Evaluation of the Eastern Kentucky Rural Highway Information Project 511 Tourism Service
The Eastern Kentucky Rural Highway Information Project involved establishing a 511 Premium Tourism Service Package. In 2006, Kentucky was only the second state to offer tourism related services through its 511 Travel System, placing the state in a position to offer insights gained from the project to other states considering the implementation of a similar program. Lessons learned from Kentucky's experience with launching and managing a multicounty tourism information system will be invaluable. To that end, this study reviewed the activities undertaken during launch and early operations of the Southern and Eastern Kentucky 511 Tourism Service, and conducted a survey of users in an effort to gauge public use and receptiveness to this service. This report offers lessons learned during the start-up phase of the project pertaining to institutional issues, technical issues, and public-private partnership issues. In addition, a survey was administered to 600 users of the 511 Tourism Service, in an effort to gauge current public sentiment about the service as well as discover additional features users would like the service to offer in the future.
These lessons learned involve some key technical issues that arose from the experiences of the project team, and how they solved these issues. These technical issues include making it easy to reach the 511 operators and ensuring high quality operator responses.
- Make it easy to reach the 511 Tourism Operator. The guidance below will make it easier for 511 users to reach a 511 operator.
Simplify the Call Menu Option: Many early users of the 511 Tourism service suggested that the complicated call menu (that was first implemented when the service went live) detracted from their experience and the overall effectiveness of the system. Providing a simplified menu helped alleviate user frustration associated with voice activation systems.
Make the Tourism Service a Prominent Option: The more layers the caller had to go through, the less likely he/she was to actually follow through on the call. By making the tourism service a prominent option, callers quickly reach a live operator to discuss their travel needs.
- Ensure operator responses to tourism requests are high quality. The guidance below will help users of the 511 system receive high quality service from the operators.
Develop definitions of a good 511 tourism service call: Monitoring and evaluating the quality of the 511 Tourism required that the project team first define what constituted a good call. Their specific criteria were: (1) operator provides accurate and relevant information; (2) operator engages the caller in conversation; (3) operator asks the right questions to probe the caller’s interests; and (4) operate promotes area tourism. By clearly defining and providing examples of good calls, the operators knew how to provide quality service to users.
Listen to the Calls as a quality control measure: The project team listened to the phone calls received through the 511 Tourism Service. By having all parties listen to the calls, team members of the private contractor (Senture) were able to develop a better understanding of Southern and Eastern Kentucky Tourism Development Association (SEKTDA) team members’ expectations of the calls and operator responses.
Develop and use a Procedure Manual: SEKTDA and Senture realized that operator responses to calls made to the 511 Tourism Service could not be scripted because there were so many variations in the informational requests made by the callers. Though specific scripts could not be used, an overall procedure manual provided the basic expectations of how calls and requests should be treated. SEKTDA project team members developed a procedure manual which defined the criteria for each category and requirements for data entry fields. Senture staff included sections which addressed rules for handling calls and call tracking.
The experiences from this project will help provide guidance to both the designers and deployers of 511 systems. If this lessons learned guidance is followed, the resulting 511 tourist service (and other 511 services as well) should be somewhat easier to use and provide a higher level of customer satisfaction and mobility, with minimal impact to the cost and schedule of the project. The increased ease of use of the system will allow users to more easily access tourism related information, such as information on lodging, travel packages, and special attractions.