Two dozen staffers added to aid lacking Miami-Dade 311 information line
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
In recent months, Miami-Dade County's 311 information line has been lacking in services provided to City of Miami residents under a five-year-old agreement, audits show.
County officials have responded by adding nearly two dozen permanent staffers to handle calls.
Call audits from October revealed holes in the quality of services, with some callers facing long waits and others being misinformed by center operators.
The audits uncovered issues such as staff not adhering to set policies and procedures when handling calls, said Jorge Gomez, the county's call center manager.
Concerns continued in November, when the answer speed for calls made by City of Miami residents averaged 4.3 minutes. The target is 90 seconds or less.
"We wanted to make sure they were doing a better job in that area," said Vanessa Morales-Baltar, the city's 311 special projects coordinator.
The city's 311 staff maintains and updates all databases related to city services, monitors work orders and conducts its own call reviews.
To address the audits, the county's call center put forth a corrective plan in December.
The county pulled together a team of trainers and supervisors to meet with all call operators to discuss existing problems, clarify procedures and review how to handle calls, Mr. Gomez said. He said about 700 past calls were also evaluated.
The center is also beefing up personnel, adding to its payroll this month 30 hires, of whom 23 are permanent and seven temporary.
"People are calling in and using the service," said Becky Jo Glover, 311 call center assistant director. "It's our responsibility and our commitment to provide accurate information."
The center handles 8,000 to 10,000 calls on a regular workday. About 7% are related to city programs and services, center officials say.
After quality of calls dipped in November, corrective actions are proving effective, officials say.
The review of 790 calls in late December showed an increase in call quality reaching 95%, Ms. Glover said.
Although the call center assists residents countywide, Miami is the only city for which the center provides personalized services, she said, listing 300-plus topics and able to handle more than 60 service requests.
More than five years ago, the city and county teamed up to create the 311 line to provide residents with information on a wide variety of services.
At the time both planned to launch a 311 call center. Instead, they decided to combine their services, said Don Riedel, director of Miami's 311 team.
In 2003, the county and city signed an agreement in which Miami gave the rights it had secured from BellSouth for the 311 number to the county along with a $450,000 grant to manage the city's system, he said.
"I think the partnership benefits both the city and county. It's the best use of taxpayers' dollars," he said. "It would have been expensive to staff our own call center."
The county conducts its own call audits.
Some of those calls are made in-house and others by the Florida International University's secret shopper program, which the county hires to conduct calls for quality assurance and training.
The university places about 100 county-related calls and 25 city calls monthly to 311 in English, Spanish and Creole.
Ms. Glover, of the county, said the purpose of the secret shopper calls is to have an independent tool to measure the quality of service and accuracy of information 311 operators provide.
The call center is also sending the city weekly reports of audits and the city is conducting its own quality audits to make sure the service is improving, the city's 311 call team told city officials in an e-mail.
"The county has been working with us to fix quality problems," Mr. Riedel said. "We keep checking that the service continues to improve and doesn't slip."