3 Takeaways from the City of Chicago 311

Salesforce sits down with the City of Chicago to take a closer look at what 311 is doing.

by JOHN CONLEY, SALESFORCE / July 10, 2019
Chicago River Shutterstock/elegeyda

The City of Chicago’s 311 City Services Call Center is unique.

It manages the non-emergency services and inquiries that keep Chicago clean, accessible, and thriving. But it also manages things like assisting non-governmental agencies (volunteer groups, non-profits, local businesses, etc.) with their call centers and customer service initiatives. It even serves as the overflow call center should 911 calls exceed capacity. Quite the community partner indeed.

Our team recently sat down with the City of Chicago to take a closer look at what 311 is doing to manage this kind of breadth and depth — especially at a time when citizens are demanding the kind of service experience they’ve come to expect of the hottest startup in the private sector, from the “lean-n-mean” budget, and resource model that defines the public sector.

Here are my takeaways from that case study — ones that (I hope!) serve as cornerstones for your next round of strategic planning discussions as you look for ways to better serve your communities.

1. Being innovative is in Chicago’s DNA

The mission of Chicago’s 311 center is to:

  • Serve as the point of entry for residents, business owners, and visitors that need easy access to information regarding City programs, services, and events.
  • Record and efficiently document all requests for non-emergency City services within the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System and forward them to the proper governmental and non-governmental agencies.
  • Assist City departments, governmental, and non-governmental agencies in delivering improved customer service and managing resources more efficiently.
  • Monitor and provide consistent, essential performance management reports and analysis of City services delivery.
  • Direct requests for non-emergency police reports to the Alternate Response Section (ARS).
  • Serve as the back-up facility for 911.

The Chicago 311 team has literally written technology into its mission. A move that represents an understanding which is very forward-thinking.

You may have noticed that terms like “AI” have become buzzwords. And that’s because it’s a technology that’s hitting the next stage of maturity, thanks to two key things: (1) We are all so much more connected. We walk around with smartphones, which we use to launch app after app. We have watches that can track our footsteps, cars that can track how much roadway it requires to stop itself all of the sudden, ovens that can set their own temperature based on the density of the food being cooked. These are all data points that we couldn’t capture 10, 15, even 20 years ago (when many 311 systems were built). 

And that amount of data — combined with (2) today’s level of computing power — is what fuels AI. Devices like Alexa are really just statistical machines. They crunch through lines and lines of data, and make the decision that has the greatest statistical significance.

So, how does this all relate back to Chicago’s mission?

Organizations that figure out how to not only capture data, but also capture it in a digital platform that's searchable, usable, actionable, will have the competitive advantage. But it takes time to build up that kind of data. It takes time to build a digital database that Alexa can comb through, and find the exact sneaker you're looking for, or train schedule update, or hotspot for graffiti clean up. Chicago is starting that work now, prioritizing this forward-looking insight in the mission today.

Learn more about Chicago’s cloud-based 311 system

The City of Chicago team joins Salesforce as a guest on our webinar series to dive into the details of the new 311 platform. Learn more about the strategy, inspirations, and insights as you see it come to life. Live on Tuesday, July 30th at 9:00 am PST / noon EST or on-demand thereafter.

Register now.

2. Diversity and inclusion played a huge role in the City’s success

Speaking of CRM...Chicago transformed the typical call center into a modern contact center, unlocking everything from back-office information to self-service capabilities on the Salesforce platform. And in doing so, the City partnered with MBEs (Minority-owned Business Enterprise) and WBEs (Women-owned Business Enterprise) to do project management work, training, implementation, and more. This is valuable from a business perspective in Chicago’s Best Practice Checklist.

It’s also valuable from a personal perspective.

During my time at Salesforce, I have been honored to work alongside many people who come from different backgrounds compared to my own, and thus bring with them perspectives that I could have never seen on my own. 

I’ve watched team after team be more creative, more innovative, and more impactful as a result. That’s because at Salesforce, equality is one of our core values and defining principles. We’ve created an environment that celebrates different backgrounds equally, which means we’ve created an environment that brings those creative ideas forward with confidence.

And in an era where self-driving cars are navigating your streets and Alexa’s are a household norm, you will need confident, creative problem solvers in order to truly serve your community.

3. The team tapped into a sense of civic duty — a best practice we’ve seen before

Last but not least, Chicago made sure to include the community in their 311 transformation effort. Everything from testing to roll out to design was done with participation from Chicago residents. (For example, when you visit 311.chicago.gov you will see a number of online, self-service community portals which you can use to explore events in a given neighborhood, find the words to articulate a given concern, and more — watering holes, if you will).

By being transparent, bringing the community along with them on the journey, and making sure that came through in the actual solution itself, the Chicago team encouraged an inherent sense of commitment and adoption. Which leads to more frequent participation, stronger advocates, and (by definition) more relevancy across the mission.

We’ve seen this be successful with other organizations; the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) is the San Francisco Bay Area’s version of the New York Subway system. BART took a similar community-centric approach to their outreach and communication efforts, and “actually had people tell us the reason why they voted yes on our last big bond measure was because of our transparency. They understood why this funding was important, and the impact it could have on the overall system,” said Alicia Trost, Communications Department Manager for BART.

Involving your citizens early and often taps into their sense of civic duty, and helps makes the community a more vibrant home.

About the Author

John Conley | @johndconley

Regional Vice President — Salesforce Public Sector, State and Local Government


This content is made possible by our sponsors; it is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of e.Republic’s editorial staff.

Platforms & Programs