Buffalo Moves Critical City 311 Call Center Home in 48-Hours Amid Pandemic Closure
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Keeping the Lines of Communication Open
Buffalo is the second-largest city in the state of New York, home to more than 250,000 people. The Division of Citizen Services acts as a link between City Hall and residents, helping to ensure the smooth running of the city. If you have an issue with waste collection, a dark streetlight, or a fallen tree blocking the road, Citizens Services is the group to call.
The City runs an online portal and an app to log requests, but the primary communications route is the 311 Call & Resolution Center. The call center takes up to 600 calls a day from Buffalo residents. Real people speaking to real people about everyday issues. “311 is the lifeblood of the City,” says Oswaldo Mestre, Chief Service Officer, Division of Citizen Services, City of Buffalo. “It shows citizens that there is always a way to reach out to City Hall.”
Then the pandemic arrived. As the State of New York battled to contain the virus, the City of Buffalo staff were instructed to work from home. All offices were to close. It would be impossible to operate the 311 Call & Resolution Center. “Mayor Byron Brown led the way for the City’s call center to transition quickly to operate remotely,” Mestre says.
“As a City, it was essential to keep communication channels open for our citizens,” says City of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. “The City needed to respond to residents with important information when it was needed most.”
The stay-at-home instruction came on a Friday afternoon. “We knew there would be a lot of people with questions and worries,” Mestre explains. “Closing the line was not an option. We had to have 311 open as usual on Monday morning.” Citizen Services needed its call center agents to be able to work from home, to take calls from concerned residents, and to have secure access to city information and the latest guidance. And it needed this set up over the weekend. But they did not have an infrastructure in place for the call center to work remotely.
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The City of Good Neighbors
Buffalo proudly shares its mantra as, “The City of Good Neighbors.” It’s times like these that good neighbors are needed most; so when the City needed help, they knew they could call on their neighbor and long-time partner, Cisco, to provide a solution to their problem.
At the time, many customers just like the City of Buffalo were reaching out to Cisco for help staying connected to their customers during the pandemic. Hearing this demand, Cisco responded by creating the Webex Contact Center Quick Deploy Solution. This solution would provide organizations the ability to deploy a cloud contact center quickly, cost-effectively, and allow companies to deliver information to their customers in a time when communication channels are paramount.
With Webex Contact Center, Cisco’s feature-rich, native cloud contact center solution, the City would have the ability for agents to work from the comfort of their own homes, have calls routed to them as if they were in the office, and there would be no need for a VPN connection or clunky on-premises infrastructure to enable service.
The Cisco team worked diligently with the City to quickly deploy the contact center application and provide the link between the City’s phones for remote workers and their call center application. In just 48 hours, the Cisco team was able to set up a new cloud contact center specifically to meet the City’s work-from-home needs.
Meanwhile, Mestre and the team organized the drop-off of new phones, headsets, and training information to call center agents’ homes on Sunday. There was a sigh of relief and certainly some excitement in the air that the team could actually pull this off.
311 Call Center Boasts Smooth Remote Operations
Monday morning at 8.30 a.m., the first calls come into the 311 Call & Resolution Center. “We never missed a beat,” says Mestre. The dozen 311 call center agents were able to work from home, with everything they needed to work effectively in hand. Mestre praises Cisco’s technology and the attitude of the 311 teams.
“Working remotely from home with a new system was a leap for our call takers. We had to scale up and adapt very quickly,” says Mestre. But with everyone stepping up and working together so quickly, it meant the City was able to keep citizens informed of the latest updates on testing information, social distancing, and any new guidance from the Mayor and Governor. It also demonstrated that Buffalo continued to function, that City Hall was engaged with the community and that essential services remained in place.
“We can’t forget the human element and how this affects people in the community,” Mestre expresses. “The 311 Call Center is critical to smooth communications in the City. It is absolutely essential during times of uncertainty. Even with offices closed and staff working from home, Cisco solutions meant we never missed a call.”
Read how the City of Buffalo teamed up with University of Buffalo to meet their remote work and service continuity goals in our #PublicSectorNow series.
Learn more about how Webex Contact Center can help your organization.
Sep 16, 2021 — Aruna Ravichandran