Behind the phones: A look at how Sugar Land 311 goes above and beyond the call

By Hannah Shulman

Whenever 311 Contact Center Ambassador Genaro Avila started working for the City of Sugar Land, he never imagined he might be able to help save Christmas.

A resident called 311 desperately needing help not long after realizing her mother’s recycling days had changed. It turned out she’d hidden a Christmas gift in her recycling bin, which the City serviced for pickup and with it, the gift. Avila quickly connected the resident to Environmental and Neighborhood Services, who worked with the resident to search the bags for the gift. Although the gift didn’t turn up, the collaborative effort between 311, Environmental and Neighborhood Services and the resident isn’t something that can be forgotten.

We guess you could say there’s more to Sugar Land’s 311 than meets the eye … or ear.

Sugar Land’s 311 Contact Center has answered over 150,000 calls since its launch in March 2018, when it was created as a way to connect residents directly to the services provided by the over 800 city employees. Employees working in the 311 Contact Center, also known as ambassadors, handle a plethora of inquiries, from questions about recycling schedules to reports about sidewalk cracks.

“Our team of ambassadors are fondly referred to as the encyclopedia of the city,” Sugar Land 311 Contact Center Manager Michelle Manukonda said. “The goal is to assist each customer as efficiently as possible and provide superior service. “

While ambassadors are trained to manage whatever calls they might receive, sometimes a request requires an ambassador to go above and beyond.

311 ambassador Matthew Huffer knows a thing or two about that. After a potential Sugar Land resident called 311 curious about the City because they weren’t familiar with the area, Huffer was able to tell her about the area based on his 30 years of experience living in the City.

Huffer compiled a list of resources for the caller and explained Sugar Land’s local public amenities, schools, and other activities. He stayed on the line with the caller, answering questions and giving her a comprehensive introduction to the city, going so far as to send a follow-up email with links to anything they might need, from the City’s tourism page to local attractions.

This type of dedication makes 311 an integral part of disaster communications for the city.

During a major event, 311 makes calls and checks in on anyone who has signed up for the Enable Fort Bend list. Through this service, the City is able to connect its more vulnerable population to emergency assistance.

And even when the recent winter storm left many in the area without water and power, 311 brought in additional staff to assist with high call volume and expanded their operating hours to meet the needs of residents.   

“Our team of Ambassadors help to reinforce information communicated by city departments,” Sugar Land 311 Contact Center Supervisor Jennifer Williams said. “We are here to help receive any concerns that a resident or property owner has before, during and after any unexpected weather events. 311 is committed to the safety and wellbeing of all of our callers.”

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