Quality Dispatch

Andre Jones

The International Academies of Emergency Dispatch® (IAED) has determined that quality is “conformance to requirements,” according to the Performance Standards 10th Edition, but who determines what is required? Most often, the customer (or community) determines the “standard of care,” and these standards are dependent on circumstances. We define the quality of services, therefore, by listening to the voice of the customer. Why not listen to the voice of the employee to define the quality of employees? This concept, often used in commercial call centers, suggests that job commitment and job satisfaction improve employee engagement and the employee experience and, consequently, improve organizational commitment and operational effectiveness improve.

Let me explain …

Public safety is of prime importance to our emergency dispatch community. We should be inspired by our community and use that inspiration to make a positive impact on the community’s public safety experience. Every interaction is an opportunity to learn, improve, and impress. But we cannot be empowered if we are not satisfied or committed.

So why are we not satisfied or committed?

Research suggests that a lack of job satisfaction and organizational commitment in emergency dispatch is due to unmet expectations and the list is not short: benefits, policies, management and supervision, work autonomy and process, opportunity, training, growth and development, teamwork, technology, and even retirement. The unmet expectations lead to non-engaged employees and ultimately affects their well-being. How can employees effectively serve if they are unhappy and not part of decisions affecting their career? Research suggests that when employees are less engaged, operational effectiveness diminishes. This is mostly quantitative research, remember people do not talk in numbers, so it’s paramount to understand staff needs, wishes, hopes, preferences, and aversions, in their own words.

Public safety telecommunications leaders need to listen to the voice of the employee to create understanding and collaboration. We must ask questions like “How can I help?” or “What do you need?” This is how we gain perspective.

Despite having an organizational mission and vision, employee needs go beyond that in requiring physical, psychological, social, and/or organizational support to achieve work goals. Their feedback must be considered valuable and actionable without a lot of strategic direction.

An employee came to me and said he understood that the calltaker performance was being monitored in terms of answer speed, queue time, duration of calls, and abandoned calls. The employee told me that he became frustrated when callers were not prepared with the information he needed to help, which he felt contributed negatively to how long it took to answer calls, resulting in longer queuing times and more abandoned calls. He suggested adding a voice prompt in the interactive voice response phone system that asked callers to kindly have their patient’s identification information ready in preparation to speak with an agent.

I could have not been more pleased with this suggestion. Even though I originally designed all the scripts and found all types of reasons why the performance indicators were unstable, I never considered this option after more than a year of implementation of the new phone system. In less than 24 hours I added the new script and, in a week, call handling times decreased by 10 seconds. This was a win for both the customers we serve and the employees.

While cakes, cookies, and awards/recognition are good motivators, they are not sustainable mediators of employee well-being. When employees have a safe and respectful work environment, evolving best practices, supportive supervision, low cynicism, efficient work processes with non-cumbersome technology, and reasonable job strain with a reasonable work-life balance, there is a greater chance that they will be happy. Happy employees will deliver better service.

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