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I would like to welcome everybody to another LeaderGov podcast. My name is Bill Stark. And it's so nice to have you with us. If you're in city government, or county government or even related agency, a sheriff or tax commissioner, we got a lot of different types of agencies that listen to our podcast, want to say welcome. And we love serving you. And we love providing really interesting resources and thought provoking ideas for local government to make what you do better to so you can better serve your citizens. And so we have a great topic today. And it's on this whole topic of engaging the citizenry and really communicating with the citizenry, when they have things to tell us in local government, and how do we do that and how we move from kind of the old paradigms to the new paradigms, but above everything, it's about, how do we, how do we listen well? And how do we respond well to the citizenry. Our guest today is Brenton Riley, and he is the leader of a company called City bot. And they happen to have some technology that sort of enables automation around this whole idea. And so I want to say welcome, Brandon, and it's great to have you with us. Thank you, Bill. It's great to
be here and meet you and and know that we're just down the road from each other. Thanks for having me.
Yeah, Charleston is a lovely city. My wife and I went there when we first got married 30 something years ago, and she got food poisoning. That's our that's our memory.
You need to come back and rewrite that story.
Yeah, exactly. Hey, I know, you guys have invested a lot of time and thinking about communications in government, and how do you? How do you listen to citizens well, and respond to their needs? Before we jump into some questions around that sort of big topic, I want to just ask you more on a personal level, tell us a little bit about yourself, married kids, whatever. And what you've been your exposure to local government. This is actually our first podcast, Brandon was someone that's not an employee of a local government. So it's a little different for us. So tell us how you're connected to and what what is your heart, you know, what's your heart for local government?
When it started, I could not have more passion towards it from someone who's technically not been a local government employee. And that's because my father, the gentleman named Joe Riley, he was a long serving mayor of Charleston, South Carolina from 1975 to 2016, this 40 year period, and I was to when he was elected to strong mayor form of government in Charleston, so he was the true CEO of the city and the political figure. And City Hall was my playground is a little two year old. And then as I grew up, Bill, I became very much ensconced and mesh into how does local government operate from the bottom up, and then of course, all the externalities, all the politics in the constituencies and how to manage those etc. have just been the better part of my life. And I love local government, because it is so close to the people, it generally is and should always be not a partisan universe, which is very important in my mind. And luckily, you know, as the adage goes, is not a Republican pothole or democrat pothole as they say. But the services are vast and varied. And, and the touch points with the residents very special, as I tell folks, it is such a, the city, the county, have one of the greatest privileges possible. And that's the privilege over relationship with the people. And, and so just live that my whole life, and I've seen it happen. Of course, I'm blood bias to my dad, but take my blood bias away. He's been one of the more effective mayors in recent times and build those relationships of trust with his residents. And that's what we're on a path to do. We want to help local governments with the privilege that they have to deliver on it, and build trust rates and relationships of trust with their residents.
Yeah, well, I'm interested in that. Because your product is around 311, the concept of a 311 call center and listing taking in information from citizens. Tell us a little bit about the evolution of that for cities and counties. And of course, we don't want to, we're telling people what they probably already know. But maybe you're just educating me. You know, what is the history is because it seems like today with the prolific proliferation of social media, people are so much more vocal than they were 510 20 years ago, they don't they don't mind telling you what the problem is, seemingly to a much greater degree than, you know, in recent history. So what's that look like in the past for cities and counties? In terms of taking all that input from from citizens?
