Providing Great “Citizen Service” via 211, 311 and 511



At Control Group, our thinking about the public sector and “citizen service” is heavily influenced by the hospitality, retail and entertainment industries. We believe focusing on things like customer experience, data-driven decision making and a strong brand– backed by a fulfilled promise– is critical for any organization, public or private.

One area in which we’re seeing a lot of activity are so called “one stop shops” for social services, non-emergency services and travel information– 211, 311 and 511, respectively. These are the “1-800 numbers” of sorts for cities nationwide.

There’s a lot of potential in these efforts. Providing citizens one number to call to interface with the city, and providing service in a way that reinforces the responsiveness and effectiveness of government, can have enormous effects on customer satisfaction and perception. In fact, if done well, such initiatives can result in government customer satisfaction rates that exceed the private sector. Something the cynical among us might not have thought possible of government.

So how can one be successful? Below are some things to consider:

Channels. In addition to usual and expected channels, in-person engagement opportunities provide a friendly face for populations that may be reluctant to engage with government, or cannot do so via other channels. Boston’s “City Hall To Go” is a great example.

Follow-up. For service requests or issue reports, following-up with the customer via an appropriate communications channel “post-report” offers confidence the city received and understood the request correctly. It’s also a great time to collect feedback and provide information on self-service options to check on the status of the request later. Think ZenDesk or Uber’s receipt/rating workflow.

Integration. This one has many dimensions. From a channel’s ability to refer the user to other organizations (e.g. 211 or 511), technology integration and information sharing, to cross-agency collaboration, “integration” is one promise of using information technology in the first place. It’s also a big enabler of customer self-service options. What might a Google Docs-like collaborative workspace for 311 request fulfillment look like?

Mobile. An obvious rising star in the Internet-computing world, mobile devices are increasingly common across all demographics and ages, even the primary mode for Internet access for some. Mobile has unique opportunities for enabling self-service: recording ambient audio levels, taking photos of issues or accurately reporting a user’s location can aid in the verification and submission of a request. For instance, noise complaints might prompt a sample of ambient sound. Might a well designed app ask citizens to verify an issue exists if they happen to go by it?

Partnership. Cities can’t handle all requests that come in from the public–e.g. plastic bags in trees. Instead of turning citizens away, can a referral be made to a private or third-sector organization for follow-up? Might cities broker requests from citizens, providing a portal for third-sector organizations to use during community cleanup days?

In the end, I’m reminded of a term I hear frequently in architectural circles: “porous.” As public sector budgets shrink and public-private partnerships become more common (and perhaps necessary), creating porous systems that can exchange data and responsibility with an engaged public can be a benefit to both.

Exploring the Power of Gaming Techniques in Spatial UX


zeldaIn the past month, we’ve seen an uptick in the application of gaming techniques to transform physical surroundings. From the real-life Pac-Man game televised during the Super Bowl to Michael Jordan’s last shot simulator, it’s no question that technology is paving the way for a new era of live world immersion and not only through A/R headsets.

Here are a couple of thoughts when it comes to this new frontier.

First, physical environments are being transformed through virtual reality creating a myriad of options to influence our moods and state-of-mind. The power of the physical environment to affect a persons experience is undeniable. Now, with projections coupled with ambient audio and light, the ability to transport, create/manipulate mood, and affect our body chemistry is heightened. For example, imagine applying this capability to an office space, a conference room, an executive briefing center. Those physical locations can be designed to promote productivity, collaboration or a special sense of connection.

Now can you transport someone sitting at their own desk into a more relaxed environment? Is your office perched on a penthouse in a metropolitan city, merely a tree house in Costa Rica, or a modern structure made of metal and glass? Is the space designed to respond to your mood using a subtle change in light?

When applied this way, fresh environments can largely impact the way we think, imagine, and connect leading to an increase in collaboration, productivity, and even receptiveness.

The second dimension to consider is that there is now an ability to recreate a moment in time as in the case of the Michael Jordan simulator. That experience puts you in a specific place at a specific designated moment at the end of the game– to not only recreate that moment, but to allow you to feel like a hero in that moment. It allows you to capture the narrative of the moment and the experience of the actors in it. It’s emotional content.

This narrative experience is essentially an emotive time capsule allowing the user to experience a historical moment or perhaps a future moment– a transporatative mind body.

