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Call Center Articles

Look Forward To Embrace The New Year

Seek to Control Whatever You Can to Produce Optimum Outcomes

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

The last two years have been rough. And I’m ready to embrace the new year.

Though I hate to tap the too-often-stated label of unprecedented, it’s an apt description of what we’ve been through. Just as individuals have suffered, so too have the call centers that employ them and the customers they serve. 

For most operations, it’s harder than ever to find and retain good employees. In general, clients and callers are less patient and more demanding than ever before. And there’s inflation to worry about too—something that’s not been an issue for several decades—that will drive prices and wages higher.

Yet I’m optimistic. 

Not only do I want to be positive, but I must be. Though many subsist in the fog of ongoing shock, with a near-PTSD perspective, I’m excited about the opportunities I see. I’m looking forward to what the next twelve months will bring. 

Here’s why I’m ready to embrace the new year:

Battle Tested

Recent months have showed us what’s important. We’ve adjusted our perspective and adapted to changes that we didn’t want and had little control over. Though we miss what was, we now realize that some of that wasn’t so important, and we learned to accommodate our situation to pursue what really does matter in a new and fresh way.

This applies to both our personal lives and to our call center operations.

We’ve survived. We’re ready for whatever happens next and in whatever form it may take. We’ve proven to ourselves—and everyone else—that we can adjust. Using this as our foundation, we are ready to embrace the new year with confidence. 

Opportunities Abound

Some people, and some businesses, have hunkered down for the long haul, waiting for things to return to normal. Normal is nice, and I hope to one day fully realize it. But if normal never returns, I’m okay with that too. 

This is because the future holds opportunity. It’s for us to seize these opportunities and make the most of them. As the old saying goes, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

In the call center industry, for instance, we can bemoan labor shortages, scheduling nightmares, and the upward pressure of wages, or we can seize it as an opportunity to shift into a new perspective, an enlightened mindset. Of course, I don’t have an example to share—at least not yet—but you get the point.

Shift from a problem mindset to an opportunity perspective so you can best embrace the new year.

We’re Only Limited by Ourselves

Walt Kelly’s comic strip Pogo gave us the classic line “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Though Kelly originally referred to pollution, the sentiment has broad applications. This includes our personal life and our call center operations. We can be our own worst enemy, limiting what we think, what we accomplish, and what we aspire to. Or with a shift in our outlook towards the possibilities before us, we can think, accomplish, and aspire to much. We’re only limited by ourselves.

Moving Forward

Though I haven’t provided actionable recommendations, I do hope I’ve offered encouragement to step into and embrace the new year with an enlightened, optimistic perspective that you have the potential to make it an amazing year for yourself, your family, and your work. Your call center employees, clients, and customers will appreciate your efforts.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Sticky Customer Service.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Consider Three Customer Service Channels

Enhance Patient Communication by Applying Customer Service Skills to Your Call Center

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Customer service can occur at various touch points from the telephone, to on-line, to in-person. Consider each one of these as it relates to your medical call center operation.

The Telephone Channel

The obvious and common source of interaction with patients and customers at medical call centers is the telephone. Telephone customer service skills are of paramount importance in this environment, as there is no face-to-face interaction, and everything relies on voice communication.

The need is to balance efficiency with effectiveness. 

Efficiency means to do things in the quickest, most cost-effective manner. Effectiveness means to address caller concerns correctly and to do so on the first call. Another element of effectiveness is the caller’s perspective. How do they feel about the call? Are they satisfied with the outcome? Did you leave them with a positive feeling or a negative one?

Online Channels

As medical call centers expand their service connection points beyond the telephone, they embrace various online communication options. These include email, text, web chat, and social media.

Each of these touch points provides an opportunity for customer service success or failure. Many of the skills required for telephone communications readily apply to online, but online channels require some additional skills. These include typing speed and accuracy, being able to effectively multitask, and the ability to read and process patients’ typed communications quickly.

In-Person Channels

At an initial consideration, face-to-face communication skills don’t apply to call-center situations. Yet as we integrate video into the call center, we add a new element to our communication skill set: the ability to incorporate body language into our communications. 

