Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Solicit Feedback from Your Frontline Staff

Verify Key Information and Don’t Assume You Know the Answer 

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

My first full-time job was repairing copy machines. One day, toward the end of my short tenure there, the new service manager shared his vision for the future of his department. The company had two product lines, each with its own technical staff. This was inefficient, as the paths of the respective service teams would often cross. His grand idea was to cross train us on both product lines so we would do less driving and be more efficient. Customers would receive quicker service, and the company would save money.

It was a clever idea, but I pointed out something he overlooked. Already jammed with copier machine parts, my service vehicle had no room left to carry additional supplies for another product line. In fact, I revealed that I had removed my spare tire to make room for the parts I needed to carry.

His once pleased smile evaporated. My revelation left him dismayed, shooting down his brilliant idea. I’m not sure if I were the first technician that he shared his plan with, but I was the first one to point out why it wouldn’t succeed.

I respected him as a leader, in part because he understood my job. In fact, he once did what I and my three dozen compatriots were doing now. But things changed over time with more models to service and more spare parts to carry. His assumption that his knowledge from years ago still applied left him vulnerable to making a miscalculation.

This error can happen in any organization, including medical call centers and answering services. Many people in management and leadership rose through the ranks, having once answered patient phone calls themselves. But things change over time, and what may have once made sense, no longer applies.

That’s why it’s important for leaders to keep in touch with what their frontline staff does each day. This doesn’t mean caring a vague comprehension, but instead possessing an in-depth understanding.

Short of periodically taking calls—which is a great idea—the solution is to talk with your telephone representatives. This will help you better understand what they do on a day-to-day basis and aid you in making informed decisions about the work they do and the policies that support them.

Don’t assume you know the answer. Ask the people who know. They’ll either confirm or correct your perspective. Either way it’s a win.

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

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

How to Setup a Quality Assurance Program f Your Call Center Operation

Work to Enhance Customer Service to Better Meet Caller Expectations

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

What does your healthcare call center do to improve quality interactions with your callers and patients? While some call centers have robust programs in place, others struggle with implementation or following through, and a few keep putting it off. 

Regardless of where you stand on the quality spectrum, too many call centers lack a methodical quality assurance (QA) program that they consistently use to track and improve the quality of the interactions that their agents have with callers.

Here are some thoughts to move forward:

Start Small

Though you could begin with a grand comprehensive plan to have a dedicated QA leader or team evaluate every agent every day, this is too big of a vision for most organizations to start with. Instead think small. Aim to evaluate each employee once a month. This feels manageable.

Though evaluating one call a month may not provide statistically meaningful insights, it does communicate to every employee the importance you place on the quality of their work. It also brings a customer service focus to the forefront of their thinking.

Be Consistent

Now that you’ve evaluated one call per person in a month, repeat the process. Do it a second month and then a third. Some employees will catch the vision right away, while others will have a wait-and-see attitude. But as you consistently assess one call per agent per month, your staff will see your commitment and take the goal of quality seriously.

Celebrate Wins

Instead of evaluating calls to discover where agents fall short, seek to catch them doing something right. Focus on the positive whenever possible. Yes, you must address some errors immediately, but even in this case frame them between what they did right. 

Let them self-identify areas to improve. For example, listen to a call with them and ask, “What was good about this call?” You may need to prod a bit, provide suggestions, or offer affirmation. After they’ve identified several areas of success, then ask them, “What is one thing that could’ve gone better?” Then offer instruction, encouragement, or support as needed to help them turn this one weak area into a strength.

Grow as Needed

Once you have a system down and have consistently evaluated one call per agent per month, look to expand your program. Seek to assess two calls per month. This will also be an ideal time to train other people in your QA process so that they, too, can help appraise calls. Continue to add calls to the process until you have a statistically significant dataset for each employee each month. 

Also, be sure to allocate time for your QA manager or team so they can complete their call evaluation work. Don’t expect them to squeeze this task in among many others. If you do, something will suffer, and I suspect it will be your QA program. 

Your employees—and your callers—deserve better.

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

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Mixing Full-time And Part-time Call Center Staff

Discover the Right Balance in Agent Scheduling for Your Healthcare Contact Center

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Some healthcare call centers only employ full-time staff. Others do the opposite and only hire part-timers. The ideal solution might be to balance a combination of both full-time and part-time agents.

