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Caller complains of 311-around

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Evanston's 311 operators are getting some criticism for being just a little "too helpful."

At a 2nd Ward meeting Thursday night, Evanston resident Betty Sue Ester complained that when she asks to be connected to a specific city employee, instead of just putting the call through, the operater quizzes her about what she's calling about.

"It's kind of irritating," Ester said, "It's time-consuming."

"If you ask for a specific person, they should just connect you," she added.

Joe McRae, the assistant to the city manager who oversees the 311 operation, said the operators are instructed "to try to be helpful" and answer questions directly whenever they can.

He said the operators are also told to use a "warm transfer" approach when switching calls.

That means the operator calls the employee's number and waits to see whether the employee picks up the phone or the call goes to voice mail.

That way, McRae said, if the call does go to voice mail the operator can tell the caller the employee isn't in and check whether someone else can answer the question.

Callers who want to reach a city worker directly, without going through the 311 center, may find it difficult.

Direct-line phone numbers for only a dozen top-level managers are available on the city website, leaving the other nearly 800 city workers hard to reach except through 311. 

And 311 operators have been known to refuse to give out a direct-line number for a lower level manager when a caller specifically requests it.

Top: Assistant to the City Manager Joe McRae speaking at the 2nd Ward meeting.

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