Innovation That Matters

NYC's 311, version 2.0


The initial success of New York City's 311 service has prompted city government and tourism sectors to set new, loftier goals – 311 is being transformed into a one-stop info source for the city's vast cultural and entertainment offerings.

When Springwise first highlighted New York’s 311 Service back in June 2003, its primary focus was as a municipal clearinghouse for non-emergency services. In those early days, 311 operators typically handled issues like complaints about noisy neighbors, pothole repair requests, and clarification of the city’s Byzantine alternate-side-of-the-street parking rules. Now, the initial success of the service has prompted New York’s city government and tourism sectors to set new, loftier goals – 311 is being transformed into a one-stop info source for the city’s vast cultural and entertainment offerings. The first stage of 311’s expansion, already in effect, includes information on street festivals, a running concert calendar, and alerting callers. The latter was put to good use when last month more than 1,000 callers were informed about rained out New York Philharmonic concerts, saving them a trip to the park. (Source: NYT.) The second stage is being jump-started in time for the Republican Convention through the combined efforts of the system operator (the Department of Information Technology and Communications) and non-profit tourism marketer & promoter NYC & Company. NYC & Co. is providing 30 volunteers to man a temporary help desk at the 311 call center specifically to handle entertainment-related requests during the Elephant-fest. Post-convention, 311 operators will handle calls regarding cultural institutions, concerts, and other forms of entertainment, while all restaurant and hotel-related calls will be forwarded to NYC & Co. An interesting twist: NYC & Company is partially supported by business membership fees, and member businesses will get top billing on calls. Non-members aren’t excluded, but must be requested by name before in NYC & Co. will provide the… er… 411.The 311 upgrade is part of an overall push to increase tourism and the influx of new businesses into the city. Since its inception in March 2003, the service has already handled 10 million calls(!) in over 170 languages at an average rate of about 33,000 calls per day. Other expansion services planned include traffic updates and information on street closings (which will go live during the convention), tree removal requests, scheduling for building inspections, and even enrollment in the Health Department’s smoking cessation program.


We talked about the enormous customer service innovation potential of the 311 model last year, for governments and corporations (how many big cities or big corporations for that matter have still not figured out how to centralize their service departments, let alone how to learn from customer complaints, inquiries, requests and suggestions?). Now, with New York City’s 311 entering phase two, the service may also become a poster child for offering full city transparency, something companies looking to establish their HQ in the region will highly value. It will also please PLANNED SPONTANEITY devotees, and, not to forget, the Creative Class who is more than ever dependent on having up-to-date information at their fingertips. In short, 311 has the potential to become an indispensable DAILY LUBRICANTS to a city already on a 24/7 roll. Plenty of inspiration for all of you who are in any way responsible for making things easier, better, smoother, and more customer friendly!


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