New system provides one-stop county contact

Kitsap County is implementing a system that will provide a single contact point for all its departments. The process, which began in November, is designed to increase efficiency and decrease the time it takes for people to get information from the county.

“This is a huge opportunity for us to provide a better level of service to our customers,” said Public Works spokesman Doug Bear, who is shepherding the effort. “People calling the county get a real person, which is something that most of them don’t expect.”

Bear has been planning the system for several years, ever since Public Works debuted its Open Line call center. In November, the county did a “soft rollout” of the new procedure, routing calls from the county commissioners’ office to the existing Public Works phone bank.

Bear presented a report about the system to a work study meeting of the county commissioners on Wednesday morning.

Other departments are to be incorporated, and a single number — most likely (360) 337-5777 — will become the default number for county contact.

Down the road, this is expected to morph into the simple 311.

Even with the limited rollout, two areas of success have emerged. The commissioners’ and Administrative Services departments have reported fewer calls where they were required to give out repetitive information. This has saved time for these departments, since they can focus on their jobs.

Additionally, last month’s series of storms vastly increased the number of people calling for information. But the system was able to answer most of their questions.

“On a normal day, 80 percent of the calls we get are repetitive detail questions such as office hours or an address,” Bear said. “There were also a lot of repetitive questions during the storm, but we were able to help people because several county departments were providing timely information. The Department of Community Development told us that inspections would need to be rescheduled. And we could provide information for jurors who were calling in.”

The long term goal is to implement a 311 system, with which anyone who needed to ask the county a question of any nature would have a single, simple contact point.

However, it will take a few years to get to that point. Aside from the prosaic process of printing up new business cards, the county needs to secure local rights to 311 and make it available after a proper marketing campaign.

“If you implement 311 prematurely, it will cause a lot of confusion,” said Information Services Director Bud Harris. “We will need to advertise and promote it properly.”

Currently, there are four call center operators and one supervisor running the Open Line, and they handle 300 to 450 calls a day. This is within acceptable limits, since the normal ratio is that one employee can handle 100 calls a day.

There is also some room to grow, since many of the calls received are very short.

Bear said the call center was able to handle 94 percent of all calls during the storm on the same day, with the remainder sent to the relevant department.

The ratio widens during a normal day, with operators opening a case file for each instance. These files are forwarded to individual departments which have a “queue custodian” charged with following up with the caller.

Bear said he would also like to centralize customer service for courthouse visitors, establishing a desk in the main lobby where they can pick up bid requests and forms.

All three commissioners lauded Bear’s efforts, but asked that he implement reporting and statistical abilities to the system.

“I'm glad we are resolving our problems,” said South Kitsap Commissioner Charlotte Garrido. “But I would like to have some idea of what we are resolving.”

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