Project Category: Salesforce

Digital Media in Chicago’s #EmergencyResponse Plan

Since 2017, Catalyst has supported the City of Chicago in developing, launching, maintaining, and enhancing a non-emergency 311 solution powered by Salesforce.

This 311 solution – called CHI311 – encompasses a constituent relationship management (CRM) backend built on Salesforce Service Cloud, a public-facing web-based Community Portal built on Salesforce Community Cloud, the City’s first-ever public-facing custom mobile app, and Salesforce Marketing Cloud through which City communications personnel can send email campaigns and manage City social media accounts.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chicagoans looked to CHI311 for timely and reputable information about the virus, preventative health recommendations, City shelter-in-place updates, and most recently, re-opening guidelines.

In this period of uncertainty, CHI311 has equipped City staff and constituents with the tools to navigate the pandemic safely.

In sum, COVID-19 related service requests were added to the Community Portal and mobile app, along with up-to-date articles regarding public and preventative health and Chicago-specific safety guidelines. Marketing Cloud was then used to create and send City-branded emails about available housing grants and community letters from Mayor Lori Lightfoot, as well as to track constituent conversations about the City’s response to the pandemic via social listening.

Quickly Accessing COVID-19 Related Services and Information

As the pandemic first began to sweep the City, the City’s 311 call center experienced a 35% increase in constituent outreach directly related to Coronavirus inquiries.

Identifying patterns in these calls and requests, the Catalyst team stood up a “COVID-19 Assistance” category on the public-facing side of CHI311 in under two days. This new category of type codes was created to meet the constituent needs that were repeatedly asked for in the call center and in the expedited timeframe that emergencies mandate. Please refer to the screenshot to see the COVID-19 type codes added to CHI311 to date.

As time is of the essence in emergencies, we note the following turnaround times for various COVID-19 service requests:

              • The City has collaborated with organizations like the Salvation Army to respond to and close emergency food requests in 2.5 days.
              • General COVID-19 inquiries submitted through CHI311 are answered within 24 hours, with a staff member at the Chicago Department of Public Health reaching out to the constituent directly.
              • Senior well-being checks requested have been completed in one day.

7,000 COVID-19 requests were received by Chicago’s non-emergency 311 within the first three weeks of the City’s shelter-in-place.

These calls were deflected from 911, easing pressure on emergency responders and enabling them to focus on pressing matters during one of the most unprecedented public health events in modern history. Similarly, because constituent self-service has always been at the crux of CHI311, a COVID-19 emergency banner resides at the top of the CHI311 mobile app and Community Portal, ushering constituents to the City’s COVID-19 microsite where they can find the latest information from their City leaders.

Communication is Key: Marketing Cloud and the City of Chicago’s COVID-19 Response

Among the channels the City of Chicago used to communicate its COVID-19 response plan were email and social media, as facilitated by Salesforce Marketing Cloud and Catalyst’s Marketing Cloud Subject Matter Experts.

The Chicago Department of Housing
To ease financial strain provoked by the pandemic, the City’s Department of Housing (DOH) established a grant program through which Chicagoans could apply for assistance to pay for their housing.

Over 83,000 residents applied for these grants, and Marketing Cloud’s Email Studio module was leveraged to send applicants information about the grant program itself on City-branded email templates. Information moves fast in a pandemic, and the Catalyst team helped the City craft and send the emails at a moment’s notice. Applicants approved for the grant were also notified with an email sent from Marketing Cloud.

Personalization always matters in public sector communications. Constituents want to feel recognized by local government, and this is all the truer amid crisis. The City of Chicago flexed this personalization muscle with the DOH grant recipients. Personalization strings, driven by AMPScript (Marketing Cloud’s proprietary scripting language for advanced personalization in emails), were placed in email templates sent to grantees to allow for varying combinations of the following to appear in one email:

  • The recipient’s name
  • A survey link specific to that grantee
  • DOH contacts specific to their housing case

AMPScript made it possible to send one email that rendered over 250 variations based on the data being pulled from the Marketing Cloud contact list to fill in these unique data points. Rather than send hundreds of separate emails, DOH could send just one email without compromising the personalization the recipient needed and deserved.

