Sacramento’s 311 hotline is slow to pick up

Audit reveals only 31 percent of calls answered in a timely manner

A recent city audit shows that Sacramento’s 24-hour hotline for reporting nonemergency problems like water waste, leaf piles or stray animals functioned at less than half its service level goal for fiscal year 2014.

This was the first audit of Sacramento City 311 since the centralized call center system began in 2008. According to the audit, only 31 percent of calls were answered within 60 seconds, which is the standard for falling within service level. Based on the staffing and resources available, the audit says the call center should be able to answer 39 percent of calls within 60 seconds. The city's service-level goal is 80 percent.

Presenting his underwhelming findings to a Sacramento City Council subcommittee on June 2, City Auditor Jorge Oseguera pointed to ills likely caused by a combination of inadequate staffing, too few supervisors and a lack of agent accountability. “I think it's probably been bad for a long time,” he said.

In some cases, the audit results were baffling. For example, responses to calls were doubly slow on Mondays. But staff was twice as productive as predicted on Fridays and Saturdays, when the call center is less likely to have a supervisor present.

Oseguera speculated that city residents and visitors call with more complex issues earlier in the week, tying up the agents available.

Last year, 20 agents and three supervisors handled 341,658 requests. And the center itself had a supervisor-to-agent ratio far below that of many other comparable call centers around the country, even those that are not open around the clock.

City council's recent approval of two additional full-time call center agents and one full-time call center specialist at a cost of $231,000 is predicted to increase service levels by 72 percent over current numbers.

Other fixes include after-call surveys beginning in September, better monitoring software and upgrades to the 311 mobile app and knowledge base. Oseguera said his office will next check on the call center's progress in January.