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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.

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Healthcare Call Centers

Improve Your Call Center by Providing Ongoing Skills Training

Improve Your Call Center by Providing Ongoing Skills Training

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

This year we’ll embark on a series of articles about how to move your healthcare call center forward to better meet the needs and expectations of your callers and patients. We’ll start by talking about providing your frontline staff with ongoing skills training.

For your call center, you begin by hiring the best staff, providing them with the detailed training they need to do their jobs well, and then scheduling them to handle calls. It’s a great start, but it’s just the beginning. 

Over time their skills will drift away from what you expect and migrate toward what is expedient. Even more of a concern, they will learn from their coworkers sitting next to them. Though they may acquire some good skills this way, they’re more apt to pick up less-than-ideal habits. It’s a given that what you don’t want to occur in your call center will much more readily permeate your entire staff then the best practices you desire them to emulate.

That’s why it’s essential to provide periodic training to your staff. Through this, you can reinforce the best skills in call handling, customer service, and patient satisfaction that you want them to consistently provide. And then you can teach them new, enhanced skills too. 

Just as vision is leaky, so too are call handling skills. Both require regular reminders. Therefore, you need to teach and reinforce the skills that you want your staff to use in your call center. Do this on a regular basis. You need to provide this to every frontline employee. 

Though you may want to start with the under-performing staff first, this is backwards. If you start with them, they’ll view your training as punitive, which will detract from your objective of enhancing their skills.

Instead, you might want to start with your best-performing staff. They are apt to view the advanced training as a reward, making them much more likely to retain and implement the customer service techniques you teach them. Then roll the training out to the rest of your staff. They’ll receive your instruction more positively.

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

5 Reasons to Be Thankful for Your Job

Working in a Medical Call Center is Hard, but Don’t Forget the Good Parts

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-call center

Have you ever left your call center and wished you didn’t have to come back? Of course, you have. Yet you return. Having this feeling means you care and prove you’re normal.

Working in a medical call center has its stresses, difficulties, and frustrations. But don’t let this cloud the good parts. And there are many. 

Let’s press pause for a moment and reflect on what you can be thankful for through your work at a medical call center. Here are five ideas to get you started.

1. Enjoy Financial Provision

At a basic level, we work to earn a living. Yes, every employee wishes they made more and thinks they should. But overall you’re doing great. Your job covers your basic needs and then some. Don’t look at the 1 percent in the United States who have far surpassed you. Consider the 99 percent in the rest of the world who wished they had your standard of living.

2. Work with a Great Team

Every day you work alongside some amazing and talented people. Yes, there may be one or two that irritate you, but this is true in every job, as it is with every family and every social gathering. Remember, you’re a team, and you get things done. Together you’re stronger, more effective, and meet your mandate call after call.

3. Help Others

Handling call after call can have its drudgery. But remember that each caller is a real person who needs your support. They’re calling you for assistance. And you’re able to help. Call after call, you help people. Because of you, their lives are a little bit healthier. You’re doing your part to make our world a better place.

4. Save Lives

Working in the medical call center can also have its life and death ramifications, especially if you’re doing telephone triage. Though it may not happen every day, each life you save is the ultimate reward that enables you to persevere. But beyond saving physical lives, all healthcare call center work helps save people emotionally, spiritually, or financially. Each call represents an opportunity for you to make a difference in the caller’s life.

5. Possess Purpose

Some jobs are boring, and others carry no meaning other than a paycheck. Not so when you work in a medical call center. You have a purpose, a critical purpose. You and your coworkers help others on every phone call and save lives—whether literally or figuratively—on a regular basis.

Conclusion

You’re bound to have bad days in your call center. That’s normal. But don’t let them obscure the good days. Remember how much you have to be thankful for. You have a job that provides for you, benefits society, and carries significance.

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

Pursuing Work-Life Balance in the Medical Call Center

Take Key Steps to Reduce Burnout and Increase Retention

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

We hear a lot about work-life balance. This is extra challenging in the healthcare industry, as well as with call center work. The combination of these two areas in the medical call center results in a need to strive to achieve a work-life balance. Doing so will help reduce employee burnout and increase retention of both management and frontline staff.

Consider these areas.

