How Evolving PERS Technology and Customer Demand Will Change Call Center Roles
For decades, the typical Personal Emergency Response System (PERS) comprised a bulky base station with a speaker and microphone that was located in a customer’s home (usually in the living room or kitchen) and connected to a call center via a landline. Customers wore pendants they could use in an emergency situation to summon help. If they needed to talk to an emergency care specialist at the call center, they would have to be within voice range of the base station, and the pendant typically only worked inside and within a short range of the home.
Even a walk down the driveway to the mailbox could put the customer out of range of their traditional PERS protection and emergency call center support. But until fairly recently, the typical PERS user was less likely to be active outside the home. Traditional PERS devices were most often associated with elderly, less active customers who primarily stayed at home.
Mobile Technologies and Active Seniors Transform the PERS Industry
Today’s seniors are living longer, healthier and more active lives, and they’re changing the rules of retirement. They want to live on their own and remain independent as long as they can, but they don’t want to be restricted to their houses. They are also less likely to use landline phones than previous generations were, frequently opting to use cellular or Voice over IP (VoIP) phones to save money.
This relatively recent evolution in demand put pressure on a PERS market that was still largely reliant on 1970s-era technology, and mobile PERS (mPERS) technology emerged. mPERS – the next generation of PERS devices for a new generation of seniors – are miniature, wearable cell phones that feature a button users can press to call for help and two-way voice communication capabilities built right in.
The lightweight mPERS devices offer a number of advantages over traditional PERS, including easier initial setup and location technology that can help emergency care specialists locate wearers in an emergency, whether they are indoors or outside. Some mPERS can also work in the shower: a major benefit, as the bathroom can be the most dangerous room in the house for seniors.
Another advantage is that mPERS can be used anywhere with cell phone coverage. This evolution in the PERS industry made it possible for seniors to maintain PERS coverage outside of their homes. With an mPERS device, users can enjoy gardening, go for a walk, take a trip into town or go on vacation, bringing their mobile protection along with them in the form of a highly portable system rather than having to pack up a bulky base station that requires a landline connection.
While some seniors and caregivers initially worried about battery life with mPERS devices, there are mobile products on the market that are specifically designed to hold a battery charge for up to two months. These advanced devices are also capable of sending a text or email message to users and caregivers when the battery needs a charge to ensure the device is always ready to summon help if needed.
The Expanding PERS Market
A recent IHS report predicts that the PERS market will double over the next several years as device options expand and younger seniors start taking advantage of new mPERS features. One factor that is driving growth is the baby boom generation, about 76 million strong in the US. The older baby boomers began to retire and leave the workforce several years ago, and the trend will continue to accelerate.
A larger number of retirees is expected to significantly increase the demand for PERS protection. The average age of a PERS user at the present time is 78, but that number is expected to drop to 74 over the next five years. This means call centers can expect a larger pool of customers. It also means customer relationships are likely to be lengthier in duration.
The Changing Role of Call Centers and Emergency Care Specialists
So how will the evolving technology and changing face of the modern PERS customer affect call center specialists? Call centers will need to adapt to manage the rising demand for mPERS services and adjust to meet the changing requirements of next-generation PERS customers.
With traditional PERS services, emergency care specialists would typically send assistance to the address associated with the PERS user via a pre-determined public safety answering point (PSAP) that was listed in the customer’s account. Also in the traditional PERS support model, the emergency care specialists would have only brief contact with the customer. Once the public safety official was contacted, the emergency care specialist’s job was considered done.
Now mobile PERS have more capabilities, making the call center emergency care specialists’ role more complex. A customer using a mobile PERS device could be summoning help from their home, their yard, down the street or even across the country while on vacation – the call for help could come from virtually any location with cellular coverage.
To adapt, call centers will need to install database software that rapidly delivers the correct PSAP to emergency care specialists. Specialists will need to be able to get PSAP information when users provide their location verbally or when the specialist locates the user via location tools. And call center managers will need to make sure their facility has the appropriate technical assets and IT expertise to integrate with mobile PERS device services via API or hyperlink.
Mobile PERS customers also look for products that feature a care specialist who stays on the line with them until help arrives. Gone are the days when a care specialist sent help to the user and then disconnected. Now users seek out devices that feature care specialists who answer their calls 24/7 and stay on the line after sending help until emergency personnel arrive.
Changing to Meet New Demands
This is a great time to be in the senior emergency response support industry. The marketplace is growing rapidly with one of history’s largest demographic groups beginning to reach retirement age. People are living longer, healthier and more active lives, which means not only a larger pool of customers for emergency response call centers but also longer customer relationships as younger seniors seek out support services.
But this era isn’t without its challenges for call centers. It’s important to stay ahead of the curve by updating software and technical capabilities so that the call center can fully support today’s mobile PERS devices. This means call centers will have to adapt to new designs and device capabilities, including location features and two-way communication functions.
Emergency response professionals will need new training and equipment to deal with an increasingly mobile customer base. The call center organizations that make these adjustments quickly will be poised for success as mPERS transforms the industry.
About the Author
Josh Garner is the President and CEO of AvantGuard Monitoring Centers as well as Freeus, LLC, a newly acquired company that was formerly the Personal Emergency Response System (PERS) division of Securus, Inc. Find out more about Freeus at www.freeus.com.