This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

August 19, 2010 - library teams with election office

A few years ago now, the Douglas County Libraries consolidated most of our phone lines into a central Contact Center. This did two things for us. First, it let us get rid of a lot of annoying sounds and service interruptions in the public areas. Our staff can concentrate on the people who show up in our buildings.

The second thing was that it let us really monitor the number and type of calls we receive, bringing in a lot of eye-opening data. That data has helped us manage a host of operations more efficiently.

Our Contact Center people do more than answer the phones, though. They manage a number of projects, the most recent of which was our team-up with the Douglas County Elections Office. In brief, the county paid us to answer the phone for that office – and provided us the training to do so. This is our second year of providing this service.

The 2010 Douglas County election season officially opened on July 19th. Primary ballots were mailed out and voter questions began pouring in.

From 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday July 19th to August 10th, our Contact Center was the first line of response for election questions. In the first two days we received as many calls as we did in the entire 2009 election.

We answered 4-5 calls an hour and were able to assist 86% of the voters who called us. (We passed along to the election office the ones that stumped us.) All together, election calls accounted for 15% of our total volume for the election period.

What kinds of things did voters ask us? The common questions included: address corrections, how to affiliate with a party, and how much postage a ballot requires.

Voters didn't have to do anything special to get us. Voters dialed the usual election number, and we just switched it over to our people automatically. Our staff could tell how many people were calling, and which line they were coming in on. We kept careful track of statistics.

Having one of the more efficient contact centers around, I'm pleased to report that we are able to provide the service at a very competitive price. Each call costs the election office 87¢ to answer. The library can do it for 50¢. By tracking such things as "dropped calls" (calls that didn't get answered because they overwhelmed the available lines) we can also maintain much better than industry-standard rates for responsiveness.

Like a lot of businesses, the library has tightened up its expenditures. Using existing resources, we were able not only to provide high quality public information, but even to generate a modest amount of new revenue – at a cost that still saved money for the county.

I'd like to acknowledge not only the out-of-the-box thinking of our county elections people (and in particular, County Clerk Jack Arrowsmith), but also our Information Technology and Contact Center staff who made the process so seamless and effective.

I think the public appreciates knowing that independent arms of the government look for ways not only to provide useful service but also to save money together.

LaRue's Views are his own.

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