Why the Canadian Red Cross Uses a Live Answering Service

Disaster Management Coordinator Kevin O’Neil on Why The Canadian Red Cross Uses a Live Answering Service

What is your job position with the Canadian Red Cross?

I’m the Disaster Management Coordinator for the Kingston and Quinte Regions. That area includes Prince EdwardKevin-ONeil-Canadian-Red-Cross-alliance-wireless-communications County, Lennox and Addington, Hastings and Frontenac Counties. The 401 corridor is where most of our calls come from and that’s Trenton, Belleville, Napanee and Kingston.

What does your job entail?

I manage about 100 volunteers. I do things like setting up training sessions, meeting with municipal officials regarding agreements, overseeing inventory and organizing team meetings. It’s a catch-all position for everything and anything that needs to be done. I process finance and expense claims and send them to my accounts payable department remotely. I look after the emergency response vehicles in our area. It can be quite busy, especially when there’s an emergency call occuring. For example, if there’s a house fire or a flood in Kingston – a lot of people don’t know about our PDA program (Personal Disaster Assistance) – the fire department or Victims Services may call upon us and our volunteers would be the second responders providing support to the clients by helping with up to 72 hours of basic-needs assistance. This includes clothing, food, shelter and that kind of stuff.

For the larger scale emergencies – like the big fire in Kingston last December – we might be called upon by the municipality to support a reception center or a shelter. If a significant number of people are evacuated from their homes then we look into helping with registration and inquiry and family reunification, setting up a shelter or a reception center, things like that.

How long have you been with the organization?

Since January 2014.

How long have you worked in the non-profit sector?

When I was finishing up my Master’s thesis, I was working a bunch of part-time jobs and one of them was at a homeless shelter in London, Ontario in 2009. So I started in the non-profit sector over 5 years ago. I kind of fell backwards into it. I was a TA and finishing up my graduate degree in International Relations and then I just got that job while I was finishing school and I just liked it and kept going. That’s what I mean when I say I fell backwards into it, the job chose me.

I did some emergency disaster services training and preparation for my last employer where I was in an Assistant Manager role and that’s what the Red Cross probably took note of on my resume.

Why do you do what you do?

To help people, I find that rewarding. I enjoy working with a variety of people. We work with volunteers, government officials, other social service agencies and great corporate partners like Alliance. The staff around here are great. I really enjoy working with volunteers that are giving up their time and I’ve been doing volunteer management for 4 years and that’s a field I really enjoy.

What types of things motivate you?

Sometimes we have opportunities to make things better, make processes operate more smoothly and client assistance more efficient and direct. The opportunities to make things better are really what I like when I step back and look at our work. Even if it’s only at a small amount at a time. The opportunity to make things better and help people more efficiently and fairly motivate me.

What are some of the challenges that you face regularly at your job?

I work with a large geographical area, especially when considering the more remote locations. I have a satellite team up in Bancroft and one on Howe Island in addition to the larger teams that meet in Kingston and Belleville. Some of our calls can be as north as Denbigh and Bancroft. I have to work remotely with a lot of folks day-to-day. A lot of our support administration staff – like the finance department and HR department – are located off-site and mostly reside in either Ottawa or Mississauga, that’s where our National and Provincial offices are located respectively. That is one of the challenges, a lot of people I work with I’ve never met. It’s mostly just email-based commmunication, sometimes a phone call.

Also, it’s a 24/7 365 days per year operation. Just like the emergency services, we’re a support to the first responders: the firefighters, paramedics and police. We’re never off completely, something could always be happening at my work either small scale or larger scale like flooding, etc. There’s no 9am-5pm workdays here in Disaster Management.

Another challenge is working with people in crisis and this is when we actually apply everything we’ve been trained to do and the calls that we get – especially those that are part of the After Hours Emergency Homelessness Assistance program you help us with in Quinte – are all emergency calls. You’re working with people living through crisis, so that has its own inherent challenges.

What were the types of challenges you faced before hiring an answering service?

We used to use pagers and as you may know, it’s an out-of-date form of communication now-a-days. They weren’t always reliable. There were dropped calls where people would be in areas where there wasn’t a pager tower anymore. Sometimes the screens of the pagers would start to wear down. We had to call the client back instead of having direct contact right away – like we do with the live answering service. We had to receive the page, let the other back-up pager carriers know that we received the page and then make the call back to the client and hopefully the client would answer on the first ring.    

Accessibility is another challenge we faced. Pagers have a certain distance inherit in them where volunteers that are carrying them and the clients need the help, there’s an accessibility gap there that gets solved by a live answering service.

How has Alliance been able to address those issues?

It’s a superior form of client/customer services. Alliance helped resolve those pager issues I spoke of earlier. It’s very personable. The dispatchers are all great to work with. If my volunteers are on the road and a call comes through, Alliance will give them a chance to pull over and you’re very polite to both the volunteers and the clients. A live answer to a live person is helpful. Your services are competitively priced and you provide a high quality service. We knew that you guys are trained professionals so it’s really been nice working with everyone at Alliance.

That’s great, I’m glad we’ve been able to provide that level of service!

People from all of the departments at Alliance are great, starting from sales to the dispatchers to the operators to the finance people and any kind of issue that’s brought up gets resolved really quickly. Great customer service is provided to the Canadian Red Cross.

We also like that it’s local and personable. It has that small-business feel – unlike the big call centres at the huge companies where you’re probably talking to someone overseas – you’re talking to people that live in the same community. It’s really nice to work with Alliance, especially when you compare it to one of the big conglomerate national companies.

So is it fair to say that usually the calls you’re getting are about issues that are happening locally?

Exactly, and so it’s close to home for everyone. The whole local community aspect and the personable relationship that Alliance and the Red Cross have formed has been great.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Just that working with Alliance has been a pleasure. Alliance really helped us to resolve a technological problem that we had. When we took on this higher-volume (After Hours) program in the Quinte region, we couldn’t have done it without a live answering service and when we were looking for one Allliance was by far the most competitive. Competitively priced with professional service, basically it’s been a pleasure. We look forward to continue fostering our relationship and working with Alliance.

Interested in being part of the largest humanitarian organization in the world? Apply to become a Red Cross volunteer today! www.redcross.ca


Funeral Home Answering Service : The Alliance Group