That's a great question. So I use example, my dad, the old school example, is that your mayor of a city for 40 years, and pretty much everyone knows who you are. And so he'd be about town and someone come up to him say, Hey, man, Riley, Riley, you know, I can't seem to get this pothole fixed on my street. And can you help me? You say, Well, hey, Mr. Jones, how you doing? What street do you live on? Oh, you live on Romney Street? Well, great. Well, what's what's your address? Okay. Well, let me see what I can do. And so he dad would literally pull out his dictaphone and dictate into the dictaphone, you know, you just met Mr. Jones, and there's a pothole in Romney Street, etc. And when he got back to the office, he'd hand it to his assistant, and she reached out in the public works, public works would go out and fix the pothole system would let my dad know about it, my dad would write a handwritten note, mail it to the citizens. Hey, Mr. Jones, it was so great to meet you the other day or see you again the other day, you just want to make sure you knew that we could fix that pothole for you. And thank you for letting us know about that. I mean, it's just like this. This, you know, high touch old school caring customer service. And that's not scalable. But it's wonderful. And what we try to do with with our systems is how do we scale that simple, accessible engagement and customer service so that every resident regardless of whether they live in public housing, or the low income neighborhoods, or in the fancy houses, they all are on an equal playing field have access to their local government to get their needs met. Now, what happens with social media oftentimes, that amplifies the vocal minorities, because as you said, Bill, they are and it's easier to complain. And those voices, in my opinion, sometimes they're unreasonably loud. And they're the silent whispers of the other folks in the community that you might not hear as much. And so part of what we try to do is really kind of make it easier for everyone to have their voice heard. And when you listen to the voices, it isn't always complaints. It's people who care and they want to move the city for they want to move their community for they want to move their neighborhood forward. They want to move their street forward. And we just want to make it easier for them. To do so I think the other thing that we are seeing change bill, and this was the advent of the 301 system and what are system is is kind of a digitized version, an AI powered version of 311 is that for a long time, local governments imputed the knowledge of what they did what they do their core functions their departments, on to the residents. unreasonably. So it's just like, well, you know, it's, it's, it's on the website, you know, or the information is there, they can figure it out. And the reality is that that's, that's an unreasonable ask, and what the government enterprise should be saying, and more and more of them are saying, you know, what, we need to figure out how residents want to communicate to us so that we can take care of them from that point forward. Yeah. And the three of wands started that. Yeah, yeah, go ahead.
Okay. Yeah, I wanted to ask you a question right there related to that, to speak for a moment to the problem of the current methodology of taking this citizen input. We know SeeClickFix is out there systems like that. I don't know what penetration they have in the market. But what I see is this a bunch of different people taking a bunch of different phone calls, and nothing ever gets recorded. And it's kind of a hodgepodge. Now, that's a limited view. But well, what is the problem that cities face today in this area? What's their struggle?
Well, it's, it's a great question. SeeClickFix, by the way, is a great company and our what the great thing about citybond is we integrate into a lot of these systems. So that, you know, one of the things that we want to make sure of is that local governments when they make a technology choice, that they can stick with it for a long time, because you go through the whole process of implementation and training your employees and getting more everyone bought in, which is not an easy process. So like the products like SeeClickFix, that they're already using, we integrate into meaning we'll drop our engagement data into their platform so that the staff can use that I think some of the challenges are just, number one. It's this information gap. And it's a, it's an honest struggle that local governments have because they provide so many services. They're a public agency, they need to make all the information available that every local government is on some continuum of a battle with their website. And these websites are famous for hard to navigate a hard to navigate. And then the city government will says well, it's on the website, is if that's a satisfactory response is not a satisfactory response. The city's response should be like, well, how can we make it easier for the resident to get what they need? So there, but from an internal, from a city internal challenge, it's hard to manage all that content? Because there's so much there. And then it's, it's how do we get all of the government departments working together? Under one platform, so a lot of times what will happen bill is like the Public Works will say, well, we need this piece of technology, because this serves us without going to like the communications department or to, you know, the folks in the organization that see it from a macro level, and say, Well, hey, does this thing you need public works? Does this? How do we pull this into our entire technology system so that it can serve the entire city. And so sometimes you'll get the siloed decisions, then when it then when new leadership comes in and says, Hey, we need to look at all this technology that we have, because we need our departments to talk to each other. And then you have to go through the process, sort of unwinding some of these things or making decisions so that you can make better ones that affect all the departments. So we actually kind of forced them to talk to each other more and collaborate more. So I think that's another challenge that that they face. And but there's, it's you know, so many that we talked to they're overcoming that and making good decisions, you know, great thing about secret fixes. It kind of covers a lot of department functions and one product and that's what citybond does is we want to we look at how do residents want to engage with their local government as a whole much in the same way that the through one senator does just like we want to be here to answer the phone call when it rings. We do that with technology when you have your question or you want to report a pothole or what we have in our systems anytime that you get to the dead end just like when you call the one 800 Number and it's time to like okay, this IVR is not working for me all the numbers that you have presented to me don't match up to what I need to talk to you about it Need to Talk to someone? Well, in our AI system, we want to make sure that we can enable the resident to do the same thing so that they can escalate their need. So they get met by the local government, and then they don't have to start back from zero, which is very so
