It’s easy to forget that emergency centers are contact centers too. Although they receive less coverage in the industry press, they are one of the most visible types of contact center to the public.
While we hope never to have to dial 9–1–1, an awful lot of us do. The USA reports receiving an average of 240 million calls a year.
Emergency triage centers which take ambulance, fire and police calls operate to very different standards than traditional contact centers. Call waiting time, for example, must be almost zero and most other metrics are quite different. Average handling time, in situations where operators stay online with callers until the ambulance arrives, is also less important.
There are obvious reasons for these differences — in most contact centers answering a call quickly and accurately is not a matter of life and death. While companies can go out of business because they provide lousy customer service, there isn’t the same scale of risk. Despite their different priorities, commercial contact centers can learn a lot from emergency centers — and vice versa.
The power is in the system
It is the emergency system that handles the call; the operator is a conduit between the caller and the system. It is the system that tells the operator what questions to ask, then acts depending on the caller’s responses — including assigning priority levels, prompting the operator to ask further questions, dispatching appropriate response services, and so on.
It hasn’t always been this way. When we first deployed our intelligent workflow software in the largest and busiest 9–1–1 command center in the US, the FDNY, some processes were still manual for operators. A screen-based system that can automatically move on to the next step depending on what the operator inputs saves an enormous amount of time in each call. It’s also much easier to update the system and manage version control.
Workflow software can guide agents and operators through multiple processes in an intelligent manner, where the next step presented follows logically from the responses already gathered. In the workflow interface, appropriate data and tools can be presented to agents, rather than them having to go look for them or switch applications.
The result is faster, more accurate interactions that can easily take place over any channel and draw on any data source, system or process that is required for the agent to get the job done.
How better CX can save lives
In other ways, traditional contact centers have long been ahead of their emergency center counterparts, particularly when it comes to measuring the impact of their service using key indicators. All of these have analogues in the emergency center world, and many of the same management and operational methodologies commercial contact centers have developed to attain these KPIs can also be implemented.
Our own experiences working with a 9–1–1 command center shows us that today’s cutting edge CX technologies could make a difference. For example, emergency centers are behind when it comes to multi-channel, and this is something they would like to address. Imagine being able to SMS or Facebook message a 9–1–1 emergency and still receive an almost instant response.
The technology exists in commercial contact centers to manage these multi-channel interactions, and it only needs to be applied in a new context.
In the emergency center environment, meeting the public’s needs are the primary concern. While we constantly hear stories of people waiting too many hours for an ambulance, this is usually do with prioritizing limited resources — there are only so many ambulances after all — than a failure in the emergency center. Everything can be improved, however.
In the UK, it has been reported that there will be an additional £36 million of funding to boost paramedic crews and improve the quality of NHS ambulance fleets. If a little gets spent investing in CX tools and multi-channel technology for emergency centers, it can have a huge impact on their ability to deliver for a public that is increasingly digital and mobile.
On the flip-side, commercial centers should look at the triage systems emergency centers use to break into simple steps some of the most complex and difficult to manage scenarios imaginable and guide even relatively new operators through them efficiently and, most importantly, accurately.