A local government uses a centralized customer service system - sometimes called 311 - so residents can call a centralized government phone number, place requests for service and are assigned tracking numbers to monitor their requests.

Though a centralized customer service system is valuable for residents, local governments benefit too. Some big cities - Baltimore, Las Vegas, Chicago, New York, Houston and Dallas - have implemented these systems to ease the burden on 911 emergency systems, and they seem to be doing the trick.

The International City/County Management Association recently conducted a Local Government Customer Service Systems (311) national survey. Funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the survey explored successful 311 implementations and how they're used to respond to citizen needs and strengthen local government-constituent relationships.

Overall Usage

Of 710 survey respondents, only 104 reported they use a centralized system. But the results show that not only large cities and counties are using them: Thirty-two local governments that use a centralized system have a population under 30,000. Although that number of adopters seems low, twice as many local governments are considering installing a system.

For local governments that lack systems, the major concerns were cost and the process of obtaining a 311 designation. But implementation leads to demonstrable savings, such as reduced calls to 911, and improved customer service, information, reporting and management. There are also alternatives to a 311 designation, such as an easy-to-remember, seven-digit number.

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Evelina Moulder  |  Contributing Writer
Evelina Moulder is director of survey research for International City/County Management Association in Washington, D.C.