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 all hope never to have to call 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 from the public 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 good and obvious reasons for these differences of course – in most contact centers answering a call quickly and accurately is not a matter of life and death. While companies can and do go out of business because they provide lousy customer service, which is very serious for the staff affected, there isn’t the same scale of risk with every call. Despite their different priorities, commercial contact centers concerned primarily with business outcomes and customer experience 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 one of the US’s largest and busiest 9-1-1 command centers, 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 one at a time 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 also be presented to agents as they need them, 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 like customer satisfaction, NPS (Net Promoter Score), and customer effort. 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 also make a difference. For example, emergency centers are well behind the curve when it comes to multi-channel and we know that is something they would like to address. Imagine being able to SMS or Facebook message a 9-1-1 emergency – in a situation where you don’t want to be heard, for example – 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 prioritising 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 an additional £36 million of funding to boost paramedic crews and improve the quality of NHS ambulance fleets. If a little of that gets spent investing in CX tools and multi-channel technology for emergency centers, we feel that it can have a huge impact on their ability to deliver for a public that is increasingly digital and mobile.
On the flipside, 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.