From the Office of Mayor Lori Lightfoot

The Mayor’s Office also leveraged Email Studio to send newsletters from Mayor Lightfoot to subscribers, including:

  • An explanatory email in March when the pandemic first began to escalate discussing shelter-in-place guidelines
  • A voting-oriented email leading up to Election Day to recruit election judges
  • A community update to check-in with folks and bolster morale in Summer 2020 as the City slowly began to re-open

Within Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud suite of products is Social Studio, a social media management and social listening tool. The Catalyst team set up a series of social listening tools called Topic Profiles regarding COVID-19 to track constituent conversation, questions, and concerns around topics such as the virus itself, outdoor dining, and Chicago’s reopening plan.

Insights from these Topic Profiles were shared with Mayor Lightfoot to inform her communications plan, talking points shared in press briefings, and content published on the City’s website, social media and CHI311’s public-facing elements. The City also tapped into Social Studio’s scoring algorithm, called “Sentiment Analysis,” to determine the tone with which Chicagoans talked about COVID-19 related topics, paying particular attention to topics with overwhelmingly negative sentiment to inform where Mayor Lightfoot and the Communications Team needed to quell feelings of concern and fear.

On Your Mark, Headset, Go: COVID-19 Call Centers in South Carolina

In times of crisis, state government needs to be a reliable and responsive outlet to whom constituents can report concerns, ask questions, and receive timely and accurate information.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Catalyst supported the State of South Carolina Governor’s Office with its emergency response plan called “accelerateSC” with a solution encompassing Salesforce Service Cloud, Salesforce Social Studio, and an integration between Amazon Connect, an Amazon Web Services (AWS) product, and Service Cloud to “stand-up” a cloud-based call center.

These systems work in harmony with each other to collect and manage COVID-19 related inquiries, concerns, and requests submitted by South Carolinians via web form, email, social media, phone call, and voicemail. Among the categories of cases submitted across the public-facing channels are:

  • Requests for information about COVID-19 testing sites, essential versus non-essential business protocol, schools and daycares, and volunteer opportunities
  • Requests for emergency supplies like PPE
  • Complaints (“I can’t get a straight answer if I can re-open my restaurant or not. What gives?”) Concerns (“This saloon is packed, and nobody is following social distancing!”)
  • General inquiries

This case study provides a deep dive into accelerateSC’s call center, though a more comprehensive case study highlighting the entire solution is available upon request.

Exploring Amazon Connect

The Catalyst team implemented a Salesforce Service Cloud backend for the State of South Carolina Governor’s Office to house all COVID-19 related cases submitted by constituents. To similarly bring caller data and call and voicemail metrics into the Service Cloud backend, our Salesforce Technical Architects integrated Service Cloud with Amazon Connect. On the Amazon backend, our team mapped out the various caller experience flows that would inform the queue into which callers would be placed for customer service.

For example, if the caller has a question about re-opening guidelines, they can press 1 to be placed into Queue 1 to speak to customer service agents especially well-versed in the State’s re-opening mandates. Conversely, if the caller has a comment about COVID-19 testing more broadly, they can press 2 to be placed into Queue 2 to speak to customer service agents who are most equipped to discuss public health and preventative health measures.

accelerateSC offers five different options for callers as a “Tier 1” level of customer support. More on the internal call escalation process to “Tier 2” later to come.

These caller experience flows are constructed by dragging and dropping various actions and next steps on a “canvas” available on the Amazon Connect backend. With this declarative build, flows can be modified within minutes. This flexibility empowers system administrators with the agility to keep up with the ever-changing state of COVID-19 and the State’s response to it and quickly adjust the call center’s offerings in accordance with the State’s evolving re-opening mandates.

Why a Call Center?

You may be thinking, why a call center? What about self-service options?

