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    The 2015 CS Week Conference recognized the City of Grand Rapids Water Department and the 311 Customer Service Center last week, honoring the team with this year’s Expanding Excellence Award for Innovation in Customer Service at the annual gathering in Charlotte, NC, stating their efforts “far exceeded the ingenuity, success and commitment we envisioned when this award was created.”

    The partnership between the Water Department and 311 has achieved maximum effectiveness by increasingly freeing up capacity in the Water Department so that it is able to better focus on the core mission of production and delivery of high quality water to the City and customer communities. The 311 Center provides efficient, consistent and professional customer service for more than 250,000 water and sewer customers served by the City of Grand Rapids.

    CS Week is the premier utility customer service conference for managers and executives at investor-owned utilities, cooperatives, municipalities and governmental entities. The CS Expanding Excellence Award is the most prestigious honor for a utility in North America.

    “The award is a direct reflection of the transformational goals established by a supportive city manager and commission that understands the importance, vision and path of a partnership for all departments with the 311 Center,” said Becky Jo Glover, 311 customer service center manager. “This accomplishment could not be possible without our department leaders serving on the center’s steering committee.”

    According to Glover, achieving this award took a great deal of planning and partnering with multiple staff throughout the City organization. The City of Grand Rapids established a 311 Steering Committee in early 2010 with the goal of exploring a 311 option and implementing if there was a proven return on investment. Many department heads, including the water system manager and environmental services manager, who along with the managing director of enterprise services are responsible for the operating costs associated with Water/Sewer utilities, served on the steering committee. These departments were simultaneously undergoing a competitive assessment with a third-party consultant to improve business processes and efficiencies. The timing of a new Customer Information System, Cayenta Utilities, Business Process Improvement, and emphasis on efficiency drove the success of the 311-Utility partnership. The Utilities were in a state of change and focused on the goal of improving processes, which set the stage for a new customer service-focused effort. The City’s Information and Technology division devoted full resources to explore and choose Microsoft Dynamics CRM (customer relationship management) software to build the necessary content management and knowledge base while using the case management module to track the customer interactions with the City of Grand Rapids. 

    Water Service Manager Joellen Thompson commented, “A great municipality starts with the citizens; our commitment to deliver excellence to our customers is our goal and the partnership with 311 pushes us to be better in service delivery every day. This award is confirmation that our partnership has resulted in a higher quality of service and more satisfied customers. This award is also a reflection of the hard work of many front-line employees in Water, Environmental Services and 311 who have a goal to continuously improve the level of customer service for citizens in the City of Grand Rapids.”

    Callers can reach the 311 Customer Service Center by dialing 311 or 616-456-3000, the center’s hours of operation (for the phones and walk-ins) are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. It is closed on weekends and holidays. In-person service is available at City Hall Lobby, located at 300 Monroe Avenue NW. The 311 Customer Service Center is also available online at 311.grcity.us​.