Pioneering a nation-wide virtual contact centre

In conversation with Crisis Services Canada about the benefits and challenges of creating a virtualized suicide-prevention service

A virtual connection makes a real difference

Every day in Canada, approximately eleven people die by suicide, leaving friends and family grief-stricken and searching for answers. Across the nation, regional call centres strive to meet the need for support, but demand outweighs available resources.

Crisis Services Canada (CSC) is pioneering a solution. CSC’s vision is to unite regional call centres to create a nation-wide contact centre. “It’s been the dream of distress centres across Canada to have a 1-800 number for all the people of Canada, coast to coast to coast,” says Alison Caird, President of the Board.

Virtual Contact Centre

Roberta J. Fox, Chief Technology Advisor at CSC and her FOX GROUP Technology team embarked on a digital transformation to offer voice, text and chat capabilities nation-wide. Running on the Rogers Virtual Contact Centre (VCC), the Canadian Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS) was introduced— the first of its kind in Canada, and around the world.

In conversation with Fox and her CSC team, we learned the benefits and challenges of implementing a nation-wide contact centre.

How did you begin to create a virtual contact centre?

“I’ve been involved in hundreds of tech projects, but this one was magical,” says Fox. Planned and delivered by eleven technology partners and more than 1,000 people, it was no small feat. “We brought together different organizations, technologies and applications and made it all work, within budget, in just eight months. With help from the Rogers team, we found a cloud approach that worked perfectly for us.”

What was the biggest challenge of implementing a national contact centre?

“The biggest challenge was how to overlay this state-of-the-art, brand-new, cloud-based solution on top of different organizations, different technologies, different PCs, different applications and make it all work,” explains Fox.

Beyond logistics, the complexity of the user experience for responders was critical. “Many of these responders are volunteers, not tech experts, so having them manage multiple applications while they have such an intense service to deliver is a challenge. We were looking for ways to streamline and make it easier for the responders, because they are our most valuable asset.”

Can you describe the implementation experience?

“We did it in less than a year and we did it across Canada and we were actually on budget,” says Fox.

“At the day of launch, we had 118 people in what we called the ‘virtual war room.’ All of our vendors, site supervisors, everybody all linked together, and the cutover all worked,” she says.

“That night a responder based in Calgary, through  chat, helped save a 12-year old girl in Toronto,” says Caird. “Proving that you can have a remote responder help somebody through this new media was incredible.”

What do you think contributed to such a successful launch? 

“The really big difference was thinking like a business and bringing that expertise to help us as an organization, especially the Rogers team,” says Fox. “I have never seen a team that has just gone above and beyond and been this personally committed to a technology project.”

How have your responders benefitted from a virtual contact centre?

Kate Kuehn, volunteer responder and current CSC administrative staff member, felt responders benefitted from access to a “broader toolkit.” This includes “everything from sharing techniques for response intervention and conducting initial risk assessments, to giving people hope while making the right referrals for follow-up care. “

“Regardless of whether they’re working in a Distress Centre or from a secure location at home, they’re able to support and back each other up in ways they simply couldn’t before,” explains Kuehn.

What’s next for CSC?

“Since moving to a cloud-based platform, with help from the Rogers team, we can now add new locations and volunteers very easily,” says Fox. “They just need to get an internet connection, download the apps and away they go. We’re also looking to reduce data entry and introduce Artificial Intelligence (AI) and social media integration.”

“We want to bring on Facebook messenger, because that’s one of the most requested channels,” says Fox. “And we’re just scratching the surface of the VCC capabilities.”

A virtual solution with a very real impact

Since the launch in November 2017, CSC was contacted more than 11,000 times: 59 percent by phone and 41 percent through text and chat. Responders initiated 263 active rescues, including 47 suicides in progress.

In total, 186 follow-up calls were invoked, and many lives were saved. CSC estimates that the potential expenses for emergency and health care services that were avoided could total as much as $62.7 million. *

“71 percent of users said they felt better able to cope with their situation,” according to Fox. “The fact that in 45 minutes we’re able to take a person from thoughts of suicide to a more positive place is pretty amazing.”