We hear you, and we agree that it’s integral that government agencies provide multiple modern and convenient channels through which constituents can get in touch with government and access self-service options. However, we affirm that a cloud-based call center is a critical element of the accelerateSC emergency response because:

  1. It allows customer service agents to abide by various COVID-19 specific safety guidelines, including telework and social distancing mandates. The accelerateSC call center forces us to re-define our conception of a “call center.” Gone are the days of multiple folks congregated in one physical location, anchored down by phone cords. Instead, as a cloud-based call center, customer service agents can answer calls wherever they have their computer, their Internet browser, and connectivity. As the pandemic has ushered in a “new normal,” many accelerateSC customer service agents are working and accepting calls from home. Cloud-based call centers are also more scalable than their physical counterparts, as there is no need to carve out a physical space for a new customer service agent to sit. Rather, new hires are just assigned a license and log-in credentials.
  2. Cloud-based solutions can be stood up more quickly than a physical call center space. The integration between Service Cloud and Amazon Connect was executed in approximately one week, in keeping with the expedited timelines that emergencies like the pandemic mandate to keep up with the influx in call volume.
  3. There is comfort in hearing another voice on the other end, especially during crisis, hence why many South Carolinians have turned to calling in their COVID-19 concerns. In fact, in the case of State A, the most common channel through which constituents submit cases is indeed a phone call.

The State’s Hotline Experience

From an Agent’s Perspective

The five queues for the accelerateSC customer service hotline each have multiple agents, so there’s many hands “on deck” readily available to accept incoming calls. The Catalyst team set a rule on the Amazon Connect backend that automatically routes the next incoming caller to the agent who has had their status of “Available” (e.g. not on a call) for the longest amount of time for evenly distributed personnel productivity.

Upon being notified they have an incoming call, the agent can reject or accept the phone call. When the call is accepted, the agent’s status automatically changes to “Busy,” which tells the system to prioritize finding another agent who is available to accept the next call in that particular queue. Similarly, upon accepting, we can see the power of the Salesforce – Amazon Connect integration, which emphasizes the value of establishing Service Cloud as our data’s source of truth.

The Salesforce solution will automatically “scan” the phone number associated with the incoming call to see if the number already exists in the system. If it indeed does, the agent will see that caller’s contact “profile” pop up on their Service Cloud view, which enables them to review that caller’s personal information, like their name, as well as their history of interactions with accelerateSC. This can be a particularly valuable way to give the agent context about the call, and it can facilitate conversation smoothly by giving the agent the power to ask questions like, “Would this concern be in any way related to the case you submitted last Monday to accelerateSC?”

Should a constituent have a question that can only be resolved with subject matter expertise from a specific South Carolina department, the system facilitates an internal escalation and transfer process from agent-to-agent. By simply pressing a button on the Service Cloud backend, the agent can route the constituent’s call to the queue for a specific representative from the pertinent state department, which in turn notifies them. We emphasize the option to escalate exists only on the agent view; constituents themselves cannot “bypass” this first level of Tier 1 customer agents to get to a specific department.

After the agent ends their call, the system does not automatically change their status from “Busy” to “Available,” but rather allows the agent to have a period of “administrative time.” Tasks to be completed during administrative time include more comprehensively filling out the case record, such as specifying the case’s category, and typing out a “recap” of the call on the case’s “Notes” section.

Upon completing these administrative items, the agent can manually change their status to “Available” once again.

As referenced above, integrating to Amazon Connect allows the Catalyst and accelerateSC teams to tap into the power of Alexa voice recognition technology. All calls are recorded, and all calls and voicemails are transcribed. The transcription can be attached onto the case record.

Similarly, at any given time, system administrators like Call Center Managers can view all ongoing calls happening in that moment and listen into them to hear firsthand how agents and constituents interact.

From a Caller’s Perspective
Upon dialing in, a cheery, human voice – not an automated, robotic one – greets callers and presents them with their options upon dialing into the hotline. The Catalyst team uploaded voice notes recorded by the Governor’s Office Strategic Communications team to represent each of these different customer service queues. These are trying times, and the accelerateSC and Catalyst teams were bullish about adding as much of a human “flair” as possible into this system to reassure South Carolinians that their government is indeed listening.