Nurses and Frontline Staff

Strive to provide a separation between work and nonwork activities for all non-management staff. Employees in the office, taking calls are working. Nonwork time is when they’re not in the office taking calls. Don’t intrude on their non-work time. This means not calling, texting, or emailing. Even if the interaction seems minimal, it sucks the employee back into a workplace mindset and detracts them from the nonwork activity they’re immersed in. Great bosses don’t do this.

Management and Administration 

It’s harder for people in management to not take their work home, be it mentally or physically. Yet when they do, it intrudes on their nonwork reality and threatens to unbalance their life. 

Managers, give supervisors and employees clear guidelines about when they should and shouldn’t contact you when you’re not in the office. Though you don’t want to shut yourself off from urgent communication, you also don’t want to open yourself to around-the-clock interruption. 

Two key steps to aid in this are empowering on-site supervisors and establishing on-call staff. When implemented properly, these two functions can help shield management from work-related interruptions when they’re not working.

Shift Supervision

Most call centers have shift supervisors. Train and empower supervisors to make decisions on your behalf when you’re not in the office. That is when you’re not working and are attending to the rest of your life.

You may worry about the possibility of shift supervisors making an error in judgment. It will happen, but don’t view this as a mistake. Instead, consider it as a learning opportunity to equip them to perform their job with greater effectiveness.

On-Call Personnel

Some call centers have management and administration rotate on-call responsibilities. In this way, the on-call person deals with all emergency and urgent situations that arise in the call center outside of regular business hours. In doing so they shield all other management and administration from enduring work-related interruptions to their life. 

Ideally, the on-site supervisors should be so well trained and fully empowered that they’ll never need to reach the on-call person with a question or problem. This is how it should be, but for those exceptions, it’s great to have a designated contact person to assist the shift supervisor.

Conclusion

True work-life balance may be an illusion that we’ll never reach, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Follow these steps to bring you and your staff closer to this important equilibrium. When you do, you’ll increase their job satisfaction, minimize the risk of burnout, and increase their tenure at your medical call center. And you’ll realize these same benefits for yourself.

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

Healthcare Call Center Work Can Be Hard

Don’t Focus on the Angry Masses but Grab onto a Good Call Whenever Possible

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Working in a call center is challenging. Although it’s been a long time since I answered calls in one, I’m still aware of how hard it is. That’s because I’m now on the other end of the phone, such as for dealing with healthcare-related issues.

In truth, I try to minimize my interaction with healthcare personnel, in large part because of the hassle that occurs once the appointment ends. I spend much more time trying to get the bill paid then I spent talking to the healthcare professional in the first place.

Attempting to get my provider to work with my payor is challenging at best, and a futile endeavor at worse. Neither party will talk to each other, which means me talking to them separately. This requires me to phone their respective call centers. Then I ping-pong back and forth, working hard to reach a resolution but making little progress. Too often I get a slightly different response each time I call. 

Currently, I have two outstanding medical invoices, which I’ve been working on for several months. It would be far simpler to ignore the negotiated fees and pay the billed amount in full, but because I must have insurance, I might as well try to use it. Right?

A recent call to my provider quickly escalated into a confrontation, with them threatening to turn me over to collections and me begging them to allow me to pay the negotiated fee as payment in full. They would have none of it. I may have raised my voice. I may have said some things I’m not proud of.

I hung up with equal parts remorse and frustration.

Three days later I called back for another round. I had new information. I knew I’d reach a different rep because they’re a large organization, and I’ve never talked to the same person twice.

Guess who answered the phone? Yep, the same person I failed to treat with respect to my prior call. I groaned to myself. I sucked in a lungful of courage and opened my mouth. “Hi! I talked with you a few days ago and wasn’t very nice. I’m sorry.”

She didn’t know what to say. Truly, she was speechless. After a silence long enough to make me wonder if I should apologize some more, she meekly said “Um . . . thank you.”

Although we had a civil conversation this time, I got no closer to getting my bill paid. I guess it’s time for another round of calls.

Call center work is hard, especially when callers don’t want to hear the information agents have to tell them. Difficult calls are common, so healthcare call center reps must take a small win whenever they can. If they hold onto it, it might help them weather the plethora of angry callers that are bound to follow.

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