data will enhance the city’s knowledge base and help staffers see where calls and service requests are able to be resolved upon first contact, and where multiple contacts are required.

Exact numbers weren’t available from Denver, but in a news release, Salesforce said its metrics show increases in online case volumes and call volumes of 68 percent and 10 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, the company said Denver’s average 311 call length has declined by 23 seconds.

Binnicker noted that the hundreds of new residents who arrive each month are partly responsible for the rise in case and call volumes. As a result, the city-county hasn’t been able to realize a savings by cutting staff at its 311 call center — but it hasn’t had to add employees either. That’s because pocketgov and other communication channels are reducing pressure on the call center.

Without those additional forms of communication, residents might have experienced longer call waiting times and the city might have had to hire more call center staff members.

Similarly, information on Denver’s return on investment from the new 311 system wasn’t available. But Binnicker said the city-county embarked upon the project to realize returns in soft dollars and improved customer service — not to boost its bottom line.

“We didn’t go into it trying to save the city money," she said. "We went into it trying to make the customer service experience better for our citizens."

Theo Douglas Staff Writer

Theo Douglas is a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.