After the caller selects their option, they enter the appropriate queue and wait for the customer service agent to answer. Callers can be notified of their position (e.g. “You are caller number two”) in the queue to gauge a possible wait time.

Notably, the average wait time to get in touch with an accelerateSC agent – regardless of queue – is under 2 minutes.
This has remained consistent, even though the number of cases created through the phone has exceeded over 250 calls per day. Callers can also leave a voicemail or request a callback from an agent, if desired. If the constituent asks for a callback, the solution keeps their place in the queue as a “placeholder” as if they were actually still on the line. The agent will call them back once reaching this position in the queue.

Fostering an Environment with Low Wait Times

Time is of the essence in emergency situations. Amid the pandemic, folks understandably want answers – fast. To ensure constituents can speedily get in touch with an accelerateSC agent during business hours, the Catalyst team configured a handful of rules on the system backend:
The solution automatically sends a text message to the Call Center Manager on duty that day if there are more than 15 people in a queue at any given time.
The solution automatically sends a text message to the Call Center Manager on duty that day if any caller has been in a queue for more than 15 minutes.

These notifications empower the Manager to employ an “all hands on-deck” approach and request additional agents log on during particularly busy times to most efficiently navigate the high volume of calls.

Managing Unemployment and Crisis in the State of South Carolina

Millions of Americans are out of work amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to job losses throughout South Carolina, the State’s Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW) sought a case management solution to manage unemployment inquiries about claims and benefits asked via email.

The Problem

Previously, DEW managed inquiries strictly through a Microsoft Outlook inbox, to which twelve employees had access. As the COVID-19 pandemic intensified, this inbox received over 1,000 inquiries a day, and many unfortunately went unaddressed as the inbox could not support the volume of responses. In this legacy inbox, the only way for the employees to confirm if an inquiry was addressed was through the read receipt or if they contacted their team manually via Microsoft’s internal instant messaging chat.

As more South Carolinians were out of work, DEW knew change was necessary to support its constituents.

The Solution

In response, Catalyst launched a Salesforce case management solution to support DEW staff with centralizing constituent unemployment inquiries and claims. With Salesforce serving as the source of truth for email inquiries, DEW staff can now effectively respond to all constituent concerns in a timely fashion. Among these outreach categories are: Appeals Inquiry, Checking Claim Status, Collections, Employer Inquiry, Issue on Claim, Overpayment Issue, and Reporting of Fraud.

Success with Salesforce Service Cloud

The email-to-case management solution for DEW is built on Salesforce Service Cloud, and our team created a forwarding rule from this inbox that automatically routes correspondence into Salesforce and creates a case. To ensure the case indeed lands in a customer support agent’s hands, the Salesforce system is configured with a “round robin.” That is, it will automatically assign cases to agents, ensuring they are evenly distributed so no one resource is inundated with cases.

There are a series of checks the case undergoes upon its receipt in Service Cloud, as facilitated by case escalation and automated notifications to confirm it receives the most timely and satisfactory attention.

The case undergoes a manual QA “spot-check” by its assigned agent to ensure the newly-created record warrants a response and is not a spam message.

If the case passes the QA check and is marked as warranting follow-up from its assigned agent, the Salesforce solution will automatically send a “confirmation of receipt” email to the constituent so they can rest assured knowing their concerns are heard. (Left screenshot)

The agent assigns either a “high” or “urgent” priority level depending on the request or inquiry.

If assigned “urgent,” the case’s status must be set from “new” to “in progress” within one hour of being assigned this status. Otherwise, a series of notifications are sent to internal stakeholders to ensure these matters get taken care of immediately to prevent service level agreement (SLA) breach.

Finally, upon resolving the problem, the agent can send a resolution email to the constituent and leverage one of the DEW-branded email templates our team built for them. (Right screenshot.)

