When a business is faced with customer bottlenecks or backlogged operations, reinvention often is its only recourse. This rule of thumb, however, doesn’t always apply to government entities.

Not so with the City of Bellevue.

“Our old City Hall was a multibuilding campus where a customer would often go to one building to wait in line to perform a task, go somewhere else to pay, and to a different building to pick up their order,” said Ian Toms, the City of Bellevue’s client services manager. “The City Council wanted to centralize services into one building in downtown Bellevue, co-locating public safety functions with general administration services.”

So city leaders recruited Laurie Leland, Bellevue’s current assistant director of finance and asset management, charging her with architecting a program to realize the vision of creating a one-stop shop for the community.

“The Bellevue City Council saw the design of the new City Hall building as an opportunity to interact with the public differently by delivering services in a more streamlined fashion,” Leland said. “It became clear to me a centralized public service desk would play an integral role in connecting functions and operating as a gateway for customers who need services beyond City Hall.”

Leland’s plan consolidated key public services, strategically locating them for easy access. “We knew we didn’t want to make customers navigate through a 330,000-square-foot building,” she said.

The city also implemented its “Service First” desk as the first stop for customers. According to Toms, the desk was created to “reduce the waste of motion and streamline access to information.”

“I knew Service First could further support our efforts to streamline services by offering a broad range of products and services directly to customers in a single stop,” Leland said.

The new model, which involved all departments, went live in 2006, when Bellevue opened its new City Hall.

Service First staff members triage customers by answering questions directly, calling specialists when necessary, and guiding visitors to other agencies and services. They take inquiries in person, by phone, email, or through the Service First mobile app. They also use a special Language Line to communicate in 240 translated languages and an in-person translation application.

“Most people can do everything from pay a utility bill to sign up for an exercise class in one location, and if they need to go further, our Service First staff find the best path for them and stay with them until they get the service they need,” Leland said.

Toms tracks data to evaluate timeliness, responsiveness, professionalism, and knowledge. All to continually improve the program, and ensure standard operating procedures and protocols are being met. “Service First is an evolution, and we’re always looking for ways to bolster the city’s strategic objectives,” he said.

Wins include a technology award, setting an example for neighboring jurisdictions that have adopted the model, and, in Leland’s words, “Customers no longer need to understand city business or how the city is organized in order to access services and information.”