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Healthcare Call Centers

Provide Ongoing Instruction to Your Medical Call Center Staff

Training New Hires to Answer Calls Is Just the Beginning

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Every new employee needs some training before they are ready to process calls at your call center. The length of training varies from one operation to the next, but the inescapable fact is that training does occur. But in too many cases once this initial training is over, all intentional instruction stops. Too many call centers fail to provide ongoing educational support for their staff. 

Here are some areas to consider.

Follow-Up Training

Telling someone how to do something once isn’t enough. They won’t retain much of it for the long-term. The longer they work at your call center, the more bad habits they’ll pickup—either from themselves or from their coworkers. They’ll discover shortcuts that may appear to make their work easier but will end up circumventing the proper way you want them to do things.

That’s why existing employees need to receive periodic reminders of how you want them to do their work. Without it, they’re bound to veer from the path you put them on when you first trained them as a new hire.

Advanced Skills Education

After employees have learned the basics of processing phone calls and had some time to put their skills into practice in a real-world environment, now it’s time to add to their skill set. Teach them advanced customer service techniques that they can apply to their work. And even if you touched on these during their initial training, they lacked the framework to fully comprehend what you wanted them to learn. 

Now that they have experience taking calls, they’re ready to receive and implement more robust call-handling techniques. Once they experience firsthand a need for these advanced skills, they’ll be more likely to listen to your instruction and apply it to their work.

Technology Update Instruction

The final area for ongoing staff instruction relates to new and updated applications, software, and procedures. Don’t implement an upgrade or process and expect your staff to figure it out on their own. This wastes their time and increases their frustration level. Instead, offer relevant instruction to them before they encounter any change. 

Make Ongoing Education a Mindset

Too many call centers view training as a once-and-done necessity. They can’t figure out why experienced agents make basic mistakes, develop bad attitudes, or quit in frustration. In many cases being intentional about providing advanced training would have made the difference.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat and Medical Call Center News, covering the healthcare call center industry.

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Healthcare Call Centers

Tap Outsource Call Centers to Lighten the Load

Consider Outsourcing to Better Manage Call Traffic and Increase Availability

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

As your healthcare call center grapples to deal with more calls than perhaps ever before, you seek ways to maintain the service level you provide to callers. Ideas include using automation, increasing employee schedules, and hiring more staff.

A fourth option is to outsource calls to another call center—an outsource call center—that specializes in taking calls for other healthcare organizations. Before you dismiss this as a bad idea, consider four common types of outsourcing scenarios.

Outsource Certain Call Types

Analyze the types of calls you answer and the appropriateness of your existing staff to take them. As an example, assume you handle triage calls, appointment schedules, call transfers, and medical answering service. Note the number of calls and the amount of time you spend in each category. Now document how many agents can take each of these call types and the number of hours they work each week. See how well your staffing aligns with your call types.

Next identify the biggest gaps. By way of example, let’s assume you discover triage nurses taking routine messages for doctors. This is a huge mismatch. What if you send routine calls to your outsourcing partner, thereby freeing your nurses to do what they do best and what’s most important?

Of course, the opposite scenario is too many triage calls and not enough nurses. You can outsource those too, but it might be to a different outsourcing partner, one that specializes in telephone nurse triage.

Outsource Overflow

Another scenario that’s ideal for outsourcing is at unexpected times when call traffic exceeds the schedule you carefully devised to meet the projected call volume. Instead of having calls pileup in queue, reroute them to your outsourcing call center partner.

Outsource Specific Times

Third, look for daily or weekly patterns to see how well staffing matches up with traffic. You may discover—or confirm—that your third shift staff doesn’t have enough work to keep comfortably busy. Outsource those third shift calls to your outsource partner. Then move your third shift employees to second.

Of course, depending on the type of work your operation handles, you could have the opposite scenario where not much happens during regular business hours, with all the action happening evenings and weekends. Then outsource first shift weekdays and reallocate those personnel to evenings.

Outsource Specific Days

Assume you have difficulty scheduling enough agents to handle your Sunday traffic. You can save yourself the hassle by sending those calls to your outsourcing call center partner and shut down your call center on Sundays. Then you can reschedule your few Sunday employees to other days of the week.

Conclusion

Many call center managers summarily dismiss outsourcing, either because they see it as a loss of control or because they perceive a lack of quality. Yet today’s leading healthcare call center outsourcers provide a high quality of service, often matching or even exceeding their client companies. Just vet them with care and make your decision based on outcomes, not price.

When you consider the benefits of being able to reallocate your staff to where they’re most needed and to better serve your patients and callers, outsourcing is a viable option that warrants careful consideration.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat and Medical Call Center News, covering the healthcare call center industry.

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Healthcare Call Centers

4 Reasons to Implement New Technology

Now Is the Time to Invest in Your Call Center’s Future

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Long gone are the days when all you needed was a telephone and a message pad to process calls. For decades call centers have relied on technology to increase efficiency and optimize results. And never has that been truer than right now.

Consider these four reasons to invest in technology for your medical call center.

1. Save Time and Increase Efficiency

Advanced technology can offer time-saving processes that will increase the efficiency of your staff. This means they can do more work in the same time or the same work in less time. If this is the case, you can perform an analysis to calculate your payback period. This is a great approach to cost justify a technology investment.

2. Provide Additional Services

Older equipment can limit the scope of services you provide, but an upgrade may allow you to increase the scope of what you offer to your patients or callers. Again, you can calculate the payback period of your investment.