how does this work? Yeah, so tell me how it works. So take me through a scenario. I'm a citizen. And I, I need something what what is it I need? I'm gonna, I'm gonna make a phone call or what how does it work was
so worse, we work through two channels. Now they'll one is through text message. And the other is through a chat on the city or county website. And so regardless of those channels, you're there text messaging to a number or you're engaging with the chat interface on the website that people are getting more accustomed to doing with the vendors that they deal with every day. And they can just directly engage and ask their question, how do I get a business license? When's the next city council meeting? What's the holiday trash pickup schedule? When is the vaccine going to be made available to my age group in my community? And we want to answer those questions for them. So we're frontline question answer system number one. And the reason why is that the majority of communications that governments receive a residence looking for information or questions want to answer those. And number two, the resident might want to make a service request, my dog is lost. There's a pothole on my street, my trash wasn't picked up. Whatever it might be, we want to enable them to do that through just regular text messaging, or typing in their keyboard and a chat session through the website. And then finally, as I mentioned, at any point in time, we want to make sure that we handle all reasons that residents need to get in touch with their local government. And those reasons vary. And so we need that, in order to keep a dead end from happening, you want to capture the residents communications, when they're unique, and they really need to talk to someone so they can send a direct message at any point in time, they're gonna get an immediate response. So AI technology powers, the communications, they're gonna get an immediate response that says, Thank you for your communication. Someone is going to get back in touch with you within the next business day is typically what says, so the resident in that moment knows, wow, government cares about me, I do not have to use another channel to track them down. They're going to get back in touch with me, isn't that nice? And so in that way, we're able to build those relationships of trust is like I can reach out to my government, and know that they are going to take care of the reason why I reached out with them. Yeah,
I mean, what I want? Yeah, yeah. What I'm curious. You know, we're talking about the digitization of part of this process, so that the front end is more convenient, those that are familiar and comfortable with technology. I'm curious. I think there are 20,000 cities in the United States, roughly round numbers, maybe fourth 5000 counties, perhaps what percentage of them have an automated, modernized digital intake system like this? Any any sense for that through
through chat automation, we are the only company that we know of that sort of built that robust, fully functional engagement platform that will then tie in, we integrate into these back end solutions I were talking about. So you want to have it be end to end like from Resident into the the tech ecosystem of government right? Now we see that changing Bill, you see these chat solutions on websites with whether it's Amazon or whoever you're dealing with, there's opportunities to chat. And so we see that growing, we're just trying to position ourselves for that growth. So we're gonna see more of it. Some states have done it. And and to a lesser extent, some of the federal government agencies have done it, but it's it's pretty virgin territory. And we feel like there's a real opportunity for us to really help in that area.
Yeah. So I would imagine that you're speak to the benefits for a minute. So you're talking about a as a citizen. I feel like I'm heard. So there's some there's some brand, there's some value of the brand of the city. I feel like I'm hurt. I feel like I'm understood. I feel like I got my message across. Or I got my answer. That's awesome. You know, I asked a question I got an answer. So there's a series and dependability over liability, like use use the word trust that's built? That's a benefit to me the resident? What's the internal benefit? What's the? What's the benefit to the city? What do they get? Is it less time to handle issues? Is it less phone calls? What's their benefit?
Yeah, there's really three areas. Number one, to your point, it's the communications, we want to reduce the amount of one to one communications that a local government has to process. Because they're trying to augment and amplify and extend the capabilities of their existing staff. Meanwhile, we've had the COVID crisis, and it's impacting the budgets of these local governments. So we need to help them with that. So that's one area. So whether they have a 311 call center, we're losing call volume in the call center, whether it's a smaller city, and it's the communication staff, it's got way too much on their plate to begin with Bill. We want to reduce the time, particularly after hours, that they're having to respond to Facebook messages and all this stuff that are all one to one communications, it's not fair to them, they need their personal life, and they need to get sleep at night. So that's one area number two is productivity, how can we use the data that we generate through our system to help local governments more productively process communications and service requests that come in so they can do more with with the information they have, and better deploy? Fixing the service request, for example, for example, one of our customers, North Charleston, South Carolina, we increase their efficiencies over 100% And how productively they fixed to the service request. So the cost per fix went down dramatically. And then the third area bill is we're generating all this data analytics, from all these communications that are taking place. And we're presenting that those analytics back to management in real time, and then we send them a report every month saying, Hey, this is what happened last month. So how governments can use and process real time data on precisely what the residents are saying, to troubleshoot issues that are popping up. Or to better address some of the trends of the issues that they see. And help the leaders you know, you never want to show up to a meeting and get surprised. And so if you have more access to data in real time for what the residents are saying, there's much less likelihood that you'll you'll be surprised and be more prepared when you step into those situations.
