The former champion soccer player Julie Foudy wrote: “I will forever be fascinated by how people deal with adversity, how people react in moments of crisis, or how people behave when life gets uncomfortable.”
Consider how the City of Buffalo 311 center responded to a mandatory COVID shutdown. It’s a tale of resilience, teamwork, and innovation.
The City of Buffalo’s 311 Call and Resolution Center is a helpline that provides access to city services and information.
When the city announced its COVID lockdown, the Center and University quickly joined forces with Cisco, united by a common purpose: to ensure the 311 Center could continue its operations and switch to remote working with a Webex Call Center.
They achieved it in 48 hours.
“Through challenge, you adapt and become much better,” said Oswaldo Mestre, Jr., Director of Citizen Services and Chief Services Officer for the City of Buffalo, New York.
Nothing Has Been the Same.
Today, the city’s 311 Center thrives on new hybrid work arrangements. That certainly wasn’t the case before the lockdown.
Buffalo didn’t have the infrastructure to support a remote contact center. Worse, employees had no experience working remotely.
The technical challenges were significant. Agents had to answer calls in their homes while maintaining secure access to city information and the latest guidance.
Three Teams, One Purpose – In a Can-Do City
The University of Buffalo already had the communications solutions for remote work in place and had scaled its Cisco infrastructure to support more than 4,000 employees working remotely.
“The mayor’s mandate was that residents be in the know,” Mestre said. It was essential to keep communication channels open with residents, and disrupting the vital role played by the 311 center was not an option. “Buffalo is a can-do city of partners. So, we put our heads together.”
Over a weekend, the City of Buffalo, the University of Buffalo, and Cisco integrated the university’s Cisco Expressway and Unified Communications manager into the City’s Webex Contact Center via the cloud. That provided the link between phones and the call center application.
The 311 number was then connected to the university system, allowing a seamless transition to remote work.
“Cisco uniquely understood our situation. We needed to think outside the box and having the collaboration of the University at Buffalo and Cisco working with us in a singular purpose made all the difference,” Mestre said.
Ready On Day One
On the first day of the mandatory stay-at-home order, agents were ready and city communications continued uninterrupted.
Within a few months, agents were answering more than 6,000 calls per day, compared to 600 pre-pandemic.
Operation Clean Sweep
Today, the City of Buffalo has taken that innovation a step further by leveraging call center data to make data-driven decisions informing community outreach and government assistance efforts. In 2022, the city government, alongside community groups, visited over 5,000 homes and cleaned up over 200 tons of debris as part of their Clean Sweep program.
The program, which conducted a record 34 clean sweeps this past year, connects callers with services to remove trash and graffiti, prune trees, repair streetlights, reduce crime and provide social services, which strengthens the responsiveness and relationship between the city and its residents.
“It’s a sacred relationship,” said Mestre. “We have a responsibility to follow up. It starts with the systems. When you have the right systems, you can do other things like Clean Sweep.”
Better yet, the program is continuous. A few weeks during a massive snowstorm that broke state records for snowfall, remote agents handled 4,437 calls to help those in need.
Word Gets Around
The World Smart City Awards recognized the City of Buffalo as part of the Smart City Expo World Congress 2022 (SCEWC).
After 377 proposals from 60 countries were considered, the City of Buffalo was selected as a finalist for the Governance & Economy Award.
Listen to a podcast interview where Oswald Mestre Jr. discusses how the City of Buffalo created its hybrid contact center.
Click here for more information about Webex by Cisco’s contact center solution.