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6 tips for handling emergency calls in contact centers

Many contact centers do not have a procedure for handling emergency calls, but they should. It is important for agents to know how to react to emergency situations.

Emergency phone calls aren't an everyday occurrence in e-commerce and utility company contact centers -- but they are certainly a possibility.

Non-emergency contact centers need to have clear-cut procedures for agents to follow in the case of an emergency situation. A customer conversation that includes cryptic language, whispering or strained breathing may seem like an odd, one-off interaction in a contact center, but may actually be a medical scare or threat of violence.

Now might be the best time for businesses to review emergency call handling procedures due to the global pandemic that's causing emotional and physical distress among people worldwide. Even though organizations may rarely need to enact such procedures, they are necessary, and businesses need to train contact center agents on proper emergency call handling.

Here are six items for contact centers to role play and build into formalized procedures for handling emergency calls in non-emergency contact centers:

1.   Remain calm and gather information

The first step is for businesses to train agents to remain calm and evaluate the situation using questions that require simple yes or no answers, including:

  • Are you in physical pain?
  • Are you concerned for your safety?
  • Is there somebody nearby who can help?

The caller will take verbal cues from the agent; however, if the agent panics, the person on the other end of the call will most likely also react the same way.

But sometimes detecting an emergency call can be tricky. Real-time speech analytics may be able help to identify a potential emergency as the result of analyzing speech patterns, tone and inflection of a caller's voice; however, this is still a technology in its infancy and is not widely used across contact centers.

After feeling out the situation, agents need to collect additional details about the issue, including:

  • What is the specific location of the caller?
  • Do authorities need to address the threat immediately?

It's imperative that businesses train agents to continue to drive the conversation even though it may not follow pre-established scripting guidelines. Time is crucial in emergency situations, so asking relevant questions and taking control of the conversation helps speed up the process.

2.   Display empathy

What agents may perceive as minor inconveniences for themselves may be a significant threat to a caller.

Empathy and compassion are a must when handling an emergency call, and it's important that businesses train agents to use a calm tone of voice and explain that they understand there is a problem. What agents may perceive as minor inconveniences for themselves may be a significant threat to a caller. To display empathy, businesses must instruct agents to stray from their scripts and proceed down an alternative path to demonstrate that someone is listening. Displaying empathy and compassion helps to create a connection between the two participants so the caller shares all relevant information.

3.   Take action

Once an agent confirms that an emergency situation exists and determines the location of the call, taking action is the next crucial step in the emergency call handling procedure. Action may include notifying the appropriate authorities and dialing 911 to assist in intervening in the crisis. It is critical that the agent or another employee reaches out to 911 when the incident is occurring.

4.    Notify leadership

Contact center leadership must be kept in the loop if an agent is handling an emergency call. A team collaboration or messaging tool such as Microsoft Teams or Slack can be valuable for communicating with leadership while agents remain on the line.

5.   Continue an ongoing dialogue

After contacting the appropriate authorities, it's necessary to continue an ongoing dialog with the caller. It's important that businesses let agents know that this dialog will be unscripted. Even if an ambulance dispatches, the agent should remain on the phone until somebody else becomes present or interacts with the caller.

6.   Document the call

The final part of this procedure should be documentation. Businesses need to train employees to document the interaction, including the final actions at the end of the call. Documentation is valuable if the organization requires a follow-up analysis. Companies should seek guidance from the organization's general counsel on the best way to document the information so that it ensures customer privacy yet provides a solid audit trail.

Businesses should also create and store training documentation, as well. Training should be done via role playing, recorded and then stored in a knowledge base -- a central repository for storing information -- to easily access, if necessary.

Next Steps

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