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Ingredients for success in the public safety contact center

Written by Kristyn Emenecker

Public safety answering points (PSAPs) are under constant pressure to perform. After all, the community’s well-being is at stake, and a single error can turn into costly and even deadly mistakes. Even further, the physical systems that support public safety communications are changing dramatically with the advent of Next-Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) and other requirements. All of these changes add up to an environment ripe for quality and operational challenges if the proper controls are in place.

Today’s public safety and emergency services leaders need to cultivate the right atmosphere and skills to ensure that frontline call-takers are prepared to effectively serve citizens. Beginning with the hiring process and continuing all the way through to training, coaching and career development, management needs to put best practices in place to maximize the “people” component of operations. Given the world we live in, technology can be a great facilitator. Software such as workforce optimization (WFO), that has been proven in the private sector contact center and customer service operations market and is now moving into public safety operations, can be instrumental in helping manage the human aspects within the PSAP operation. This helps make managers and call-takers more effective, while at the same time heightening call quality, accuracy and citizen satisfaction. Technology alone, however, is rarely a magical “cure-all” without the right supporting processes.

Hire the Right People

This may seem very straightforward, but effectively running a high-performing PSAP starts with the people you bring on board. How do you identify the right people for the job? It is best to include your human resources or recruiting resources in the discussion with the quality and operations team at the beginning stages of the hiring process. Together, these groups can uncover the key competencies that each new employee needs to have to be successful.

If there is no human resources department, agencies should look to their existing pool of best performing employees and evaluate accordingly. Take a look at what worked in recruiting these individuals, ask them for their feedback on what can be improved, and then actively apply these methods for future employees. Performance management software, which can be found within a workforce optimization solution, tracks call-taker quality and performance, providing a snapshot of employees who excel in these areas. With this information, you can then identify the traits and attributes to replicate in your new hires.

The same holds true for developing existing staff. Current employees may want to know that there is a clear long-term career path available. For example, is a dispatcher interested in moving up to management? Is a call-taker especially skilled at handling certain interactions dealing with a particular emergency situation, and ready to mentor new hires? Managers should know their people and their respective passions, and should encourage them to pursue additional training and educational programs or learn new skills. Not only will employees feel more engaged, but they will be more loyal to the agency.

Establish a Great Environment to Attract Great Talent

Now you know who you want to bring on board, but do they want to be part of the team? Taking the time to evaluate and cultivate the right environment internally is an often overlooked component of the recruiting process. Employees need to know they are valued and have a clear path for personal and professional growth.

While it’s easy to lose sight of employees during a busy day or an overnight shift, it is advantageous to keep the following two philosophies top of mind for attracting and retaining key talent: communication and empowerment. Being a call-taker in a PSAP is a stressful and high-pressure job. Fostering open and honest communication between telecommunicators and supervisors is essential. Environments that allow and encourage feedback on processes and procedures from the bottom up result in employees who feel validated, useful and part of the larger organization.

Empowerment is also important for telecommunicators and dispatchers. They carry a great deal of responsibility in their work, so focus on hiring people who can exercise good judgment and make decisions confidently. Then, allow them the freedom to make them, with appropriate boundaries. Providing performance management scorecards for each employee also can allow them to take ownership of their performance and provide an opportunity to see how they impact the success of the entire agency or county. Of course, with empowerment comes accountability. Review their decision-making regularly as part of quality assurance call reviews, and provide guidance and correction as needed.

Use Technology to Train for Success

How do you get telecommunicators and dispatchers to reach the next level? As stated earlier, management needs to track progress against identified performance metrics and then train and coach employees for success.

In recent years, workforce optimization software has applied best practices from commercial contact centers and enterprises and has made these tools available in a version designed specifically for PSAP environments. Features within WFO suites, such as eLearning and coaching, provide targeted training that is designed to help personnel advance their skills, by addressing certain talents, learning a new process, or sharpening a skill set on specific incident handling. Since real-world experience is often the best way to learn best practice skills for public safety communications, one common type of eLearning software enables your agency’s recorded calls to be quickly turned into custom “learning clips,” highlighting best practices and how-tos, or even what not to do, without exposing complainant or call-taker names or information unnecessarily.

Helping the emergency contact center to operate at peak performance depends on the quality of the staff manning the phones. With the right management processes and technology as enablers, staff can help ensure the high levels of quality performance necessary for the operational challenges just over the horizon with NG9-1-1. Workforce optimization software can support management teams and personnel in the communications center—from identifying talent and fixing performance issues, to triggering training and coaching sessions, to tying it all into the scheduling system, and more. With best practices available from the commercial world, today’s PSAPs can effectively implement proven techniques to help ensure that management and emergency call-takers are doing all they can to drive quality and accuracy, reduce liabilities, heighten response time and employee skills, and increase satisfaction.

Kristyn Emenecker is the director of solutions marketing for Verint® Systems. She can be reached at kristyn.emenecker@verint.com.

Published in Public Safety IT, May/Jun 2010

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