Full-Time Call Center Agents

A key benefit of staffing your call center with full-time employees is greater stability and predictability. A full-time employee with benefits, especially healthcare benefits, is more likely to be committed to their work and less likely to seek a new job.

This commitment results in having an accomplished workforce that possesses the knowledge accumulated only through longevity. The typical result is more accurate communication with callers and the potential for better outcomes. With these as the benefits of having a full-time staff, why wouldn’t every call center want to hire only full timers?

Call centers with only full-time staff face a couple limitations. The key one is that call traffic seldom fits the nice 9-to-5 work schedule of full-time employees. Instead, callers arrive in predictable surges throughout the day. When attempting to address these traffic peaks with full-time staff working eight-hour shifts, the result is they will need to work like crazy some of the time and still not be able to keep up. At other times they won’t have enough to do.

Another limitation is a lack of flexibility. If a full timer’s shift is over, having worked there eight hours, but you need them to stay late to take more calls, you’re looking at an overtime situation. On the other hand, if you have people sitting around twiddling their thumbs, you can’t send a full-time employee home early because they won’t get there forty hours of work that you promised them and that they expect.

Part-Time Call Center Agents

As a reaction of this, other call centers hire only part-time staff. This gives them maximum scheduling flexibility. They’re able to have employees work exactly when they need them, no more and no less. If things get especially busy and you need someone to stay later, many are happy to pick up extra hours. Conversely, if it is slower than expected and you want to send staff home, there is usually someone anxious to accommodate.

Yet this maximum flexibility comes at a price. Part-time staff are less committed to you, your call center, and your callers. They’re more likely to look for other jobs that pay more, have better benefits, or offer more appealing schedules. They may desire full-time work and only accepted your offer because the hours you offered them were better than no hours.

This means that a call center of part-time employees has higher turnover, along with all the problems that the constant churn of employees can present.

Hybrid Staffing

The solution is to strategically hire full-time and part-time employees. This provides the best solution to achieve both a degree of stability along with much-needed flexibility. Though the ideal ratio of full-time to part-time workers varies from one call center to the next, a general initial goal is 50-50. That is to have a foundation of full-time employees filling half of your typical schedule, using part-time staffers for the remaining half.

In your actual operation, however, you may find it works better to have fewer full-time agents or have more, but you won’t know what the ideal ratio is and will have to home in on it over time.

Call center staffing is part art and part science, balancing your organization’s fiscal responsibility with your caller’s healthcare needs. A hybrid staff comprised of both full-time and part-time agents may be the best way to get there.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Update Your Employee Handbook or Department Manual

Make Sure Your Policies and Procedures Accurately Reflect Remote Work

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

In the past year, many healthcare call centers scrambled to adjust to ever-changing expectations and requirements to keep employees safe while continuing to work. Some call centers already had viable work-at-home protocols in place and a few were already 100 percent remote. Most phone centers, however, needed to accomplish a quick pivot to make working from home a viable reality.

By now, call centers have worked the technological and logistical bugs out of remotely answering phone calls from the security of a home office. Now is an ideal time to make sure your documentation matches reality and fully addresses the ramifications of people taking medical calls from home. Make sure your employee handbook, department manual, or written policies and procedures fully address staff who work remotely.

Though some managers have already brought employees back to the call center and others look toward doing it soon, this doesn’t mean they’re exempt from updating these critical documents. Why is that? 

We may again find ourselves in a situation to repeat working from home. In addition, even if working from a centralized location reemerges as a standard call center operating procedure, some employees will request to continue answering calls remotely. Make sure you have everything in place to allow them to remain in their home office. If you’re unwilling to accommodate their request, you could find them leaving your organization to join one that will.

Notably, having now experienced it, some call centers have embraced remote work as a preferable operational model. They’ve sent their employees home for good. Now they only need to make sure their internal documentation aligns with this new reality.

If you’ve experienced staff working from home, you already know what you must cover in your documentation. This will get you started. Next, check with an attorney to address legal concerns. Also consider contacting a consultant who is familiar with off-site employees working out of home-based offices.

With these documents in place, you’ll find yourself ready to deal with whatever happens next.

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