Get Ready for Call Center Surge - A Toolkit for Local Health Departments

Call Center Surge

Developing Content and Messaging

In conjunction with executive officials and public information officers (PIOs), your call center agents are the voice of public health during an emergency.

It’s essential, then, that the call center knowledge base and messages are part of a coordinated emergency public information and warning capability that extends throughout your health department and Joint Information Center (JIC). What your agents say to callers must be consistent with the information on your website and social media, in outreach materials, in media releases, and spoken by officials. Consistency, accuracy, and timeliness build credibility. Being perceived as the most trustworthy source allows your department to significantly impact the health, safety, and survival of residents.

Content development and vetting should be in line with your overall crisis and emergency risk communications (CERC) plan and the Incident Command System (ICS). (See Workforce Training).

If not already established as part of your Joint Information System (JIS), you’ll want to create a protocol and staff positions responsible for requesting, receiving, and archiving new information and updates in the call center.

These principles also hold true if you’re planning to be part of a network of call centers (a coordinated call center). Managing the consistency, accuracy, and timeliness of public information is certain to be more complex. So, creating a mutually understood protocol is essential.

Be first. Be right. Be credible. (CERC principles)

Developing public information prior to an emergency for use in your call center is an important part of preparing. Granted, details will change as the real event unfolds. But, core content can be created and messages tested pre-crisis. In fact, your department probably already has fact sheets, Web content and educational materials on a number of emergency topics. It’s a matter of working with your PIOs or risk communication specialists and subject matter experts to turn that information into usable formats for the call center.

Consider these information formats for your call center (samples provided by Public Health – Seattle & King County):

  • Key messages/scripts for agents
    (H1N1)  (WNV)  (Flood)
  • Q&A’s (divided into topic areas for quick reference)
    (H1N1) (WNV)  (Flood)
  • Medical algorithms (if nurses are part of your call center model)
    H1N1 adult H1N1 pediatric; additional algorithms and a variety of more detailed clinician and patient guidance can be downloaded from the CDC website:
    • H1N1 Flu Guidance
    • H1N1 Flu Guidance Homecare Directions
    • H1N1 Homecare

    ­CDC fact sheets are frequently updated and may be the most current messaging available.

    • ­Bioterrrorism
    • Toxicology

Also, check if other sources might be willing to share their call center scripts and content: other local health jurisdictions, state health departments, or CD-INFO, for example. Even if customization is needed, this will save you a lot of time.

Adapting Phone Information for Crisis

Remember that people take in information differently during a crisis. Gauge your recorded content and information (key messages (scripts), Q&A’s) used by call center agents accordingly.

  • Use short, concise, and focused messages. (People stressed by anxiety or fear have difficulty remembering, processing, even hearing information; aim at 6th grade level to reach the largest array of callers, including limited-English speakers and callers with communication disabilities.)
  • Provide relevant information rather than a lot of background.
  • Repeat the message when possible.
  • Limit phone numbers and website addresses in your recordings. These will be especially difficult to remember. Repeat phone numbers and Web addresses or include a repeat function in your menu system (IVR).

Consider these content guidelines:

  • Create messages that express empathy and caring.
  • Create messages that are truthful, that acknowledge uncertainties, and that are realistic rather than over-reassuring.
  • Give action steps and make them positives (do this or that, rather than don’ts). Your goal is to not only-alert the caller, but empower them to make the best decisions for their own health and safety.

Knowledge Base for Call Center Agents

Acquiring content is one thing. Making it easily and quickly accessible to your agents is another. You’ll want to decide whether to use hard copies (a binder, for example), Web- based content, or a combination of both. You’ll need formats that can be accurately and efficiently updated and archived.

Here are several types of content you may want to include for call center agents:

  • Quick Reference Checklist for agent’s station.
  • Equipment and software instructions (phone, headsets, computer, special Web- based or software programs).
  • Forms (timesheets, Caller Tracking or Triage Sheet, materials requests, special reporting forms).
  • Key messages and scripts.
  • Q&A’s.
  • Customer service guidelines (difficult calls, special-needs callers, working with over-the-phone interpreters, phone etiquette). (See Workforce Training Module.)
  • Referral and resource guide (for calls outside the scope of your call center). (See Workforce Training Module.)
  • Job tasks and responsibilities (qualifications, Incident Command System staffing structure, job cards). (See Workforce Training Module.)
  • Media guidance (protocols, media releases, news articles, ad campaigns).
  • Samples of educational or outreach materials available to callers.