Striking Back with 311
The December 2005 New York City transit strike brought the city's public transportation system to a standstill. But thanks in part to New York's nonemergency and municipal service 311 phone number, New Yorkers kept moving, in spite of the strike.
To help limit the number of escalated calls, the system greeted callers up front with strike-specific information. For roughly six days, 311 fielded more than 650,000 calls directly related to the strike, plus 285,000 other calls that came into the system during that time, according to Larry Knafo, first deputy commissioner and deputy CIO of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. On the busiest day, 311 handled 241,000 calls, and callers experienced a wait time of a couple of minutes, according to Knafo. The average wait during the strike was just 16 seconds.
The 311 framework allowed the agency to ramp up its agent pool from 500 to about 900, with employees from other departments and agencies. "We built [our offices] out so that they have the same phone systems, the same computer systems there, and we can just add those phone numbers to our call routing queues," Knafo says.
During a half-hour training period, "all the time that we had," Knafo says, the ad hoc agents were given information pertaining to the strike, and a brief lesson in Call Centers 101. The agency set up bus lines throughout the city to transport reps, achieving a 95 percent employee appearance rate. "Without them, none of this would have been possible."