How to build an effective crisis contact center
Preparing a contact center for emergency response involves a unified communications strategy across platforms, staffing flexibility and scalable technology.
In times of trouble, state and local governments are often the first place residents turn—whether it’s to find out where to find shelter, how to evacuate or how to apply for social service benefits.
Maintaining a contact center where agency staff can streamline communications so that residents can get timely, accurate responses is crucial. A recently released report from Deloitte highlights six key factors that will ensure agency contact centers can deliver essential information in an emergency.
There are three main pillars that agencies should nail down first, Marc Mancher, a report author and principal at Deloitte Consulting, said in a Feb. 16 podcast with Government Executive.
The first is establishing a “unified command center … where the comms can flow upwards to leadership, downwards from leadership and also enable you to engage constituents,” he said. A contact center is the go-to source where leaders gather information or disseminate it to the public, the report said, so agencies should collect data on contact volumes, wait times and services delivered.
Agencies should also create a central message to avoid confusion—which ties into the second element: coordinated communications. As leaders scramble to inform residents where to get food or a vaccination shot, agencies should follow a framework for creating content and aligning it across various messaging channels such as government websites, social media or interactive voice responses services, the report said.
During emergencies, government will likely experience a surge in contacts, so agencies should prepare to adjust resources and work schedules to accommodate, Mancher said. That’s where the third point comes into play. Agencies may consider staffing solutions such as reallocating tax agents to assist with unemployment claims or even pull temporary staff from an outside agency, the report said.
“Equally important, but supporting,” Mancher said, are the remaining three pillars. One is the need to quickly train agency staff and establish a knowledge base so officials know how and what to communicate to the public, which is especially important during crises where the situation is constantly changing.
Agencies should also leverage technology to strengthen their crisis responses. “You cannot call your way out of a crisis, you can never hire enough people.… You have to use [artificial intelligence] technologies that are out there,” he said of the fifth component: service through technology and conversational artificial intelligence. For instance, if residents can get basic questions answered via an AI-enabled chatbot, that reduces the call volume staff members have to field, he said.
The final pillar addresses ensuring a call center’s technology backbone can handle an influx of communications. If an agency’s telephony platform is designed to only handle 5,000 resident calls, a crisis that results in 50,000 incoming calls will require the agency to quickly expand its service line, the report said. Choosing a cloud-based architecture will support agencies that need to rapidly scale up resources, Mancher said.
An agency’s existing technology will likely not have the storage capacity, software or parameters to intake an unexpected volume of calls, so leaders must ask themselves: “‘Where’s my technology? What’s my posture? And what do I need to beef up [in order] to fix this?’” Mancher said.
“When disaster strikes, having an effective crisis contact center can save lives,” the report said.
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