Calvert County improves citizen engagement with Zendesk and SweetHawk
Home to more than 92,000 people, Calvert County, Maryland, was founded on July 3, 1654. With a goal of improving its citizens’ quality of life, Calvert County decided to focus on better community engagement. By investing in the Zendesk customer service platform and SweetHawk, the government entity was able to address public concerns in less time than expected.
“The response from the public has been fantastic. They don’t even know they are using Zendesk, but we receive compliments all of the time now on how quickly we respond to their questions.”
Special Projects Program Manager
“The integration of SweetHawk has taken Zendesk to the next level in terms of task management and automation. The ease of use and customization options have streamlined our efforts to develop custom workflows and improve customer support both internally and externally.”
Special Projects Program Manager
- 2 weeks
Improvement in ticket resolution time
Founded in 1654, Calvert County, Maryland , has over 5,200 businesses and a labor force of at least 1.8 million residing within a one-hour drive. To better reach its growing population, county leaders wanted to ramp up community engagement initiatives. To accomplish that goal, the county created the communications and media relations department in 2018.
Solving the puzzle of internal and external communications
The new department needed a tool that could track both internal and external communications. “In the government world, it is very easy to get a call from a citizen and kind of lose track of what is being done,” says Ruthie Buckler, special projects program manager with Calvert County. “We were very much in need of the ability to make sure our people were doing what they were supposed to be doing, the needs of our citizens were being met, and at the same time tracking all of that information to determine if we were trending in the right direction.”
Tracking all communications to, from, and within the county office was no easy task. “We literally were using Excel spreadsheets to try and manage everything,” says Buckler. “The notion of trying to track and manage what our people were doing and how our citizens were reacting to those changes seemed almost unattainable at the time.”
A new internal system was needed to manage county activities more smoothly. Additionally, Calvert County was required to meet the standards of the Public Information Act. “We needed something to ensure we were addressing those public information requests within the 10-day allowed period,” says Buckler.
Revamping communications strategies with Zendesk
To untangle Calvert County’s communications, Buckler turned to Zendesk. “Zendesk was the logical choice for us,” says Buckler. “We needed a task management tool that would allow us to track what our people were doing, whether the needs of our citizens were being addressed, and what issues might be arising. Zendesk gives us the ability to see all of those things in one place.”
County leaders agreed to a three-year trial of the Zendesk CX platform. “If we proved we could turn the tide within the communications and media relations department, we were assured Zendesk would be implemented countywide,” says Buckler.
The power of workflows through Zendesk
With Zendesk, Buckler no longer has to go to physical filing cabinets in search of information. All workflows now reside within the Zendesk platform. “It is very comforting to know that I can essentially check on the status of whatever I need to know,” says Buckler. “I can see who has been doing what and if customer queries are being addressed in a timely fashion. If they’re not, I can reach out and find out why.”
But more than seeing workflows, Buckler appreciates how different teams and departments can customize Zendesk according to specific needs. “People don’t need to wait for me or IT to request a change in the workflow. I can easily show one or two people on the team how to build their own workflows and they’ll take care of it” offers Buckler. “They know their processes, and that’s the most important thing. Because Zendesk has an easy drag-and-drop interface, the people I’ve trained can quickly make the appropriate changes to workflows as needed.”
This ease of use isn’t just helping employees at Calvert County; it’s making things better for citizens, as well. “We know it is working because of the responses we are receiving from our citizens. They say ‘Thank you for addressing my concern so quickly.’ That rarely happens in government.”
Meeting the test of COVID-19
The turning point for the Zendesk rollout in Calvert County was during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021. The local health department reached out to Calvert County government for assistance in creating a COVID-19 vaccine registration system. Buckler immediately reached out to Zendesk on how to best create a fully functional and streamlined process within a week. “It took us five business days to spin up a complete pre-registration journey for vaccine recipients in Calvert County with Zendesk,” Buckler explains. “All the other counties were asking how we were able to get it done so quickly.” Through the implementation of a simple form and comprehensive help center, phone calls regarding the COVID-19 vaccine decreased from 3,000 daily to around 400. “We literally hit it out of the park,” Buckler recalls.
Calvert County was able to register more than 31,000 constituents, which represents over 34% of the county’s total population. The Zendesk system ensured the local Health Department received all the information they needed to help protect the community and keep vaccine distribution running smoothly.
Additionally, the community resources department received federal grant funding to assist citizens who were behind on their rent payments. Using Zendesk for intake of citizen applications to request the funding was a natural fit and easily implemented. Sweethawk’s Task app allowed everyone to use the same process for reviewing applications, gathering all required documentation, and processing payments to the citizen or landlord.
Supercharging task management with SweetHawk
“The integration of SweetHawk with Zendesk proved to be a game changer,” says Buckler. “SweetHawk provided us the ability to take our current workload and manage it even more efficiently,” she shares.
As a new department, the communications and media relations team was continually implementing new processes and needed the tools to make sure everyone was following those processes. “On SweetHawk, we immediately implemented the Tasks app, which brought automation to the entire process. I particularly like using recurrent tasks. We would sometimes have annual press releases, for instance. Once I finish the task this year, I just set it up as a recurring task for next year. The task then appears on my list only when I need to start working on it, say a month before it’s due. It doesn’t bog down my to-do list unnecessarily.”
The SweetHawk Notify app has significantly streamlined internal processes. Buckler uses it to send out broadcast notifications to agents on new features or if there is a scheduled service outage. It also helps the team stay on top of what has been done—when an outstanding ticket has been updated, the information automatically goes into Notify. “It has just become common practice for everyone to keep pretty much everything within Notify,” says Buckler. “I really love the functionality of the application.”
More streamlining in the future
Buckler has big visions for Zendesk in Calvert County, and other government offices. She sees how much has already been accomplished with Zendesk and wants to do even more. “I see all of the tools available through Zendesk and SweetHawk, and I’m able to envision how we could incorporate them to streamline our processes even more for ourselves and our citizens.”