Categories
Telephone Answering Service

Is It Time to Rethink Your TAS for the Long Term?

Apply Your Experiences of the Past Year to Chart Your Future Course

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Throughout my career, at both the businesses I’ve managed and the ones I’ve owned, I’ve sought incremental improvements, making small ongoing tweaks on a regular basis. By fine-tuning processes and paradigms over time, I made the operation better without subjecting employees to deal with substantial change.

Yet there are times that require significant correction. As an industry, we are at one of those crossroads. Here are four areas that warrant strategic contemplation.

Location

Since its inception, nearly a century ago, the telephone answering service industry has operated out of a singular location. Although the concept of remote operator has been an option since the late 80s, only within the past decade has the promise of a distributed workforce become a viable consideration.

With few exceptions, answering service owners and managers hold a firm perspective on which setting—centrally located or geographically dispersed—is the best. Most, understandably, prefer a centralized workforce.

Now, however, is an ideal time to push aside this proven, preferred way of doing business to at least consider the alternative. This distributed model can work out of dispersed offices, from employ’s homes, or a combination of both. The centralized location, and all its associated cost, can become relegated to history.

Platform

For the past decade or so, answering services have had two platform configurations to choose from: on premise or offsite, also known as SaaS (software as a service). Both have their advantages, as well as their drawbacks. There is no one universally right answer, but there is a right answer for your service and what you want to accomplish.

Take a serious look at the strengths and weaknesses of your current platform configuration. Contrast this to the opposite situation and see which one is the better strategic move for the long-term. Consider stability, flexibility, cost, and future potential. There is much to contemplate.

Staffing

Relating to location and platform type is the staffing paradigm you want to pursue. Many managers desire to see their staff at work each day, or at least be able to work some of their shifts at the main answering service location. This requires all employees to live within driving distance of the service.

This requirement, however, limits your labor pool. What if agents could do all their work remotely? What if you could fully train them at a distance? Then your potential labor pool expands geographically, as well as allowing you to consider nontraditional workers, such as the homebound but otherwise qualified employee.

Management

Make no mistake, it’s hard for most to manage a distributed workforce. What worked well in person seldom translates to a dispersed team working from multiple locations. This may be the hardest transition of the four to make. It requires learning, implementing, and mastering the ability to manage from a distance. Most will find it challenging, but it may prove a necessary pursuit.

Conclusion

The last year has given us significant glimpses or actual experience that touches on each of these four areas. With this as the historical background and an unknown future ahead, now is the time to think strategically and make these wide-ranging, future-facilitating changes to your telephone answering service.

Prepare now to better deal with whatever the future throws at us. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, you’ll be glad you planned for it today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of TAS Trader, covering the telephone answering service industry. Check out his book How to Start a Telephone Answering Service.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Voice AI in the Healthcare Call Center

Should We Embrace Technology in Our Medical Contact Centers or Fear It?

 By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Throughout the history of the call center industry we’ve looked for ways to help our agents be more effective. In the pre-computer days this often meant physical solutions and electromechanical devices that allowed staff to answer calls faster, record information easier, and organize data more effectively.

Then came rudimentary computers that provided basic call distribution and CTI (computer telephony integration). Computer databases allowed us to retrieve information and store data. Following this we experienced voicemail, IVR (interactive voice response), and automated attendant. More recently we’ve encountered speech-to-text conversion and text-to-speech applications. Then came the chatbots, computerized automatons that allow for basic text and voice communication between machine and people.

Computers are talking with us. Smart phones, too. Consider Siri, Alexa, and all their friends. Technology marches forward. What will happen next?

I just did an online search for Voice AI. Within .64 seconds I received two million results. I’m still working my way through the list (not really), but the first few matches gave me some eye-opening and thought-provoking content to read and watch.

In considering this information, it’s hard to determine what’s practical application for our near future and what’s theoretical potential that might never happen. However, my conclusion is that with advances in chatbot technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning, we aren’t far from the time when computer applications will carry on full, convincing conversations with callers, who will think they’re talking with real people.

While many pieces of this puzzle are available today, I submit that we’re not yet to the point where we can have a complete, intelligent dialogue with a computer and not know it. But it will happen. Probably soon.

What Does Voice AI Mean for the Medical Call Center?

Voice AI in the Healthcare Call Center

Just like all technological advances since the inception of the earliest call centers, we’ll continue to free agents from basic tasks and allow them to handle more complex issues. Technology will not replace agents, but it will shift their primary responsibilities.

Or maybe not.

With the application of voice AI, might we one day have a call center staffed with computer algorithms instead of telephone agents? I don’t know. Anything I say today will likely seem laughable in the future. Either I will have overstretched technology’s potential or underestimated the speed of its advance.

I think I’m okay talking to a computer program to make an appointment with my doctor. And it wouldn’t bother me to call in the evening and converse with a computer as I leave my message for the doctor, nurse, or office staff. However, what concerns me just a tad would be calling a telephone triage number and having a computer give me medical advice.

Yet in considering the pieces of technology available to us today, this isn’t so far-fetched. Proven triage protocols are already defined and stored in a database. Giving them a computerized voice is possible now. And with AI and machine learning, the potential exists for an intelligent interface to provide the conversational bridge between me and the protocols. And this could be the solution to our growing shortage of medical practitioners.

For those of you actually doing telephone triage, you might be laughing right now. Perhaps you’re already implementing this. Or maybe you’re convinced it will never work.

Yet it’s important that we talk about technology and its application in healthcare call centers. Regardless of what happens, the future will certainly be an interesting place.

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