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Agents Backbone of Service Delivery Operation

Date: 10/14/2005

Agents Backbone of Service Delivery Operation
Written by Lesly C. Simmons , Staff Writer, RedCross.org

Friday, October 14, 2005 — BAKERSFIELD, CA.—“It’s been at least a week since I actually talked to someone,” said 21-year-old Derrick Norris, who has instead been using his fingers to provide assistance to hearing impaired hurricane victims through the TTY lines as an agent at an American Red Cross call center.

“I talked to one deaf woman who had been struggling to get help, and no one was able to help her until she got to me,” said Norris, who has worked at the call center since a few days after it opened. “She was so thankful just to reach someone who was able to communicate with her, and I got her taken care of.”

Bakersfield call agent Derrick Norris assists a caller through a TTY line for the hearing impaired. Norris has worked at the call center helping hurricane victims since it opened last month. (Photo credit: Lesly Simmons-American Red Cross)

For Norris, a Bakersfield native, the job has been quite a learning experience.

“It’s been good and bad, because you run into people who are dealing with the worst situations,” he said. “But knowing I can make someone’s day better by talking to them for five or ten minutes is great. I try to take their mind off the situation even a little bit, and usually people calm down and they feel much better.”

Agents work in eight hour shifts, and many describe the work as tough but rewarding. Callers have been through tragedy, they’re distraught, and they need help. Agents often become sounding boards and counselors in addition to helping provide financial assistance.

“This is not just about answering phones and setting up claims. There is much more of a dialogue,” said Andrae Gonzales, a call center floor manager. “I think most people know that the Red Cross could have easily automated this process years ago, but they didn’t. They know there has to be that human interaction and understanding.”

The agents also need guidance to make sure they are providing the right kind of help to callers. Each agent has a set of cards at their work station that help them signal for what they need: blue cards mean a client on the line needs to talk to a nurse. Yellow cards mean an agent needs a break. Red cards mean an agent needs a Red Cross client assistance specialist to answer a question or explain something to a caller.

Fred Vogel, a volunteer with the Silverado-Napa Chapter of the Red Cross in Northern California is part of the team that responds to the red cards.

Call agents hold up these red cards when they need help from a Red Cross client services staffer on the floor. (Photo credit: Lesly Simmons-American Red Cross)

“This has been a very frenetic operation,” said Vogel. “You’re on your feet all day, and you’re working with people who are sometimes hostile. The agents are so professional and effective even with all of that, and its our job to help them maintain that standard.”

Gonzales said one of the most exciting parts of his job is seeing people from such diverse backgrounds all coming together to support the Red Cross mission by helping hurricane victims.

“We have all kinds of people working here,” he said. “Some people don’t have a lot of experience, some are retired, some have master’s degrees. To watch them all be so professional and empathetic with the callers is really powerful.”

Agent Arlene Richardson is one of those who came out of retirement to work at the call center.

“After the first week, I was working cases in my sleep!” said Richardson. “They’ve all just stuck with me. Knowing that someone is displaced, especially those with children, is tough. To be that earpiece to give someone a little piece of mind is wonderful. I feel so blessed that we here in Bakersfield can help, because it could be us next time.”