This includes both what we see from the customer and what we visually supply to them. This opens another training opportunity we can use to enhance our call center agents’ abilities to better interact with patients and callers.

Sticky Customer Service

Sticky Customer Service book, by Peter Lyle DeHaan

My book Sticky Customer Service covers all three of these communication options. In this book, I share real-world examples to celebrate customer service successes and suggest improvement insights from customer service failures.

In this year, I encourage you to apply the examples from Sticky Customer Service to your medical call center operation. You, your staff, and your stakeholders will all benefit.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat and Medical Call Center News covering the healthcare call center industry. Read his latest book, Sticky Customer Service.

Categories
Business Articles

The Name Game

Use Names to Facilitate Effective Communication and Not Obscure It

In “The Perfect Answer,” we talked about using your name when answering phone calls. This makes a personal connection with the caller and facilitates productive communication to result in positive outcomes.

Besides phone calls, names are equally important for online and in-person communication. Here are some further thoughts on names.

The Alias

A friend once worked for a collection agency. All day he placed calls to people who owed money to his clients. Since he was attempting to contact people who didn’t want to be found, he often met with opposition and even threats. Because of this, he never used his actual name and adopted an alias for his work. 

This was a company policy to protect employees from reprisals by those they pursued. Since he presented himself as a named person, he met with more success than he would’ve had he been a nameless voice from the dreaded collection agency.

As a side effect, assuming a new name enabled him to adopt a different persona at work. Contrary to his mellow personality, his collection agency character allowed him to become a determined sleuth unaffected by avoidance tactics and threats of retaliation.

In this case, using an alias was both safe and effective.

The Switch 

While attending a banquet, it surprised me to see a friend working there as a server. Chloe shared that she took this occasional part-time work to earn extra money. After chatting a while, I glanced at her name tag. It said “Jennifer.”

She smiled. “They make us wear name tags, but they never said we had to wear our own. So, we all switch.” Her eyes twinkled with excitement. “Sometimes I swap with Jeremy.”

Though Chloe could pass as Jennifer, she certainly didn’t look like a Jeremy.

This was a fun way to add some variety to a fast-paced and demanding job. Yet her admission gave me pause. I wondered what else she and her coworkers were doing, contrary to the expectation of management. The staff’s reaction to their employer’s name policy hinted to workplace problems. I wondered if these issues affected their patrons in a negative way. 

If your staff engages in passive-aggressive behavior, look for the underlying cause and then fix it.

The Alternate

I once had an employee with an unusual name: Johnene. When answering the phone, she always gave her name as trained. Too often, however, callers asked her to repeat it. Growing tired of this, she tried a shortened version, Johnnie. Callers now understood her name, but many repeated it with a question in their voice to confirm they heard right. She then tried John, but that made things worse. Next, she even used Joan for a bit, but it didn’t feel right and confused her coworkers. She reverted to Johnene.

Sometimes names can impede communication, delaying the resolution that callers seek. It may facilitate customer service to use an alternate, more common name. But not always. 

Multiple times I’ve called companies and had a heavily accented representative—who I suspected was halfway around the world—tell me his name was Jeff or Mike. I seriously doubted that. I realize he did this because I was unlikely to understand his actual name or be able to repeat it. Yet with such an obvious mismatch between his accent and stated name, I felt duped, distracting me from accomplishing my goal.

A better solution than to adopt a common American-sounding name might be to use a nickname or the first syllable or two of his actual name. These options would better bridge the culture implied by his accent and the goal to facilitate quick caller resolution. 

The Bot

More companies are using bots for customer service. Guided by artificial intelligence, bots are computer programs that communicate with customers in a way that mimics human interaction. The goal is for people to never know they’re chatting with a computer program and not an actual person.

Though I have no way of knowing how many times a bot has fooled me into thinking “Larry” was real, I know that sometimes the person I assumed I was chatting with turned out to be fake. The tipoff comes as our conversation progresses and the bot becomes less helpful. Then the bot types, “Let me get someone who can help you with that.”