3. Go Online

Many older systems are premise based, making it difficult to have a distributed workforce or to establish remote work sessions. The present need for people to work at home may never go away, and this development has accelerated the trend toward work-at-home scenarios. Your future may depend on having this flexibility, so make the move today to prepare for tomorrow.

4. Avoid Obsolescence

A final consideration is platform age. Sometimes you take a system as far as it will let you, and then it limits the service you provide to callers. If you’re trying to operate using out-of-date technology, you may not be able to cost justify the investment by calculating the payback period or present it as a strategic move to prepare for the future. But that doesn’t remove the fact that replacing an obsolete system is an essential move if you want to be a viable resource for your organization and callers.

Conclusion

Your call center may already have the best technology available. But remember that systems are always changing, and what’s best today won’t be the best tomorrow. Most call centers, however, have a platform with at least a few areas that need improving. Now is the time to plan to make that happen.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat and Medical Call Center News, covering the healthcare call center industry.

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Healthcare Call Centers

Stand Out: Define Your Distinguishing Difference

Discover What Makes Your Call Center Unique 

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

What does your healthcare contact center stand for? How do you stand out in an industry with many options? Understanding who you are is the first step to determining your distinctive characteristics. But why does this matter? 

This is important because when you have a unique quality then your stakeholders have something to rally around. They have a reason to be proud. Short of that you offer nothing to draw them in and keep them close. They have nothing to celebrate. 

Though this most obviously applies to outsource call centers, it’s also applicable to in-house operations too. Here are some categories to consider.

Service 

The first place most call centers look at to distinguish themselves is their service level. They often focus on quality service. Though there are many ways to define this, some look at customer satisfaction (CSAT). Most every call center claims to offer quality service. However, saying it and doing it are two different things. To trumpet service quality with integrity requires that a third-party confirm it. Self-pronounced claims of quality service mean nothing.

Aside from quality, other service level considerations might be answering calls quickly (average speed to answer: ASA) or handling requests on one contact (first call resolution: FCR). Other ways to stand out include a low error rate or around-the-clock accessibility.

Staff 

A second area to consider is how you relate to your staff. Though few employees—if any—will say they’re overpaid or over appreciated, look at how you regard your staff. Employees who receive proper compensation and know how much they’re appreciated tend to work harder and produce better outcomes. The side effect of this is improved service to callers, as well as a healthier financial position.

In call centers, where margins are thin, leaders often struggle with their compensation packages. They know that a 5 percent increase in payroll can move a profitable (or cash-positive) operation into an unprofitable (or cash-negative) one. Yet others successfully apply the adage of “pay more and expect more.”

Not all approaches to enhancing the relationship with your staff, however, require a financial investment. Also consider intangible ways to stand out. This includes letting employees know how much you appreciate them, connecting with them on a personal level, and even taking a simple step of giving them a sincere “thank you” for their work.

Finances

A third area to consider is the financial aspect. Is your operation fiscally strong? A call center that produces consistent positive cash flow has long-term viability. This means they generate profits for their owners or are a profit center for their organization. They stand out. Having financial stability can permeate an entire operation with positivity.

Next, do you provide your staff with the best tools possible? Is their work environment something they’re proud to enter every day? Though these may not seem as relevant of a consideration to use to define your call center, they can be. Employees in a top-notch work environment will speak highly of their jobs and their employer to their families and friends. This can ripple through the local area, elevating the call center in the process.

Conclusion

Though it’s good to address all these areas and strive to make them as good as you can, it’s impossible to make everything a priority. Attempting to do so will cause all areas to suffer. 

Without neglecting any of these considerations, however, strive to elevate one above all others. Let this become the distinctive characteristic that your call center is known for and celebrated. This will help you stand out among all others and have a lasting impact for all stakeholders: your callers, your employees, and your 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.

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Healthcare Call Centers

Now Is the Ideal Time to Consider What Happens Next

While Still in the Pandemic Begin Planning for Post-Pandemic

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

During the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare call centers stepped up to take a more prominent role to facilitate patient-facing communications. Though a few missteps may have occurred along the way as they forged into the unknown, overall they met the challenge facing them, ramped up well, and processed more calls than ever. In the short medical calls, centers shined brightly.

Though the worst may be behind us, a long road of uncertainty still lies ahead. But as we catch our breath, let’s also look forward to past the coronavirus crisis to consider what healthcare call centers will look like in the future. They proved to everyone that they can adapt and do more to advance the provision of healthcare services. Let’s build upon this success.

In planning for what happens next, be it a return to normal, a new normal, or a continuation of the crisis, there are three questions every healthcare call center should ask.

1. What Went Well?

There is much to celebrate in how call centers acquitted themselves during this crisis. Note each one of your success areas. Document what contributed to each one and the steps taken to achieve those results. If we’re ever faced with a comparable situation, being able to build on what went well this time will help you to get to where you need to be next time faster.

2. What Could’ve Gone Better?

Next look at the snags that impeded reaching the desired outcomes as quickly as you would’ve liked. These can include redeploying to work-at-home scenarios, managing a distributed workforce, or having the needed policies and procedures in place. Begin working now to make sure these past roadblocks don’t become future inhibitors.

3. How Can You Be Better Prepared?

A common struggle that many call centers face is that their infrastructure didn’t allow the flexibility needed to allow for off-site work or to expand existing capacity. This could entail changes to software licensing or expanding infrastructure. In some cases, however, this might require replacing the on-site legacy system you have now with a more flexible, cloud-based alternative.

The one thing you don’t want to do is to return to business as usual and expect a crisis like this will never recur.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat and Medical Call Center News, covering the healthcare call center industry.