Continuing our theme on what a call centre agent faces in their daily work, I want to talk about the worst type of call, "I am going to kill myself". It is an agent's biggest fear to hear someone say “I can’t take this anymore, I am going to kill myself.”
Along with angry callers, these calls are increasing in frequency and are no longer associated with emergency responders or psychological counselling call centres.
The reason for these calls is many and varied. The main reason seems to be when the cause is associated with money. As we have discussed in previous posts, the foundation of our hierarchy of needs is food, water, warmth, shelter, and the other basics that we need to survive. Today you can add money to that list because without money the basic needs are difficult to obtain.
Nonetheless, regardless of the cause of the statement it is not for agents to try and manage these types of calls. Crisis intervention is a skill reserved for trained counsellors and particularly for law enforcement personnel if there is an immediate risk of self-harm.
When a caller makes a statement that they are going to kill themselves, the recommended course of action is to get the caller to reaffirm what they have just said. This indicates to the caller that the agent is listening and are concerned for their safety. It also humanises the call, the caller is talking to a person and not an organisation.
Evidence shows us that by asking a person if they are considering committing suicide doesn't actually cause them to do so. Quite the opposite in fact. Restating their position also gives the caller time to contemplate what they have just said and allows time to retract the comment. Often the caller will apologise and say that the comment was made out of frustration at the situation.
The agent should nevertheless satisfy themselves that the caller is safe and escalate the call to a supervisor.
If the caller states that they are serious about killing themselves the next question to ask would be “Is there someone there with you?” If there is, ask to speak to that person then relay what the caller has just said to you, the agent. Again details of the call must be escalated to a supervisor.
If the caller is alone, the call must be transferred immediately to a supervisor who will ascertain the appropriate referral agency, counselling service or an emergency response service. The police is a great option as their call centre agents have robust procedures to follow and also have trained crisis intervention negotiators ready to accept a conference call of this type.
In all of these solutions, the agent must undergo a debrief/counselling session with a supervisor, welfare officer, or counsellor. Events like these take a toll on the agent and the compound impact is extremely damaging if not mitigated.