This is our truth, tell us yours
My timeline on Twitter has been alive today with criticisms and comments about this NHS initiative.
I know a little bit about therapy, a bit more about CBT, and a lot about call centres. I cannot imagine a world in which engagement with those who are in need of help with their mental wellbeing is managed via the Erlang formulae. Leaving aside the technical details about how you balance provision with demand, however, there are some more practical issues.
When I trained and coached call centre staff every conversation started with how much, of a standard conversation, can’t be enjoyed over a phone circuit. Body language, facial expressions, all the non verbal elements of a conversation are gone. In their place I tried to teach my trainees that they had to listen harder, to listen more carefully, to take care that they sent the right verbal cues to the customer.
I was training staff who would be expected to maintain those demanding levels of performance for between 300 and 400 seconds per call. That’s the standard for most good contact centres. Go over 400 seconds, and, in my experience, customer satisfaction drops as the customer grows tired by the effort of listening for the agent’s cues and questions, and the agent struggles to settle in for the long run,trying to maintain a relationship of trust and to remember the projected customer journey, the objective for the call.
Now, thinking back to our NHS example, thirty minutes of CBT is 1800 seconds – that’s each call as an endurance event, with each agent probably doing 10- 13 calls per shift. To make such a system work you have to invest in a strong record keeping system, strong quality assurance and a strong agent engagement strategy. They may be qualified mental health professionals, but if you sit them in a call centre and treat them like call centre staff, that’s how they’ll feel.
Mental health care should be about professionals, inthe best possible environment, enjoying the best possible communication with clients. Am I persuaded that an NHS callcentre meets those needs? Not yet…