Written by Stephen Martini, emergency communications supervisor at Brentwood (Tenn) 9-1-1. Before joining public safety, Martini was a newspaper journalist in North Carolina and Tennessee. Contact him via email at email@example.com.
We are 9-1-1.
Telecommunicators proudly (and rightly) boast the fact they answer the call in the direst of circumstances. We display mottos declaring we are there when seconds count and when lives are on the line; then we tell the police where to go.
But the reality in most centers is that 9-1-1 calls make up a fraction of our overall call load -- and many of those 9-1-1 calls are non-emergency in nature. Having worked in two PSAPs in my career, I know firsthand that approximately 80% of calls placed into the PSAP are on non-emergency lines.
So why are we still using the urgent nature of our profession to excuse poor customer service?
In more than a decade in public safety communications, I have heard a variety of excuses for delivering poor customer service. I have seen some telecommunicators curtly disconnect with a caller in the name of not tying up 9-1-1 lines, while others gave harsh, almost sarcastic, instructions to callers while advising their reported emergency was barely worth reporting at all.
In fact, one former co-worker once informed me they did not have to answer administrative calls at all, deeming it a self-declared perk of seniority.
Let's table the clear lack of supervision in the last example and focus on the core issue: customer service. What does customer service look like in the comm center? Where can we turn to learn more about such an important topic? Where do we begin?
Who Are Our Customers?
To start, we must determine who our customers are:
- Responders in the field (fire, police, EMS, other dispatchable resources)
- Residents and visitors who call for assistance (9-1-1 and non-emergency callers)
- Our fellow first responders in the PSAP