The City of Vancouver fields 5,000+ service requests monthly with Olark live chat

How the 311 contact department uses live chat to serve citizens faster


The city government of Vancouver, Canada is responsible for departments from social services and parks to development and transportation. Their website features a 311 center to field requests and questions relating to many of these departments, serving as the main customer service arm for the city.

Vancouver’s 311 center initially added Olark live chat a few years ago as a trial tool for a one-off elections project. Until that time, they had exclusively used phone, email, and in-person meetings. After the elections project, they set it aside. Later, the city implemented a vacancy tax policy. The 311 team thought that live chat would fit well with a high volume of queries on the new policy at varying hours. They returned to Olark and it quickly became very popular with both customers and agents. After the vacancy tax season passed, the team regrouped and decided to expand live chat.

“And at this point in time, the city was really looking to move more into the 21st century anyway, in terms of technology,” 311 team manager Winson Tang remarked. “So things like apps, live chat. Which isn’t that revolutionary, I suppose. But for us it is!” The 311 center went into a pilot stage testing Olark live chat, no small feat with thousands upon thousands of webpages. They began with the busiest webpages, starting with the homepage, to perform a strong test, and each month worked backwards to a few other less busy departments.

“And no surprise, very, very quickly, it was blowing up like crazy,” Tang said. “And again, no surprise, the agents were loving it, the citizens were loving it. And it was without question at this point that we knew, we have something here that we can’t ignore anymore, and this has to go from pilot to just sustainment in reality. So after some months of implementing onto the different web pages, and closely following and looking at all the stats that Olark provides through the CSV reporting structure, we knew we had a winner and it was here to stay.”

Vancouver, Canada’s 311 center provides customer service for the city government, including development, recreation, programs, and transportation.

Vancouver, Canada

The Vancouver 311 team used to strictly prioritize phones. They would pull team members off email to answer calls. However, Olark live chat has become a high priority channel for them also. Tang explained, “Don't get me wrong, phones are still very much our bread and butter. But chat has gotten to the point now where we have people specifically scheduled to chat. No matter how bad the phones get, the chat people have to get left alone. [...] So that's how big chat has gotten for us.”
Key Olark features used:
Olark’s reporting informs Vancouver’s 311 team on chat volumes and performance, helping them forecast and make sound business decisions on adjusting chat scheduling structure. “I nerd out on the CSV reporting quite often,” Tang said. “There's some amazing stuff there.”

Pre-Chat Survey
The 311 team uses Olark’s pre-chat survey feature to collect quick information about visitors before a chat and route them to the right place.  

In many cases, agents need to answer highly unique questions. However, in some cases—such as the vacancy tax season—the 311 team finds standardized answers useful. Olark Shortcuts lets them summon pre-saved responses in just a few keystrokes, avoiding repetitive and manual copy-pasting of legal text off their website and other cumbersome responses.

In the early stages of the 311 team’s full Olark implementation across their website, they were seeing 100% chat volume increases month over month. At the time of this writing, they are seeing 5,000 interactions a month. “To us that’s an insane number,” Tang said. “Calls, again, are our bread and butter. We probably get about 15 to 1800 calls a day. That’s about 165 chats a day, which is 10% of our daily calls. That’s pretty big.”

The contact center doesn’t have specific volume metrics they are trying to hit, they are simply trying to provide the best quality service experience. Olark has also given them a channel with a simple user interface that was easy for both agents and website visitors to adopt. As Tang remarked, “If you know how to text message with someone on your phone, you can teach someone Olark in a matter of minutes.”

Olark has provided the city of Vancouver’s primary customer service wing with a responsive yet simple channel to respond to 10% of all inquiries (and growing). They can see their chat volumes and performance through reporting and continually adjust. Live chat is popular with both staff and visitors for its speed and ease of use, while also representing a strong step towards modernization. “Olark has truly become a big success story for us,” Tang said.

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"I do know for a fact that [Olark] 100% has affected our phone volume. And it's salient because one thing I have noticed is, we will see people who are on chat, who will admit in chat that they are also simultaneously on the phones waiting for an agent to pick up! And they're just attacking both channels at once and seeing who they get first."

Winson Tang,Team Manager

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