Controller Reports L.A.’s 311 Program Lags Behind Other Cities, Calls for Customer-First Approach

LOS ANGELES — L.A. Controller Ron Galperin today called for the City of Los Angeles to improve its 311 program in his latest report, “The 411 on 311: Calling for a Customer-First Approach.” Galperin pointed out that, although 311 received 1.75 million service requests last year through its call center and via email, web and mobile app, the City must do more to streamline and augment the customer experience. Right now, 311 competes with other City departments, doesn’t include some basic service requests, is plagued by long wait times, and fails to provide estimated service completion times, leaving customers without a transparent way to track how quickly the City follows through for them. Accompanying the report is an interactive 311 dashboard showing the number, location and type of service requests made by Angelenos over the last five years.

“When you see a pothole or an abandoned vehicle on the street, you should be confident that by calling 311 or making a service request through the MyLA311 app or website, you can get that matter resolved,” said Controller Galperin. “But right now, it’s not that easy. Some basic neighborhood issues aren’t included in 311 and it’s very hard to track progress on many that are. The City needs to retool its approach to 311 and adopt a customer-first model to better meet Angelenos’ needs.”

Operated by the Information Technology Agency (ITA), the City established a 311 call center in 2002 to provide residents with easier access to government services and improve civic engagement by bringing City Hall directly to them. It was billed as a one-stop shop for non-emergency service requests that cuts through layers of bureaucracy in order to get graffiti erased, street lights fixed, potholes filled, bulky items removed and more. In addition to phone calls, 311 in recent years has incorporated a mobile app and website (MyLA311), which accounted for 80% of service requests in 2020, up from 51% in 2016.

L.A.’s 311 lags behind other U.S. cities

Galperin found that 311 isn’t functioning as well in L.A. as in other large cities that employ a similar program, like New York City, Chicago, San Francisco and Dallas. He identified the issues holding Los Angeles back:

  • In addition to 311, many City departments also have their own service request systems, causing confusion and undermining 311’s goal of being a one-stop shop for service requests. The Bureau of Sanitation’s call center received 700,000+ bulky item pickup, dead animal removal and other similar requests in 2020 — all of which could have been handled through 311.
  • Some common community issues aren’t included on 311, including noise complaints, housing complaints, fire safety issues, parking violations, abandoned vehicles and more. Galperin said those should be added to the system.
  • Customers who called 311 waited an average of 3.3 minutes in 2019, higher than other cities where the average wait ranged from 10 seconds to 2.8 minutes. Wait times increased during the pandemic in 2020.
  • 311 fails to give customers estimated completion times for most service requests and can’t force departments to help it do so, leaving the public in the dark as to when their request will be resolved and undermining accountability.
  • 311 doesn’t proactively ask for customer feedback about the program and the City service they requested.

Galperin recommended that the City reimagine 311 guided by a customer-first approach: 

  • Prepare a citywide customer contact strategy that re-evaluates how the City engages with residents and the role of 311 and other department call centers.
  • Replace the current system 311 uses to manage customer contacts with a more flexible, cost-effective system. This process should incorporate customer ideas into the design process, use new technologies like artificial intelligence to improve self-service, and create a contact center that integrates all the different ways customers use 311.

Explore the report and interactive 311 dashboard at lacontroller.com/311.

Follow L.A. Controller Ron Galperin at @LAController on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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