If you could apply this technology to any project, what environment or moment in time would you want to create? Tell us in the comments below.

BRITE Ideas 2015



Earlier this month, the BRITE Conference 2015 at Columbia University brought together the top minds in business, technology, media and marketing. Top industry leaders discussed the transformative ways in which technology is playing a role in brand development and content creation. The featured speakers brought to light a lot of trends and ideas – some I’ve been following for a while and others I was considering for the first time. From great discussions about the use of technology in the retail and advertising spaces, to artificial intelligence and the debate over data and security, there was a lot to consider. And lest we forget the buzziest of buzzwords, the Internet of Things (IoT).

A few key themes rose to the top:

Artificial Intelligence in Media and Advertising: While businesses have always been able to talk directly to consumers, the approach has become far more conversational due to innovation and familiarity with the technology. Gone are the days of addressing a demographic group as a whole. Artificial Intelligence is the next step in this evolution but how companies utilize these advancements will lead to general acceptance. With great strides being made in neural computing and neurology, the mechanism of the brain is coming to light and the understanding of intelligence is broadening.

True Artificial Intelligence is seen as a scary specter on the horizon, which is why a group of today’s greatest minds, such as Dr. Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and many others, signed a letter warning of the dangers of AI without keeping sight of societal benefits. Simulations of AI (i.e. Apple’s “Siri”) have already started to permeate the lives of consumers so they will be more comfortable with true AI when enterprises start developing these platforms for communication and marketing, which is still a ways off. In the near term, intelligent agents will serve as our interface with the digital world around us.

Female Leadership: Not a core theme of the conference but very apparent after hearing multiple female business thought leaders; The rise of female executives has created a more trusting, empathetic, and supportive workspace, allowing for greater collaboration in teams that feel a heightened sense of unity. This structure – far removed from the strict hierarchy of the male-driven past – has proven to be wildly successful in spurring innovation. The team and relationship-building being fostered under these leadership structures shows a results-driven trend toward female executives that will continue to grow and strive in the industry.

Homophily: This word has been bouncing around business conferences since the early aughts. Homophily is the theory that we tend to connect with this those most similar to ourselves and with things that are familiar or nearby. In e-commerce, as in real estate, location is everything. While a stand-alone website may generate traffic and sales, trends have shown that a brick and mortar location can actually drive e-commerce performance. The consumer’s tendency to be attracted to what’s familiar is a major factor in determining which products need to be in-store and which can be left online. These digital and non-digital attributes – when well differentiated – can drive sales to both e-commerce and brick and mortar locations.

Though businesses have come through the age of marketing to tribes and wide demographics – modern day marketing looks at communicating on a one-to-one basis. Homophily is a retread of an old concept but it is getting closer to a one-to-one comparison. Instead of marketing a book title to all soccer Moms in a certain zip code because that “tribe” generally likes that book, the similarities are more closely aligned to the individual. Your purchase history now describes you better than a sweeping generalized demographic could ever do.

The Internet of Things: From a business perspective, there are two major benefits of the Internet of Things(Iot): cost savings and income (sale of products). As it stands, the majority of IoT innovations are designed for cost-cutting purposes and far less for actual gains. While the potential is seemingly limitless, businesses are struggling to find truly effective ways to market and create revenue from IoT.

IoT product platform EVRYTHNG wants to make all home appliances, electronics and CPGs part of the Internet of Things eco-system. By tagging each appliance, the product could have its own information portal online and be able to help the consumer use the product to its utmost; for example a camera that can message you when the time and location is perfect for taking photos. By bringing this intelligence to bear, not only does the consumer learn everything about the sourcing, production and use of these products but the business can start to view each item as a freestanding piece of media that can further extend the consumers interaction with the brand story by way of it’s connectivity.

Control Group at SXSW


attend_our_session_IA15If you’re headed down to SXSW Interactive this year, Control Group is involved with a few events we’d love for you to attend:

Panel: Transmedia Storytelling

Colin O’Donnell will be on a panel that will cover how emerging technologies and infrastructure will inform a more responsive government and create new opportunities for commerce.

