Dial 311 for all your questions on Tacoma

Staff writerJanuary 21, 2014 

If you’re in the city of Tacoma, whether you’re looking to pay your Click cable bill, reserve a campsite at a Tacoma Public Utilities park, find out when your trash will get picked up or buy a ticket for a Tacoma Dome event, you need to remember only one phone number: 311.

The city quietly launched the telephone service in October, along with a website and a second-floor office called the Tacoma First Customer Support Center.

People inside the city limits can call 311 during weekdays and will be connected to a seasoned city employee who knows the ins and outs of everything from code enforcement and city licenses to fire safety and parking laws.

The customer support center and the 311 hotline are meant to help people find the right offices and forms and avoid frustration, said Nadia Chandler Hardy, assistant to the city manager.

“We noticed going through our city directory how many numbers were in the directory and how many numbers does one person have to call to get something done,” Hardy said. “This is not customer-friendly at all.”

From October through December, the number received about 6,500 calls. Another 600 people walked in to the second-floor customer support office, Hardy said.

The most common calls are reporting malfunctioning traffic signals during bad weather, abandoned vehicles, overgrown vegetation and questions for when trash will be picked up, said Maria Lee, city spokeswoman.

“And, of course, potholes,” Hardy added.

If the issue cannot be resolved right away, a customer service agent will route it to the appropriate department. From there, a city staff person will take care of the issue within a certain time period, depending on the issue, Hardy said.

“We try to set that to a three- to 10-business day turnaround, depending on the complexity of the request,” Hardy said.

Three people staff the customer support center. They were selected from existing staff members who have an “optimistic spirit about themselves and a willingness to serve and please the customer,” Hardy said.

Kenny Warren has worked with the city for eight years, much of it in the Public Works Department. Now he sits in a second-floor office at the support center. Warren said he just loves getting people an answer to their questions.

“I like helping people quick, fast and in a hurry,” he said in a rushed, staccato voice. Then he answered another phone call.

Hardy said the city is looking to partner with other dispatch and call centers in the area to connect people with outside organizations or social services.

Other cities also have 311 lines, notably San Antonio, Texas, where City Manager T.C. Broadnax worked before he came to Tacoma two years ago.

The 311 number is part of the city’s “PASS customer support initiative” to help people navigate what is sometimes described as a maze of bureaucracy. PASS stands for Public Access, Service and Security.

As part of the initiative, starting Feb. 3 the public will be unable to access floors above the third unless they have an appointment with city staff. The exception is for public meetings scheduled for one of the higher floors. City officials have said they want to prevent people from wandering aimlessly through the 15-story building.

The support center’s second floor location is temporary, Hardy said. Once the city has more information about how many people use the center, a permanent center will be built. That center will include conference rooms where the public can meet with city staff members who have offices above the third floor.

Tacoma 311 and customer support center

Hours of operation: 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Where: Second floor, 747 Market St., Tacoma.

Online: www.cityoftacoma.org/CityQA.

When to call 311: If you have a question about any city service, or want to report nonemergency concerns, such as potholes or code violations.

To call the center from outside Tacoma city limits, call 253-591-5000.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542 kate.martin@ thenewstribune.com @KateReports

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