Keeping Citizens Safe & Connected in the City of Grand Rapids

The US City of Grand Rapids, Michigan, created a convenient, efficient, and scalable solution to provide excellent customer service to citizens. Their customer service center, known as Grand Rapids 311, is a single point of contact for non-emergency services – citizens can access it in person, online, by phone, or via mobile app. Built using Microsoft Dynamics CRM, the new processes and tools save time and money by streamlining access to services.


Providing citizens with excellent customer service is a tradition for the passionate civil servants of City of Grand Rapids. Each department in the city government – Water, Electricity, Waste Removal, etc. – always seeks to put the public first .Over the years each  department developed its own billing and customer service processes. Citizens with questions would go to a main switchboard and then wait to be transferred to the appropriate department. Because there was no standardized way for departments to share information, sometimes callers were forced to repeat the process many times, especially if their question involved several departments. This situation led to duplicated effort, lost time for customers on hold, higher administrative costs, and all-around frustration.

The call-and-transfer model wasn’t working, and the demand for services was increasing due to an economic downturn. The city needed a cost-conscious, scalable, technologically current, customer-friendly“answer center;” that’s what Becky Jo Glover, 311 Customer Service Center Manager, and Ryan Harris, CRM Project Manager, worked to create. Together with technical adviser Planet Technologies,  they selected the right CRM software and then designed and implemented new processes to put it to good use. The result has been exciting, efficient, and economical – Grand Rapids 311. “One call to City Hall” is the motto, and what it means is that most questions are answered in one call, by staff who use updated processes, scripted responses, and a knowledge base to quickly provide accurate, consistent information to citizens.  Web and mobile users have access to the knowledge base for self-service information gathering, and in-person or telephone users can rest assured that they are getting the same consistent, accurate, and timely information.

Glover and Harris shared a few tips for others seeking to provide improved customer service.

Do the groundwork: build a quality knowledge base

The knowledgebase topics were generated by mining the deep reserves of information in every department. Each new question will generate a new knowledge base topic, and as all topics are cost-coded, the department budgets are billed only for time spent on their own topics.

“If someone calls in with questions that involve both the water department and recycling, the cost internally can be broken down by the topic, not by the call – accuracy in internal billing is key,” explains Harris.

Equally important are benefits seen from time spent documenting knowledge, and conducting training for staff. “We document and train oneverything,” says Glover, and this is time well spent. “Quality data and improved business processes lead to quicker, accurate answers for customers, and those things lower costs internally.”

Select scalable, trusted software solutions

Already familiar with various CRM tools in the marketplace, the team decided to implement Microsoft Dynamics CRM. “We chose it for its flexibility, ease of use, and expansiveness of reporting,” says Glover. Together with familiar Microsoft solutions like Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft SharePoint, and Skype for Business, Dynamics CRM works to support initial process and service changes while providing the foundation for future expansion. “Staffers will ask me if CRM will give support in a particular circumstance – CRM allows me to say “yes” as lot – it can do a lot of things, adapt to many needs. I get to say “yes” more often with this new system,” smiles Harris.

Introduce changes methodically, in stages

There were essentially two multi-phase implementation processes at play – one internal, the other customer-facing. First, Glover and Harris set things up internally, starting with the departments with highest call volume: Water, Public Services, Customer Service, Treasurer’s Office, and Police (non-emergency).  Documentation, training, trial runs, then implementation took place in each department.

“The biggest piece was convincing people that ten staffers in a single call center could use the knowledge base to cover the same calls that used to be handled by many more people in several departments,” recalls Harris. “Once we showed them that an answer center is not a call center, and they saw that 85% of customer questions are now answered with one call – only 15% have to be transferred – they were convinced.”

Then they turned outward, to the customers, with a soft launch of walk-up service in one of the main administrative city centers. Similar results followed: customers found they could get better, faster answers from the first person they talked to, rather than being referred to another desk or department. The next steps followed the same pattern of aligning internal departments with new tools and processes, then rolling out another service segment to the public. Audits, adjustments, and internal reviews punctuated the rollout process at regular intervals. Marketing, advertising, and a hard launch capped the rollout, accompanied by updates, audits, and a final project report. The entire process was largely collaborative, involving staff in defining new processes and building the knowledge base.

Adjust your processes in response to customers, staff

“We are in a state of evolution. Even though we are now fully deployed, things will continue to change as needs change,” explains Harris. As the system becomes ingrained, it is refined by the new data the City of Grand Rapids is now able to compile, analyze, and act upon. Glover adds, “Next steps includes a neighborhood focus, an even greater emphasis on self-service options, mobile access options, expanded e-services and payment options.”
With the new average speed to answer a question at 22 seconds, down from 6 minutes, call abandonment rates at nearly zero, and a year 2 budgetary savings of $628,904, things are looking up for the City of Grand Rapids.

by Microsoft Customer Stories