Sunday, March 15 | 12:30-1:30PM | Hyatt Regency Austin, Texas Ballroom 2-3

Join the conversation: #SXSW2015 #SmartCities #LinkNYC


NYC Tech in Austin

Control Group will be hosting “office hours” in the NYC Tech booth. If you’re walking around the Exhibit Hall, come say hi. 

Sunday, March 14 | 2:00-3:00PM & Monday, March 16 | 1:00-2:00PM | Convention Center, Exhibit Halls 3 & 4


SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards

Control Group’s MTA information kiosk is a finalist in the Transportation Advancements category! We’ll be at the Awards ceremony on Tuesday, April 18. 

Control Group at SXSW: Transmedia Storytelling Panel on 3/15



Control Group, Titan, and Qualcomm are hosting a panel at SXSW Interactive 2015!

Transmedia Storytelling in the Age of Proximity

Sunday, March 15 | 12:30 – 1:30 PM | Hyatt Regency Austin, Texas Ballroom 2-3

Cities are changing rapidly. Citizens and consumers are relying on their mobile devices for more services, and have higher expectations from their governments. Brands and businesses are looking to engage with consumers in new and meaningful ways – merging digital and physical lines of business.

There is a new wave of technologies that will support these changing relationships and expectations: Proximity technologies like LTE Direct and Beacons, and Instrumented Infrastructure like LinkNYC in New York City will support a better, frictionless user experience, inform a more responsive government, and create new opportunities for commerce.

We will explore how cities and business are moving to take advantage of these technologies and the opportunity to better engage with citizens and customers.

Join the conversation: #SXSW #TechCities #LinkNYC

Improving the Employee Experience


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“I was trying to spend a few thousand dollars and no one would talk to me,” recalled my neighbor Sherrie about a recent Home Depot visit. She went on to explain that her only option for information in the vast appliance section came in the form of a touch screen kiosk. There were no employees in sight. “I went to understand the different refrigerator options, but I first need to use a computer? When I finally flagged down an employee, they couldn’t answer any questions,” she said of her experience.

While retailers such as Home Depot seek to understand how technology can improve the customer experience in their physical stores, consumers are struggling to see any benefit. Technology solutions are applied to problems that customers don’t have and often conflict with the purpose of a customer’s in-store visit. There is, however, an opportunity to improve the customer experience by focusing on an often ignored segment: employees.

A technically enabled and informed employee is often at the center of a great customer experience.  It’s one reason why we covet the Apple retail store. At Apple there isn’t a single large technology play but rather a series of relevant moments orchestrated by the staff. Apple employees begin the script by asking a customer “What would you like you to do today?” As pointed out by Apple blogger, Tim Barajin, this is an empowering twist on the classic retail greeting of “How may I help you?”

Apple associates then proceed to direct customers to relevant products, help process payments or transition them to the Genius bar. Another recent example is eyewear disruptor Warby Parker’s use of physical locations and staff to promote a business model initially rooted in online convenience. Warby Parker is also replacing robot-answering services with, get this, people who answer the phones at their call center.

Technology rooted companies, like Apple and Warby Parker, see employees (along with great products) as a pillar of their retail service design. Traditional retailers however, in a race to embrace technical automation often neglect the employee. This is often at the expense of customers like Sherrie. For some, there’s still time to realign a retail strategy.

Here are some things to consider if you’re looking to improve the customer experience by way of your employees:

Employee Discovery: Learning about customers is important but spending time interviewing and shadowing store level employees can spark some great ideas. This is where your team will get details about customer problems and behaviors along with employee workarounds or “hacks” that speed up tasks.

Concept Solutions and Launch Support: At a minimum, take a two week sprint to concept, create user experience (UX) prototypes and test ideas specifically aimed to make employees more knowledgeable in their role. Even if the ideas don’t initially make it to production, the fact that your team listened to employees and tried to solve their problems will pay off when building launch support.

Feedback Loops and a Learning Culture:User Experience prototypes also help promote the concept of a learning organization. While your team will facilitate and explain the benefits during the initial project, in the long term these feedback loops can channel employee suggestions. Who knows, shining a light on a “hack” that helps one employee save twenty minutes a day can potentially save millions of dollars if scaled to other locations.

Retail executives have an impulse and often a ticking clock to innovate. These decision makers should consider looking internally in order to make a significant impact. Helping build a culture centered around employee contribution and empowerment will not only improve the customer experience but can transform the organization.