With Salesforce serving as the source-of-truth, the team at DEW can pull reports and dashboards more quickly than before. Using the legacy inbox, all data was pulled manually and housed in a series of Excel spreadsheets. Salesforce now allows for the intuitive creation of reports and dashboards on all data within the system, and DEW administrators can even schedule these metrics to send every morning to stakeholders’ inboxes for an assessment of personnel performance, the types of cases coming in, and how long it takes for staff to resolve them.

Getting Off the Ground Quickly

Supporting those who have been laid off is a critical part of any holistic emergency response. We’ve been able to expedite our project delivery for DEW by leveraging the architecture of the Salesforce emergency case management solution we built for accelerateSC, the COVID-19 response plan spearheaded by South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, through which constituents can submit COVID-19 related inquiries and requests for emergency support.

In all, we deployed the Agency’s solution in two weeks and leveraged an additional two weeks for ongoing enhancements post go-live.

Impact and Results

Cases are currently being closed in under two business days, providing resolution to constituents’ unemployment inquiries more quickly than in the legacy system.

Collaboration With the State of South Carolina to Respond to COVID-19

In times of crisis, state government needs to be a reliable and responsive outlet to whom constituents can report concerns, ask questions, and receive timely and accurate information.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Catalyst supported the State of South Carolina Governor’s Office with its emergency response plan called “accelerateSC” by way of a Salesforce Service Cloud and Social Studio implementation, as well as a cloud-based call center. These new systems work with each other to collect and manage COVID-19 related inquiries, concerns, and requests submitted by the residents of the State via web form, email, phone call, and social media.

This project was delivered in under 5 weeks, in keeping with the rapid timeline emergencies mandate.

The Public-Facing Channels

The COVID-19 crisis ushered in unprecedented circumstances; in response, the Catalyst and accelerateSC teams were bullish about establishing accessible and modern interfaces through which constituents are already accustomed to requesting services to get in touch with their government amid the pandemic. The channels through which constituents can now submit inquiries, concerns, and requests are email, Facebook, Twitter, a web form, and phone, as we stood up a digital call center with infrastructure supported by Amazon Web Services. A standalone case study about this call center is available upon request.

Note that, upon being submitted, these touchpoints are automatically routed into Salesforce as “cases,” at which point they can be addressed and resolved by customer service agents and departmental subject matter experts.

Deploying Salesforce Service Cloud

The Catalyst team implemented a case management system in Salesforce Service Cloud for accelerateSC in order to house all COVID-19 related cases submitted by citizens. Cases submitted across the public-facing channels include:

  • Requests for information about COVID-19 testing sites, essential versus non-essential business protocol, schools and daycares, and volunteer opportunities
  • Requests for emergency supplies like PPE
  • Complaints (“I can’t get an answer if I can re-open my restaurant or not. What gives?”)
  • Concerns (“This saloon is packed, and nobody is following social distancing!”)
  • General inquiries

A Knowledge Article in Service Cloud that was created to standardize the response to a question citizens frequently asked: should I wear a mask?

Once routed into Service Cloud, customer service staff triage the concerns among Tier 1 and Tier 2 support agents. Tier 1 agents handle more “straightforward” concerns that do not require niche departmental subject matter expertise for issue resolution. For additional guidance, Catalyst stood up a “Knowledge Base” populated with answers to frequently asked questions (see above) that agents can reference to provide the most accurate and standardized response to constituent inquiries.

To ensure closed-loop communication with constituents during this sensitive time, the Service Cloud backend can also send emails to the submitter notifying them of their case’s updates and ultimate resolution. Meanwhile, on the backend, agents engage with a “contact record” and a “case record” (shown below).

A contact record in the Service Cloud backend houses a constituent’s phone number and email, the history of the State’s interaction
with them, as well as their history of case submissions. Identifying information for the constituent and client has been removed.


A case record includes the submitter’s name and contact information, the category and details of the submission, the State
staffer(s) working to resolve the case, the status of the case, and recent activity and correspondence related to this case’s
resolution. Identifying information for the constituent and client has been removed.

