This story was updated at 1:26 p.m., Oct. 1, 2012.
Prince George’s County launched its own centralized call center this week for residents to report concerns to the county government or request services.
The 311 call center service began taking calls at 7 a.m. Monday and will take non-emergency calls requesting service from the county government.
“We want the citizens to only have to remember number 311 [for service],” said Vennard Wright, acting director of the county’s Office of Information Technology and Communications.
Anyone who dials 311 in the county or 301-883-4748 will be directed to the county’s service center in the lower level of the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro.
The service, which will take calls between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, will consolidate the county’s myriad customer service representatives and create one place where residents can place complaints or request services such as bulk trash pickup, Wright said.
The service acts as a counterpart to the county’s 911 call center, which deals with emergencies. It will complement the county’s existing CountyClick service, which takes requests for services online or through smart phones.
The county’s various departments receive between 800,000 and 850,000 calls for service annually, Wright said. The call center is being developed to process about 900,000 calls as officials believe the volume of calls will rise as more people become aware of the simple number to call to request service, Wright said.
Within its first hour of use, the call center had received about five calls requesting service. One of the calls, the second on Monday morning, announced a broken down car on Route 295 near the intersection with Route 197, said Gloria Sydnor, a customer service representative who answered the call. With a bit of coaching from the center’s manager, Jennifer Hawkins, Sydnor went through the various on-screen prompts to redirect the information.
Since Sept. 10, the call center’s staff had been doing practice and role play work to prepare them for when the call center would go live, however the call Sydnor received was somewhat tricky to file as the caller hadn’t left a name.
“I think right now, its going to be a little training in us figuring out what departments are right [for each issue],” she said. “It’s very new to me.”
The coming days will be a learning experience for the call center staffers who bring expertise from various offices across the county government, Sydnor said.
“I do know a lot about different departments but not a lot of the details [of how they operate],” said Sydnor, who has worked 38 years for the county’s health department.
The 311 call center’s initial staffing will be 25 people pulled from various agencies. By the end of October, the center plans to add an additional 11 customer service representatives, Hawkins said.
Both the county’s call center and CountyClick online portal that launched in July, were created after roughly nine months of development that costs about $1.5 million, Wright said. The annual cost to run the 311 call center should be about $1.2 million, Wright said.
Wright launched Prince George’s County’s 311 effort after having helped develop a similar initiative in Montgomery County.
Montgomery County launched its 311 call center and online portal in 2010. The two services saved the county about $10 million by centralizing services and cutting down on the number of software programs each agency had to maintain to track issues, said Patrick Lacefield, a spokesman for Montgomery County’s Public Information Office, which administers both services. On a monthly basis, the Montgomery County 311 call center receives about 45,000 calls, and since its inception, has received more than 1 million calls and hundreds of thousands of visits to its online portal, Lacefield said.
A centralized 311 center brings benefits beyond cost savings, Lacefield said. During emergencies such as the June storm that knocked out power to many parts of the region, the call center — which ordinarily is open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. — was kept open 24 hours per day to field calls from residents, Lacefield said. In the past, the county would have only had five or six employees from the county’s Department of Public works fielding calls but was able to utilize the 311 call center, which has 40 customer service representatives, he said.
“We're able to track things much better than before and able to free up the person doing the work to do the work,” Lacefield said.