I recently reached out to a tech company for help. I knew the initial interaction would be computerized, but they pleased me when the chat window listed the agent’s name as “Bot.” This left no doubt that I was interacting with a computer program and they weren’t trying to deceive me. Bot understood what I needed and routed me to the right person. We’ll call this a customer service win.

Does your company use bots to trick people or help them?

Customer Service Success Tip

Consider how your employees—and apps—use names when interacting with customers. Remember that the goal is effective service. Make sure your policy on using names keeps this in mind.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Sticky Customer Service

With Increased Competition and More Patient Options, Providing Excellent Customer Service Is More Important Than Ever

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

I’ve covered various aspects of the call center industry, focusing here on healthcare contact centers, for the past 20 years. A persistent and reoccurring theme throughout this time has been customer service. This, I’m confident, will continue to be an essential focus for our industry going forward. 

Every telephone interaction we handle is a form of customer service in one way or another. Though I delight in sharing those customer service interactions that went extremely well, too often I find myself detailing customer service failures. During the past two decades, I’ve written hundreds of articles that address this critical topic of customer service.

Now, I’ve compiled the best of these articles, along with fresh content, in my book Sticky Customer Service. Just as with my articles, Sticky Customer Service celebrates customer service successes and explores customer service disappointments. We can learn from both. While the customer service wins give us something to cheer about, it’s the customer service failures that provide us with ample learning opportunities. May we learn much from these episodes that we can apply to make our content centers even better.

Though many of our customer service opportunities occur over the telephone, other interactions take place in person, while a growing number happen online. Each of these three areas are most relevant for the healthcare industry. And each of these connection points interconnect, with one channel often migrating to another. 

In Sticky Customer Service, uncover helpful customer service tips through this compelling read, encouraging your operation to do better and celebrating what you do best. Learn how to meet your patients’ (that is, your customers’) expectations every chance you get.

Sticky Customer Service book, by Peter Lyle DeHaan

Sticky Customer Service is available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Sticky Customer Service is the first book in the Sticky series. Upcoming titles include Sticky Leadership, Sticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Living.

Get Sticky Customer Service and turn customer service and patient retention into a core strength for your healthcare organization.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat and Medical Call Center News covering the healthcare call center industry. Read his latest book, Sticky Customer Service.

Categories
Business Articles

Provider-Inflicted Pain

Balance Business Needs with Customer Impact

It’s a hassle when our credit card changes. We must track down every business that has our credit card number on file and update it. If we miss one company, we risk service interruptions or delivery problems.

Sometimes we decide to switch cards, but what about when our credit card company makes this change? Through no fault of our own, they force us to use a new card with a different number. This doesn’t happen often, but I have experienced it with both my personal and business accounts.

The most recent occurrence happened to me with the branded card I used for all my business purchases. They aligned with a different credit card provider, and I paid the price for that decision. I’m sure it made sense for them, but did they consider how this would affect their customers?

The Personal Impact

The first to update were the companies that automatically charged my card each month. The process to correct this was straightforward, albeit time-consuming. I looked at last month’s statement and listed everyone I needed to contact. Then I went online to provide my new credit card information. Though time-consuming and tedious, this step wasn’t hard. Some sites made updating my credit card information easy, but other sites buried this information or made the process more challenging.

But what about all the companies that had my credit card number on file, but I hadn’t bought from them in the last month? This list was much harder to compile, and I overlooked a few. But I didn’t know I had missed them until I attempted to place an order and had my card denied—all because I forgot to update my number. This produced both frustration and embarrassment.

Business Decisions

Don’t just evaluate business changes from a financial perspective. Consider how this will impact your customers. Will your decision inconvenience them or damage your relationship with them?

Though this example is about credit cards, the lesson applies elsewhere too. Other considerations include updating software, changing password requirements, and migrating from one system to another. Before proceeding, consider how these changes will impact your customers. Look for ways to mitigate their frustration or minimize their inconvenience.

Customer Service Success Tip

When you make a business decision, consider how it affects your customers. Seek ways to ease the transition for them. Consider what you can do for them so that they won’t have to do it themselves.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.