Don’t rely on a telephone call tree, even an automated one

Way back in digital pre-history, say around 2004, before the explosion of web 2.0 and social media, the telephone call tree had its place. It was a clever way of getting a message out by telephone to a group of people using the power of the group, with each contact in the call tree calling 1 or 2 others to pass the message along. That way 1 could become 2 then 4, 8, 16, 32 and so on.

This worked OK when there was little or no alternative, but there were and are a number of problems with it, some of them quite fundamental. The actual time it takes for one. Even if you only have 100 contact points in the tree and you can reach them all in 5 or 6 steps, this will still take a minimum of 100 calls. If it takes 2 or 3 attempts to reach some people, none of whom are actually expecting the call remember, then the total number of calls that have to be made could number between 200 and 300.

But a more fundamental problem than this is how to address the issue of some calls not being answered at all? This issue forms the real vulnerability of an organisation. If there is just 1 person who fails to answer the phone call then that failure will quickly be multiplied many times over, 2, 4, 8, 16 times and so on and suddenly half the people in your call tree didn’t get the critical message. This is why you cannot rely on one communications channel alone and a multi-channel approach is vital.

The second, even more fundamental issue, is the accuracy of the message that gets passed on this way. In a crisis situation you must control the narrative and limit the opportunities for mis-information, rumours and distractions. A phone call tree is likely to have the opposite effect.

Do you remember the game ‘Chinese Whispers’, where you would whisper a message to someone in a line who would then pass it on to the next person and so on? If you ever played the game you will remember that the end result was always a chaotic, hilarious version of what you started with. Funny if it is a game, but not so funny if you are doing it in real life. And what happens if the event status changes during transmission and the message needs an update? Do you trust that the same message will get passed on accurately 100 times? I don’t.

Fortunately, we do now have automated phone call trees, where everyone is called by a virtual assistant simultaneously with the same voice message. If your company or organisation has actually set one of these up, then they do get around many of the problems with the old style call tree. The time taken to make the call is hugely reduced and the message is exactly the same on each call.

But some issues still remain. The main one being that your phone call can still get missed or ignored or fail to connect and when this happens with an automated call tree you will not know it. A robust approach will allow for acknowledgement of message delivery, receipt tracking, a two-way response from the recipient and a resend option where the message delivery has failed.

What you really need in a critical communications system is a multi-channel platform that will reach out to your team via automated phone call, but also SMS message, e-mail and even a push notification on their smartphone screen. This multiplies your chances of the message getting through and allows you to send multiple updates, all recorded on a smart dashboard that can be accessed by key response team members and auditable if needed for compliance or legal investigations.

Don’t rely on a phone call tree when you have a critical message to send, even an automated one. Choose an enterprise grade critical communications platform and give yourself even more options such as:

  • Sending messages in different languages to contacts in a range of countries with international support
  • Sending different messages to different contact groups, with the right information sent to each group and not to those that do not need to know
  • Scheduling calls/messages to re occur until they are answered and acknowledged
  • Geo targeting messages only to contact within a defined geo-fence and even tracking employees location

After all, the only thing harder than planning for That Day is explaining why you didn’t when That Day comes.

Shalen Sehgal
MD Crises Control

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