Social to Case

Today, public sector agencies must leverage social media as a channel to engage with their constituency. This is all the more true in an emergency, when constituents demand quick and convenient channels like social platforms to request the information and services they need. In the same vein as email-to-case, web-to-case, and phone-to-case capabilities, South Carolina residents can submit COVID-19 related inquiries and requests via social media, specifically Twitter and Facebook. Leveraging Salesforce Social Studio’s social-to-case functionality, these posts can then be immediately routed to Service Cloud for fast resolution.

On the frontend, South Carolinians can “tag” and direct message (DM) accelerateSC on Twitter and Facebook, asking a question or requesting help. On the backend, the post and/or DM populates in Social Studio. Leveraging backend automation fueled by Salesforce’s Social Studio Automate, posts populate in columns driven by rules and conditions set by the Catalyst and accelerateSC teams. For example, all incoming Twitter mentions and Facebook posts are housed in a separate column than incoming messages and DMs, though in the same Social Studio “Engage” dashboard view. As such, the social team gets a 360-degree view of all activity on a social account and can engage in a back-and-forth with constituents in an organized fashion, as well as send the case to Service Cloud to create a case and allow for the pertinent departments to investigate and resolve the matter. But the benefits of Social Studio stretch beyond social-to-case.

An example of a constituent tweet that could be made a case.

Intersection of Salesforce Social Studio, Social Media and Public Relations

With Social Studio, accelerateSC can now monitor constituent satisfaction with its emergency response on social media channels via social listening functions. These functions provide direct insight into the constituency’s feelings (positive or negative) regarding the response and other relevant topics, allowing the Governor’s Office to adjust its messaging and strategic communications accordingly, as well as schedule regular and emergency social media posts using Social Studio Publish.

Besides technology consulting, Catalyst resources also supported accelerateSC’s public relations efforts to advise upon messaging and framing used in social media posts and DM responses to transparently and effectively respond to and quell constituent feelings of frustration, fear, and anger.

Social Listening and Social Media Management
Using Social Studio’s robust reporting and analytics offerings, accelerateSC can monitor keywords to assess what constituents are saying about a given topic, evaluate constituents’ sentiment associated with that topic, and then use that feedback to inform its ongoing COVID-19 communications plan. For example, if keywords or phrases such as “South Carolina unemployment benefits” is identifying a pull in a lot of posts with a negative tone, the Governor’s Office’s Strategic Communications Team knows it needs to publish more resources to manage expectations better and clarify who receives unemployment benefits and when.

accelerateSC is also leveraging Social Studio’s Publish functionality to regularly post on Twitter and Facebook by sharing COVID-19 related news, resources, and re-opening guidelines. The accelerateSC team builds a content calendar with scheduled posts on a week-by-week basis, but also sends one-off posts to reach a broad audience quickly with emergency information and “breaking news.”

In all, accelerateSC has built “brand recognition” through social media and has solidified its place as a reputable outlet for COVID-19 information.

Notably, reports that were previously pulled manually from social media profiles and inserted into Excel via the native social application’s “Analytics” features are now run automatically in Social Studio and sent to the pertinent stakeholders’ email inboxes every morning as a visually-appealing and comprehensible dashboard. These reports ensure they start their day with an actionable view of the previous day’s activity on socials, as well as historical data of constituent sentiment on various topics related to the pandemic.

End User Training and Post Launch Support

End user adoption is always crucial, and this was deepened with accelerateSC end users given that these systems would be used to support an emergency response. Their self-sufficiency and confidence using the new Salesforce solutions would impact their ability to provide the best customer service possible to South Carolinians during challenging times.

In sum, the Catalyst team trained over 60 users on Service Cloud and Social Studio capabilities via remote training sessions and written training documentation. At all times, we kept it front-of-mind to communicate accessibly to empower end users of all levels of technical confidence with their new systems. To date, we have provided over 80 hours of post-launch support via “war rooms” and one-on-one sessions to ensure system stability and provide a helping hand to end users who had a one-off question or needed assistance while troubleshooting.