February 28th, 2012

It will happen again, and again

Posted in The Job - Comment by 200

From time to time I comment on the quality of information taken by calltakers and passed on to me to deal with by way of assigning officers to deal with the call. As in all jobs, there are some very good call takers and some very bad ones.

In the old days, you would just sack someone who was no good at their job. Today, nobody wants to take that responsibility, the litigation culture has meant that in order to sack someone, the job has to have a case that is absolutely water tight. This means they have to jump through hoops that most supervisors don’t want to jump through. Nobody wants to make a decision which may come back to bite them on the bum at an employment tribunal. It’s part of the overall culture within the police now that encourages nobody to take responsibility and makes people want to pass the buck further up the line.

I often get logs passed back to me because I take decisions based on my experience. Sometimes this means closing off logs because I don’t believe a police officer should be attending. It’s hit or miss as to whether the log remains closed because in order to get it through the system at least one and sometimes two supervisors have to agree with my decision, this means they’re also going to cop it if it goes pear shaped. Most won’t take the risk.

A typical example is Mr Adams. He threatens suicide so frequently that few people take him¬†seriously. Sometimes he rings several times a day. We have over 400 calls to his address in the last 3 years. He does it so often that the ambulance service have a policy that they will only go to his address once per 24 hour shift. That’s once more than I will send an officer. If he ever does top himself and I don’t send someone, it will be my fault.

This is, of course, different from jobs where a simple cock-up has been made. When people are panicking, it can be very difficult to understand what they are saying. With large sections of the community being from¬†foreign¬†climes, accents can be very difficult to understand. It is reasonably frequent that we get logs where the address is wrong, sometimes due to the call taker’s inability to fathom out what is actually being said, sometimes due to picking the wrong address from a drop down box. When an address is entered into the log, the system offers you a number of choices, either similar sounding road names or the same road name but in different towns. It saves valuable time entering the house number, street, town and postcode, you just enter the start of the address and select from the menu that appears. You might be offered 13 or 14 High Streets within the force area and if you pick the wrong one without noticing it, police are racing to an address the other side of the county.

This isn’t an issue for someone reporting a theft of milk off their doorstep, but it can lead to loss of life when minutes or even seconds count.

Working in a police control room is not like working at directory enquiries, or at the customer service unit  for Virgin Media. Someone should tell the force managers this because they continue to adopt the same working practices as those places. If call takers are told to make each call last an average of 5 minutes so they can reach the targets for answering calls and someone can get a pat on the back, there will be occasions when they cock up because they are under pressure to wrap the call up and get on to the next one.

Few people give a shit about the quality of the call taking, not when you can say you answered 90% of 999 calls within 9 seconds.

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  1. Gary says:

    Easy to misunderstand what people say on the phone. In the early 80′s at a MPD station in NW London a new probationary WPC was doing her stint at Comms and took a call from a DAC resident in our area, who if an incident happened had to be blue lighted from his H/A by Area car. She thought he said DC and naturally did not respond as he expected. Next thing he stormed into the nick and made a real twat of himself reducing her to tears. I then concluded that she had probably been right about what his true rank should have been all along.

    February 29th, 2012 at 14:57

  2. Tony F says:

    I reckon those that ‘threaten’ suicide on a regular basis should be encouraged to get on with it. Then people who deserve help may get it when they require it.

    February 29th, 2012 at 18:48

  3. Moppy says:

    Many years ago I worked for a national motoring organisation, calls took as long as needed. Management saw a cost saving by speeding them up, it was later pointed out that although they saved a few pence by having quick calls they lost hundreds of pounds by having people driving round in circles to no effect. Took them a while to see that one…….

    The main difference was the members could go elsewhere, also no one was likely to die.

    February 29th, 2012 at 20:09

  4. Civ_In_The_City says:

    We`ve been having exactly the same conversation about call times at work the last couple of days. Our helpdesk staff are getting pressured to get off the phone, so they can then answer the phone to someone else. The staff don`t just log the call and pass it to someone else to deal with, they also try to fix the problem there and then.

    Over the years helpdesk managers have encouraged their staff to learn to fix more and more stuff so that the helpdesk becomes, well, a helpdesk and not just a call logging desk.

    The new management regime has started using sweatshop and ‘performance enhancing’ techniques (stats) to try to ‘improve’ things.

    Of particular concern are calls taking 7, or 8 or 9 minutes to deal with. But, instead of getting to the root cause of those phone calls, then fixing that root cause (and thus preventing the calls occurring in the first place), they are choosing to just pressurise the call taker into getting on with the next phone call.

    Often this means people are getting faulty advice and have to phone back again and again.

    From the managers point of view this is good news: “Look at the huge volume of calls my team deals with!” while nobody is collecting the statistics for repeated calls about the same issue.

    The latter is known as ‘waste demand’ and isn`t a sign of a healthy helpdesk in the least. Basic systems thinking.

    February 29th, 2012 at 22:41

  5. TunaSunrise says:

    I once had a job where I basically ran a small company on my own, for someone else. One office, one person, one phone.

    The owner wasn’t happy about getting an engaged tone sometimes when she rang though, so she paid for a second line and phone to be installed.

    One office, one person, two phones. Much better.

    March 1st, 2012 at 12:58

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