WEDNESDAY, May 11 — A new squadron of six highly trained customer service agents stationed in the basement of the South Washington Office Complex are waiting for your call.
The city of Lansing this afternoon officially launched its new 311 information service — aptly titled “One Call to City Hall” — that’s designed to help residents find their way through the phone tree bureaucracy that is local government.
It’s simple: Just dial 311 and let the city’s customer service agents navigate their way through your city-related problems. The call agents, who are each paid almost $43,000 annually, have been trained to answer just about every question you can throw at them. Tax questions? Call 311. Need to pay a trash bill? Parking ticket? 311 has you covered. Schedule a building inspection or report a code enforcement issue? What about that massive pothole on Michigan Avenue? The customer service team has your back.
“By calling 311 on your phone, Lansing residents will now be connected with a highly trained customer service agent,” Mayor Andy Schor announced at a press conference this afternoon. “People will no longer have to search for the right city department to call and look around online for a phone number. By making this 311 call to City Hall, residents will now have a fast, efficient and easy way to connect to city government. And that’s one of the things that has been a priority for me: to make city government more accessible to the end user, which is our residents.”
The service is available to all residents from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and is designed to serve as more than just a simple answering service — rather, a convenient hub where agents can help residents solve problems and access city-level resources in real-time, Schor explained.
Emergencies should still be reported to 911. Access to assistance with food, housing and financial assistance should still be directed to 211, a state hotline operated by the United Way.
For everything else, call 311. You might be put on a brief hold, but they’ll try to find an answer.
“It’s all from a customer service standpoint,” explained 311 manager Augustine “Auggie” Martinez, who is paid $63,000 a year. “The goal here is to let you know that the city is here to help you and we’re working to try to give you what you need — and take a little bit of concern with your issues and the things you’re trying to get done. We also do general questions for people who don’t know who to call.”
Schor first announced the “One Call to City Hall” concept at his fifth annual State of the City Address last year. The plans, however, were delayed largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also took eight months to get the new customer service agents trained on a variety of issues. Schor said he “stole” the idea from existing 311 models in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids.
“They always say good mayors borrow and great mayors steal. We stole this idea from Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, and we mayors love to steal from each other,” Schor said. “We are fellow thieves, and we take it all because getting good service to your citizens is important.”
Schor said initial $410,000 startup costs for the call center — which includes software, six cubicles and some new computers — were covered through the sale of the Townsend Ramp, downtown, which the Michigan Senate bought for $18 million in early 2019.
Schor’s latest annual budget proposal earmarks $1 million to keep the program going this year — including about $821,000 for salary and benefits and about $185,000 for annual operating costs. About $400,000 of those funds are set to come from the General Fund budget, which will be paid for incrementally by every public-facing department based on expected call volumes.
A spokesman for Schor’s office said the Public Service Department will cough up the most cash.
The program itself will operate under the umbrella of the city’s newly renamed Department of Neighborhoods, Arts & Citizen Engagement. This year, it accounts for about half its budget.
Department Director DeLisa Fountain said the city is interested in eventually expanding the program to include evening and weekend hours, as well as more coverage for election season.
City Pulse gave the hotline a test run just before this story was published. An agent was able to direct this writer to the appropriate place to file a public records request in about three minutes.
Lansing Connect is also still operational to report non-emergency issues to the city online.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here