September 12, 2006
By DANIEL E. GOREN, Courant Staff Writer
Before Rita Ballestas became a city of Hartford employee, she remembers getting lost in the tangle of city hall's telephone system when trying to reserve Elizabeth Park for her wedding.
"Whenever I called, I almost never got a live person," she said. And when someone did pick up the phone, they either could not answer Ballestas' question or just transferred her call.
But changes are coming starting today, when the city unveils its "311" consumer call center, the first of its kind in Connecticut. Ballestas herself will be an integral part in guiding citizens through the labyrinthine city hall bureaucracy as they seek information or look to lodge a complaint, be it fixing a pothole, cleaning up trash or addressing health concerns. She'll be a call taker and supervisor of the call center.
Mayor Eddie A. Perez, who will announce the call center's official opening today, has touted the new system as an example of technology streamlining government.
"One of the biggest complaints we hear is from people who say they called and couldn't talk to anyone and couldn't get the answer they needed," Perez said. "The 311 system is about customer services, and making sure that people know how to navigate city services."
City residents who dial 311 will be forwarded to one of six call takers trained to answer questions from the public. The center will be open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Most Hartford phones will be able to dial 311 directly, but people with cellphones and Internet-based phone lines will have to dial 757-9311, city officials said.
City hall gets nearly 45,000 calls each month, or about 2,150 a day, city officials said. Of those, 70 percent are from people seeking information with the rest being for service.
The new system cost the city about $1 million to install, including computers, software, training employees and refurbishing the call center at 525 Main St. It will cost $300,000 a year to operate, city officials said.
While staffing levels may limit the city's ability to respond to service calls, the new center also will be used as a management tool to improve accountability on the part of city workers, officials said.
When a call is answered at the 311 center, a city representative records the nature of the call electronically and makes sure the call is forwarded to a manager in the correct department. The request is then tracked to determine how long it takes to address the issue or to fix the problem. The employee who does the work is also recorded.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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