When you consider the most desirable features of an emergency notification system (ENS), hotline capabilities may not be at the top of your list.

A user-friendly mobile experience, protective privacy regulations – these are obvious upgrades and essentials for modern business. But a hotline? It sounds so 1990s.
Hotline functionality, however, plays a critical role in the operation of your ENS. It might not be as flashy as mobile or as complex as personal privacy, but it allows users to consume information at their convenience and serves as a centralized hub for your communications in an emergency or unplanned event.

First, what exactly do we mean by a hotline? A hotline, in the context of emergency notification systems, is a feature that enables your employees to call into the system to listen to notifications, confirm receipt, respond to polls, join conference calls, and more. People often use the hotline if they were unable to interact with the notification directly when it occurred (via email, text, voicemail, etc.) or need to follow up, hear the information again, or take next steps within the notification framework. Admins can use a hotline as well to launch a notification via a pre-set template or create a new message to be sent to selected groups.

Every emergency notification system has basic hotline capabilities that let you set up and listen to pre-recorded messages. But more sophisticated systems, like AlertFind’s Hotline Pro, go far beyond canned recordings to a fully structured interactive voice response (IVR) system. To make the most of your system’s hotline functionality, look for features like:

  1. Automatic recognition.
    Next-gen hotlines like Hotline Pro recognize users based on their profile information. If employees call into the system from a device in their profile, the system automatically knows who they are and routes them to their relevant notifications – no additional identification required.
  2. Interactive functionality.
    Your users should be able to interact with your system at any time, not just during a live event. Modern hotlines make this possible by acting as if your users are on a live call. Within the hotline system, they should be able to confirm receipt of notifications, hear new or old notifications again, answer polls, add information to the system (like a new emergency contact number), join a conference call, and more.
  3. On-the-fly notifications.
    It should be as easy for admins to create notifications via your hotline as it is for users to interact with them. When admins call in, they should be auto-recognized, then be able to quickly send messages from a preloaded template via a “quick code” or predefined list. No template in place? Your hotline should make it just as simple to create a notification on the fly using the phone’s keypad and/or dictation.
  4. Hierarchical messaging.
    Interactive communication requires more than a once-and-done message. Hotlines from leading ENS systems enable smart, hierarchical messaging so you can get the most information from your users in the most efficient way. For instance, you may ask users about their current well-being – “on a scale of 1-5, how are you?” If they indicate that they are not well and require additional assistance, you can then ask them to input the best contact number to reach them so you can help. If they indicate that they are well, you can ask in how many days they expect to be back to work.
  5. Multi-language support.
    Communicating with people in their most comfortable language can be crucial during an emergency, especially in a global organization or location with two or more major languages. Systems like Hotline Pro not only allow you to set up notification structures in multiple languages, but to easily switch between the two different language configurations. The first question to all dial-in users, for example, may be “Press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish.” Depending on the response, the system can automatically transfer the call to the right framework.
  6. User-friendly interface.
    To function at optimal capacity, your hotline must be able to be configured, customized, and managed easily. AlertFind’s Hotline Pro includes an intuitive drag-and-drop interface that makes its most advanced features simple to setup and use, even for non-technical admins. That means your team spends less time in the software and more time providing support when it’s needed the most.

A surprising number of the interactions with your emergency notification system will take place not from the initial message, but when a user calls into the hotline after the fact. When you’re evaluating ENS options, make sure that the hotline capabilities aren’t stuck in the past, but designed to help your users and admins get the information they need, when they need it.

Hotlines are important. What’s even more critical? Find out in the final installment of our How to Choose an Emergency Notification System blog series.