What a Hundred Million Calls to 311 Reveal About New York

Source: Steven Johnson, Wired, November 2010

…Launched in March 2003, 311 now fields on average more than 50,000 calls a day, offering information about more than 3,600 topics: school closings, recycling rules, homeless shelters, park events, pothole repairs. The service has translators on call to handle some 180 different languages. City officials tout a 2008 customer satisfaction survey, conducted by an outside firm, that compared 311’s popularity to other call centers in both the public and private sectors. 311 finished first, barely edging out hotel and retail performance but beating other government call centers, like the IRS’s, by a mile. (At the very bottom of the list, not surprisingly: cable companies.)…The 311 system has proved useful not just at detecting reliable patterns but also at providing insights when the normal patterns are disrupted. Clusters of calls about food-borne illness or sanitary problems from the same restaurant now trigger a rapid response from the city’s health department. And during emergencies, callers help provide real-time insight into what’s really happening.

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