Be honest. How many citizen requests have taken the tactile form of a post-it-note stuck to the bottom of your computer screen over the past month? Have you ever taken notes from a citizen who walked in to report a problem, and then lost track of where you wrote your notes? Do you ever dread your ringing telephone because you know it’s a citizen following up on a service request you forgot to send to your department of public works?
It’s okay; you can be honest with us. We understand the challenges that local governments face in managing citizen requests, inquiries, and suggestions that come in the form of phone calls, text messages, walk-ins, emails, form submissions and now even tweets and Facebook posts. If you’re overwhelmed by trying to manage the regular cadence of citizen communications and ensure your departments complete service requests timely, then it’s time to consider implementing a 311 and citizen request management (CRM) system.
Not familiar with 311 and CRMs? Read our previous blog to get the 411 about these powerful community engagement tools (see what we did, there?). If you already know that you can’t lose any more sleep over lost requests, inefficient workflows, and unsustainable spreadsheets, read on for ten things to look for in a 311 and CRM solution.
Ten Must-Have Features in a 311 and CRM Community Engagement Solution
- 1. Multi-channel inbound inquiry management. Citizen requests come in the form of voicemails and phone calls, SMS/text messages, web forms, Facebook and Twitter messages, and walk-ins. Don’t settle for a solution that doesn’t aggregate and manage all of these inbound channels. After all, what good is a system that still leaves you with a separate post-it-note strategy?
- 2. Multi-channel outbound citizen response capabilities. Same concept as number one. Aggregating inbound requests is only half the battle. Choose a solution that lets you respond to citizens’ original communication channels from a single interface. Meaning the citizen who texted you about a clogged sewer receives a text response, while the citizen who emailed a noise complaint receives your answer right in their inbox, but you only ever use your CRM platform to issue responses. It’s kind of like magic.
3. A Single Inbox. Since we have already stipulated that you need to be able to manage multiple inbound and outbound channels, choose a solution that offers you a single inbox interface. Such navigational conveniences mean faster communication management and streamlined workflows.
- 4. The ability to convert citizen requests into service inquiries. Ensure any community engagement solution you select is more than a correspondence repository. A significant number of citizen inquiries will likely need to be converted into service requests for your public works team and other departments. A system that automates that conversion, allowing you to track progress and follow up internally (with staff) and externally (with the citizen) will offer the greatest time-saving benefits.
- 5. Automated internal follow-ups for work-in-progress. In a community with hundreds of roads, thousands of streetlights, and tens of thousands of citizens, remembering to follow up on every individual service request manually is next to impossible. Choose a 311 and CRM that automates the follow-up process with internal stakeholders until work is designated as complete. As long as you have on-demand visibility into the status of each request, let the system send friendly reminders to staff for you.
6. Automated external follow-ups to requesting citizens. Have you ever chased down the status of a service request only to forget to let the requesting citizen know the work is complete? Never miss another opportunity to validate for your citizens that your community is responsive to their needs. A modern 311 and CRM should allow you to easily follow up with the citizen when the work is complete to confirm that your administration has acted on their request.
- 7. Social media integration. If your community is on social media (and you should be—here’s why), then your citizens are using tweets and posts as an avenue to send suggestions and submit requests. A community engagement solution that does not integrate with your primary social platforms is not working hard enough for you and your community.
- 8. Service request analytics. Service requests will tell you a story—but only if you have the tools to listen. The most valuable 311 and CRM systems provide quantifiable service-level data to help you identify and analyze micro and macro community-level trends. For example, if a higher than average number of pothole repairs are regularly requested in one neighborhood, the roads may need a higher level of restoration. Similarly, if recurring animal control requests are being made from the same two-mile radius, there may be a recurring problem with one or a few homeowners that should be addressed.
- 9. General feedback analysis. What do you do with the citizen feedback that does not need to be converted into a service request—the suggestions, opinions, ideas, and general concerns of the people that your administration serves? For example, if your parks and rec department is considering building a splash park, residents may have opinions and ideas for where it should (or shouldn’t) be built. The process of aggregating and analyzing such feedback when suggestions are supplied over several months, and multiple channels can be prohibitive without a unified platform. Ensure no citizen insights are ever lost by choosing a 311 and CRM that stores all feedback in a single repository and allows for reporting about general citizen feedback and sentiments. Such feedback may have the potential to serve as your community’s next impactful initiative or campaign.
10. Documentation of individual citizen correspondence. Communities move forward thanks to the efforts of their most engaged citizens. By choosing a 311 and CRM that allows you to document and save all communications and correspondence with individual citizens, you can better serve the needs of your citizenry—one voter at a time.