What commercial contact centres can learn from 999 emergency centres, and vice versa.
It’s easy to forget that 999 emergency centres are contact centres too. Although they receive less coverage in the industry press, they are probably one of the most visible types of contact centre to the public.
While we all hope never to have to call 999, an awful lot of us do. The UK’s 14 Ambulance Trusts fielded a total of 10 million calls in 2017, an increase of 15% during the previous two years.
Emergency triage centres which take ambulance, fire and police calls from the public operate to very different standards than traditional contact centres. Call waiting time, for example, has to 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 centres 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 centres concerned primarily with business outcomes and customer experience can learn a lot from emergency centres – 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, despatching 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 911 command centres, 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.
While most commercial contact centres deal with less complex calls (as well as multi-channel interactions) with fewer possible outcomes than the average emergency call, workflow software can bring productivity gains there too – of up to 20% in our experience.
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 centres have long been ahead of their emergency centre 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 centre world, and many of the same management and operational methodologies commercial contact centres have developed to attain these KPIs can also be implemented.
Our own experiences working with a 911 command centre shows us that today’s cutting edge CX technologies could also make a difference. For example, emergency centres 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 999 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 centres to manage these multi-channel interactions, and it only needs to be applied in a new context.
My time in the contact centre and customer service world has taught me that constant improvement is the one thing we as an industry strive for. We have done this by increasingly putting the customer at the heart of everything we do; the demand to better meet customers’ needs is what drives operational and technological changes.
In the emergency centre environment, meeting the public’s needs are obviously 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 centre. Everything can be improved however.
The BBC recently reported 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 centres, 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 centres should look at the triage systems emergency centres 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.
For the full Infinity CCS Emergency Centre case study please visit; https://www.fitplatform.com/fit-platform-and-a-major-north-american-medical-triage-agency/
About Geoff Land
Geoff Land is Managing Director of Infinity CCS (Contact Centre Solutions), provider of dynamic workflow engines that power contact centres across 13 countries. Infinity works with some of the world’s largest contact centre operators such as Teleperformance, Webhelp, HGS and Bosch to deliver customer experience solutions that yield measurable efficiencies.
An experienced CX executive, Geoff has spent his career helping leading some of today’s leading brands transform their businesses. Geoff previously held senior positions at Bright Star Communications (Saudi Arabia), founded Inspire FZE in the United Arab Emirates and has held a number of local and international positions at Nortel Networks.