The City of Gatineau, Que., one of six municipalities that petitioned the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to assign 311 as a phone number for non-emergency municipal services, is laying groundwork
for a single-number service meant to begin service in June.
In early November, the CRTC approved the application by Gatineau, Calgary, Toronto, Halifax, Montreal and the Regional Municipality of Halton in Ontario, ruling that telephone companies must provide 311 service on six months’ notice from municipalities. The 311 number has been used for this purpose in the U.S. for five years or more, said Gilles Sabourin, project director for the one-number project at the City of Gatineau, and more than 40 cities have implemented it.
Gatineau is working with Bell Canada to implement its system, and Claude Rousseau, Bell’s senior vice-president of sales for enterprise and public sector in Quebec, said his company is working with half a dozen or more other municipalities on similar projects. “It’s resolving a major, major issue that they have on their side,” he said.
Sabourin said Gatineau, which went through an amalgamation in 2002, currently has calls for various municipal services routed to between 20 and 25 different locations. The city intends to create a single physical call centre, moving employees to one location where all calls will be handled.
“We’re using the staff that we already have,” said Sabourin. “We’re going to be just switching people around.”
The city is installing a customer relationship management (CRM) system developed by Bell Canada to streamline call-centre operations. Rousseau said this system will help direct enquiries to the right place. Call-centre agents will use it, and the same capabilities will be available to the public through the Web and through voice-recognition systems.
Through the CRM system, Gatineau is aiming to improve its handling of non-emergency calls by asking all the right questions on the first call rather than simply taking a caller’s contact information and having the appropriate person return the call to get further information and deal with the citizen’s request.
For instance, Sabourin said, if a citizen calls about a burned-out light, an agent should find out whether it is a traffic light or a street light. “It’s not the same crew and it doesn’t have the same urgency,” Sabourin explains.
Sabourin said the city currently gets about 600,000 non-emergency calls per year.
As it consolidates to one call centre, the city also plans to extend hours of service. Currently the city takes non-emergency calls between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., said Sabourin. When the new system is in place, full service will be available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. calls will still be answered, probably at a different location, and minimal services will be available.
Gatineau will also provide municipal employees in the field with wireless handheld devices so they can receive messages from the call centre about citizen requests and complaints more quickly, said Sabourin.
Sabourin hopes the single-number service will be using the 311 number when it begins operation next spring. If that isn’t possible, he said, the city might fall back on an ordinary telephone number temporarily, but “I’d rather go to 311 right away and not have to go through two publicity campaigns.”
In announcing its decision to assign 311 to non-emergency municipal services, the CRTC said the growth of 10-digit dialing in major cities has increased the need for a short, easily remembered number for access to municipal services, and implementing 311 should reduce the number of non-emergency calls to the 911 emergency services number.