Art Braunschweiger

Art Braunschweiger

Best Practices

By Art Braunschweiger

Recently, I taught several training classes at an agency that had been using the Medical Protocol in cardset form and was now switching to ProQA. At one point, a dispatcher said, “The software’s great, but the people around here don’t let us get through all these questions. They just want us to send the ambulance, and that’s it.” The other dispatchers in the room nodded their heads in agreement. My response to this was the same as it always is: “OK, what are you doing about it?”

Let’s talk about why callers resist questioning. Imagine you’re at an airport, walking to your designated gate with no time to spare. An airline representative stops you and starts asking you questions about your destination, your seat, and a few other things. I’d be willing to bet that you would politely (or maybe not so politely) tell that person to get out of your way because you have a flight to catch. But what if you knew those questions would somehow get you on the plane faster and get your preferred beverage in your hand sooner?

Put very bluntly, 911 callers resist interrogation because they can’t see what’s in it for them. That has to be dealt with early in the call, not later. Caller frustration is like a pot of water ready to boil over. The heat has already been applied by the situation and turned up by their emotional reaction to it. Any additional frustration caused by their perception that you’re wasting valuable time causes the pot to boil over. The key is preventing that from happening, not dealing with it after the fact. By that point, you’ve already been burned.

While callers’ educational levels may vary widely, most of them aren’t stupid. Nearly all of them will be smart enough to realize the advantages of cooperating if they understand why that’s to their advantage. If you give them this understanding up front on every call, it will become an automatic part of your routine.

Step one: Deliver immediate reassurance. The moment your caller states his or her emergency, even if it’s only to say “I need an ambulance,” say “I’m going to help you, sir/ma’am,” and then lead right into your next question. That’s important even if you haven’t gotten to what happened yet, because it immediately tells callers that you’re going to give them what they want.

Step two: As soon as you’ve asked awake and breathing, explain what’s going to happen next and why. “The ambulance is being dispatched while we’re talking. I’m going to ask you some questions so we can help him until they get there.” There are many variants of this that work equally well. Some dispatchers in my agency add “ . . . but these questions are not delaying help.” The key is to make sure your callers are told why they need to cooperate. Saying, “I have some questions I need to ask” is not enough.

Consider discussing this statement at a staff meeting and coming up with a “best practice” that everyone can adopt. You can then teach it to new hires as they begin to take calls. Caller management is a skill to be learned like any other.

Prep your callers early, every time, before you get pushback to your questions. Repeat or reinforce what you’ve told them whenever you sense impatience coming to the surface. It takes a consistent effort from you and your staff, and a willingness to believe it will work. Don’t admit defeat before you’ve even answered the phone. Instead, make it a challenge to turn around your most difficult group of callers, and see if your own expectations of them don’t change.