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Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Audit finds L.A.'s customer service line is expensive and inefficient (updated)

Controller Ron Galperin, center (seen in file photo with Mayor Eric Garcetti, left, and City Attorney Mike Feuer), released an audit Monday that finds the city's 3-1-1 system needs a major upgrade.
Controller Ron Galperin, center (seen in file photo with Mayor Eric Garcetti, left, and City Attorney Mike Feuer), released an audit Monday that finds the city's 3-1-1 system needs a major upgrade. Alice Walton/KPCC

The City of L.A.'s customer service line is more expensive and less efficient than similar systems in other major cities, according to an audit released Monday by Controller Ron Galperin. 

Angelenos called the 3-1-1 line almost 700,000 times last year and most of those calls were to report potholes, graffiti, broken street lights and furniture left on sidewalks. The high call volume indicates residents are making use of the service, but the controller found there is room for improvement. 

It costs the city $6.30 to answer each call to the system. That's more than it costs to answer similar calls in San Francisco and Sacramento, according to the audit. And whereas call centers in San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C. are staffed 24 hours a day, the 3-1-1 line in L.A. is only open from 7:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.

An estimated 30 percent of people who called the 3-1-1 line were disconnected or hung up before an operator could answer their call.  That’s likely because it takes an average of 3 minutes and 36 seconds before a call can get to an operator. Compare that to San Francisco, where residents typically wait just five seconds to speak to an operator.

The controller recommends additional training for staff and a focus on data collection in order to improve service.

"It is time for us to commit ourselves to fully integrating the 3-1-1 system into citywide systems and to bringing this important tool into the 21st century," Galperin wrote in the audit. 

LINK

Update: Data provided by the Mayor's Office and Information Technology Agency show the wait time to speak to an operator has dropped to 41 seconds and the number of abandoned calls has gone from 30 percent to 6 percent of calls in 2014. The improvements are due, in part, to the hiring of additional call center staff and a new 3-1-1 director. 

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