Yeah, you know, I was going to ask you about a couple of your cities that you've deployed, I think one was Arlington and once New York City, but you know, most, most cities in the United States are I know what the average is. It's probably 10,000. Population. It's, it's pretty small. Finding out. But you mentioned North Charleston, I would imagine relatively small community, I don't know what it is 2030 40,000 people. Whatever it is, it's likely smaller than Arlington. But you mentioned a helping them with the efficiency of responding to some customer requests by 100%. You mentioned the number 100%. Tell me about that transaction real quick. And what will you all streamline for them specifically? Wow, I want to close with that. Because I think that's it sounds like a powerful a powerful story.
Well, thank you. So the first thing we do in North Charleston, and they were our first text message, customer first customer overall, was we increased citizen engagement by 94%, over and above the channels that they had been previously using. And that that's, that's collaborative work bill, that's us working with the city communications team, to let the residents know about the new system, because what happens if you have a good product and the people use it? Well, you're gonna have more engagement. And that's what we want, number one. Number two, what we were able to do with them is through our data capture with the service requests, the potholes, the Miss trash pickup, the flooding, whatever the issues that there might be in your community. We, through the data we captured, which included the location data, they responded by more intentionally deploying their resources, like public works in certain areas to actually, you know, as opposed to zigzagging across the city. And we fix three potholes. Well, let's go to this one section in town and fix five. And so they just they use the data to better and more intentionally deploy their resources to increase productivity. And so you look at that, that cost per fix, you know, will go down dramatically and they use the same team. So you also can do generate internal, you know, it's better for retention when you, you know, there's more that the employees are accomplishing every day as well. So that's some of the ways we're able to impact that.
Yeah, I love that it's so what I heard you say was, you increased just the overall number of people engaging with the community, the number of touch points went up significantly. And then because of the data, the GPS data, I guess, you're able to help them map out a way to better go address those problems more efficiently. And, you know, every city I talked to, or most of them are always looking for ways to be more efficient with their processes and their people. And I know, you know, most of the people that we work with, I'm sure it's the same for you. These are really good, good people in local government, they have such a great heart for giving and serving. And so to be able to open up channels of communication, that that widely which like you're talking about, I mean, that's, that's, that's a big deal. And so I really, that that was really the kind of the, I guess the the genesis of this conversation that I found so interesting was, yes, you guys have a great solution. And all of that, and, you know, I hope cities and counties will give you a call and all that, but that you're solving a very tangible, specific problem, that's creating new ways for the government to care for and support and love on their citizens and respond properly. And in this age of want it now, you know, having this type of technology, the way you're describing is just a great asset. And I wanted to be sure and capture some of those some of that sentiment and some of those benefits for our listeners, because we, you know, at the end of the day, we're trying to do things in a way that better serves the people that we're supposed to be serving. And so I think, technology, since you all are certainly doing that, and I appreciate you sharing any final thought about just citizen engagement or efficient.
Yeah. Thank you. Thank you for saying what you just said, I think, to your point I mentioned earlier, what a privilege of relationship or potential relationship that every local government has with its residents. And to your point, you're right. The people that work in local government are such good people. And it's like when I'm interviewing potential new employees were sitting by that's part of what I tell them. It's just like, one of the great aspects of this job is that the people that we get to have a privilege of relationship with, by and large 99.9% of these people, they're just good people that have chosen this as a vocation. And they truly care about their residents. And so it is such a great privilege that we have to be able to connect with these folks. And I know you feel the same way, given the work that the great work that you all are doing.
Yeah, thanks for saying that, you know, I just a final encouragement to the folks listening. When we talk about digital products and transformative products. Really what we're talking about is innovation largely, and that include that that innovation requires risk. And so I want to encourage more risk, more innovation, more openness to new ideas. And so that's one of the big themes that we talk about a lot at leader. gov is how can we innovate as leaders as employees, and as leaders. And so just an encouragement there for people to continue to innovate and look for new and better ways of doing things. So thank you very much Bratton for being with us today. It's just been a pleasure talking to you and thank you for everything that you and Janice and the rest of the folks there do for do for your city and county customers.
Thank you so much, Bill. It's been a real pleasure.