Several People Are Typing

Customer Support

Dialed in for disaster with PATLive and Slack

How channels help teams coordinate during crisis and deliver better customer care

Dialed for Disaster hero image

When disaster strikes, first responders have to be ready at a moment’s notice, and so do the teams that support them. That’s certainly the case at PATLive, a Tallahassee, Florida–based live answering service staffed by receptionists who virtually assist companies and agencies that field calls from customers.

“This was the first hurricane season where we used Slack, and our agility improved dramatically,” says Dave Mason, PATLive’s director of customer service. “Our clients were really happy with how informed and helpful agents were when speaking to hurricane victims.”

The company works with numerous state government agencies that contract PATLive to assist during disasters of significant size and scale, like a major oil spill or the outbreak of a viral flu. In 2017, the team was put to the test — this time working around the clock to calm distraught callers contacting the Florida Division of Emergency Management following Hurricane Irma and Maria.

“This was the first hurricane season where we used Slack, and our agility improved dramatically,” says Dave Mason, PATLive’s director of customer service. “Our clients were really happy with how informed and helpful agents were when speaking to hurricane victims.”

Over several unpredictable days, the team of 150 representatives, joined by numerous support staff brought in to help manage the influx, took nearly 100,000 calls in addition to their regular call volume.

As long as the whole team can access the same up-to-date information, there’s pretty much nothing they can’t handle. Mason notes that working in Slack has allowed agents to work more collaboratively with emergency agencies and share information more quickly.

“We set up dedicated Slack channels for each of the three major clients that were being affected by the hurricanes and encouraged agents to post anything they thought would be helpful to other agents and management,” Mason says. “The real-time flow of information was invaluable.”

Slack channels as dispatch center for emergency response

In a situation where callers are stressed-out and short on time, it’s vital to have the most useful, up-to-date information — which is why agents at PATLive relied on communicating in public Slack channels to share critical information internally.

“There’s so much going on that, at some point, email just becomes unmanageable,” Mason says. “It’s a lot quicker to post a question to a Slack channel than to send out an email and hope the right person sees and responds to it.”

For example, if phone lines to local emergency response services are down, an update is pinned to the team’s #emergency channel in Slack to ensure that PATLive agents don’t direct callers to an unavailable service.

Mason adds that the “ease of ramping up is critical,” since the company had to bring in a large group of temporary staff to support agents. Having information already available in channels made it much easier to get them up to speed on how the team operates.

For example, if phone lines to local emergency response services are down, an update is pinned to the team’s #emergency channel in Slack to ensure that PATLive agents don’t direct callers to an unavailable service.

“We tell everybody, ‘First thing when you come in, before you start taking calls, make sure you check Slack for updates to see if there’s anything relevant going on,’” Mason says. “We know people are going to see the important information. They’re not going to miss it.”

In the past, Mason says agents had to put callers on hold and ask supervisors for help. Now those answers can be looked up in Slack, allowing agents to stay focused on individual callers. “People who aren’t able to get through are just going to end up calling us back, and that’s more call volume in the middle of an emergency,” he says.

Collaborative teams deliver better customer care

For Mason, it’s important for team members to strike a good balance between being “compassionate — given what people have just been through — and at the same time staying efficient, because we’ve got lots more to help.”

Using Slack to organize and share emergency response updates means agents can offer callers speedy, accurate, and even comforting responses to as many people who are affected as possible. And in the long term, it may help show how efficient communication in the wake of a crisis can lead to greater community resilience.

Mason emphasizes that the benefits of using Slack are noticeable outside of an emergency, too. “Slack engages our employees and boosts us to a new level of collaboration within our environment,” he says. “Not just when it comes to disaster response, but in our everyday operations.”

Customer Storybook

A collection of stories about how different companies use Slack to make working life simpler and more productive.

Learn More
Through training from the San Francisco Fire Department, Brittany Shoot is a certified member of her Neighborhood Emergency Response Team and feels relatively prepared for the next big Bay Area earthquake.

 

 

Slack is the collaboration hub, where the right people are always in the loop and key information is always at their fingertips. Teamwork in Slack happens in channels — searchable conversations that keep work organized and teams better connected.