So, the Scottish Police centralisation of calls is being put on hold. What is the problem? The problem is that we as decision-makers love to use the same clever principles to make decisions, that on reflection, seem to be plausible.
The problem is that the police service relies heavily on calls into the system. These calls arrive at all times of the day, with varied frequency over the day. At small sites the cost of managing these call handlers, arranging their shifts, and preparing for holidays and sickness is a challenge. So, the solution is to get them all from the smaller sites, put them in a big building, and connect them with technology, back to their original locations. Then, maybe we can recruit cheaper grade staff to answer the calls, based on best practice CRM systems. If we can call India when we talk to a bank, surely its a no-brainer?
It all makes sense to a decision-maker, who is being pushed to make savings, the like that have never been experienced by that leader in the lifetime of the service. The logic and the maths make perfect sense.
The reality is this. The demand that comes in is often complex and fails to follow a pre-determined pattern to resolve. That seemingly simple call about a Facebook spat can turn nasty if not dealt with according to the unique circumstances of what matters to that particular caller. The history of conflict within the facebook issue, shows that those invovled have been warring for some time.
Then, if we do pass on the call to a division, it gets categorised, prioritised, and then sits in a queue until someone in a locality picks it up and reads it. They read what was written by the call handler, not what was actually said, not understanding the intonation in the voice, not hearing the confused shy vulnerable message struggling to be heard over and above the categorisation they are being forced to be placed in.
The call-handler is trained to push away calls deemed not for the police. The unintended consequence is often an escalatin of the incident, until it becomes necessary to respond to with greater attention.
The locality the call eventually gets to, need to call the caller back, to obtain more information that was not detailed on the record. The phone number is tried several times, before contact is remade. The officer who can really help understand and help the caller, finally talks to the person with the problem, and then finally starts the value work of sorting out the problem. Hopefuly it is not too late by then, but it has caused a load of waste activity to ripple through the organisation.
One day someone will come up with the bright idea of in the first instance, getting the caller to talk directly to the person who can help them resolve the problem, and that same manager who set up the big building full of call handlers will find that the cost of doing this is considerably less than the old way. And, as a by product, the service is markedly improved.
It is what happens to all such contact centres if they are analysed in the right way, but it takes so many of us to make the expensive mistake before we learn that lesson. By that time, a new manager has taken the reigns, and they have a great idea to solve the cost of different localities taking their own calls... The wheel goes round again.
Take a systems thinking approach to this problem, and the right solution will be clear.
Scottish policing article from Ian Wiggett