The level of service and support a customer receives from a contact centre has become an important gauge of a company's commitment to service excellence. However, those calling into an emergency contact centre expect nothing but the very best in terms of response times, agent expertise and information accuracy.  In many cases, lives depend on it. The technology used in emergency contact centres – systems, applications and services – is vital.

Says Paul Fick, MD of Spescom DataFusion, a leading provider of contact centre solutions to emergency service operators: "While corporate contact centres can accept a certain amount of abandoned calls and errors in handling customers (they can always call the client back), in an emergency contact centre this could cost lives. Here, the communications infrastructure is mission critical and a high level of efficiency is paramount, adherence to stringent service levels and a consistently high level of performance is expected.
"In addition, a recording of every call needs to be available for audit purposes so that in case of a legal dispute or wrongful death, the actions of the contact centre staff – and other emergency services – can be assessed. This calls for ongoing assessment, monitoring and optimisation of systems, processes and staff."
Unlike corporate contact centres that are able to offer acceptable levels of service over conventional communication infrastructure, emergency contact centres have broader requirements. They not only need to be easily accessible to callers but, to offer optimal services, they need to be able to reliably communicate with police, ambulance and medical services.
Says Fick: "Depending on the location of emergency service personnel — in the field at the site of the emergency, or travelling in a vehicle, or in geographically remote areas, at a hospital, etc  – incoming calls may be via radio, GSM, microwave, wireless, Internet, VoIP or analogue telephony technologies. The underlying systems in an emergency contact centre are thus very important, as is the backup infrastructure.
"These organisations need to ensure they have the breadth of connectivity needed as well as very high (99.999% available) guaranteed levels of reliability on a 24×7 basis." They also need to be able to scale up their operation very quickly in case of national natural disasters (for example, flooding, fires) or for peak periods such as holiday seasons when accidents increase. And specialised technologies and services must be catered for," he adds.
Fick explains: "A good example is a service that uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and the Geographic Positioning Systems (GPS) of cellular telephones to enable the exact location of the caller. This enables the response time to be quicker by speeding up the allocation of emergency services vehicles to the required location and therefore resulting in a faster coordination of assistance."
Relying on a world class contact centre technology platform is an essential first step for any contact centre organisation hoping to meet high standards.
Says Fick: "Proven solutions, such as Avaya's platforms, are feature rich and extremely scalable. They are also highly available and reliable, and incorporate extensive redundancy. They can simplify and improve routing and management of interactions across all communication channels, as well as provide real-time and historical reporting, data management, a customer interaction repository and a Web reporting framework.
"In addition, these solutions are built on open standards, allowing for integration with third-party applications and technologies which provide specialised add-on functionality.  For example, with the Avaya system it is relatively easy to integrate a disaster management system with the contact centre front-end to enable display of available emergency response vehicles and their status relative to the location of a caller who needs assistance."
But all the technology in the world is useless if agents do not receive adequate training, he notes. "Agents in an emergency contact centre need to be able to meet the needs of all callers," says Fick, "you don't want to listen to an Interactive Voice Response menu or be put on hold while the agent tries to find someone to assist you. However, to ensure consistently high service levels, the performance of agents must be monitored and fair assessments must be followed by effective remedial actions. Making use of proven workforce optimisation solutions can assist."
Assessment of agents relies on recording of interactions with clients. However, those recordings are also crucial in instances where the law is involved.
Says Fick: "Recording of interactions between the caller and the agent are standard requirements in corporate contact centres. In emergency contact centres, however, it can become complex as the agent will interact with any number of emergency personnel in the field, as well as reference various applications to coordinate assistance to the caller. Screen and voice recording technologies are thus necessary to gain a full overview of exactly what happened in every instance and be able to assess why certain decisions were made, and what real response times were in each case. The entire scenario from origination to resolution needs to be recreated for this purpose.
"Spescom DataFusion has significant experience in the enablement of contact centres for corporates and emergency services, giving us considerable insight into how to optimise overall performance. With strong partnerships including world class call centre platform providers such as Avaya, award winning proprietary recording (DataVoice Libra screen and voice recording technologies) and workforce optimisation software (Qnique), backed by a team of dedicated experts, we have the capability and means to resolve key challenges in this realm."