Healthcare Call Centers

What Do You Do To Slow Down and Relax?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Although I live in a rural area, my immediate surroundings are not; my house is in a subdivision. Even so, wildlife abounds. During the non-snowy months, at any given time I can, look out my office window and see at least one animal and usually more. I’ve spent the last five months verifying this to be true.

Most often, I see birds. Squirrels come in second; sometimes they’re in pairs: darting, jumping, chasing, climbing.

I also see rabbits; they’re common but not a daily occurrence (though I really don’t spent my time gazing out my window). When I see a rabbit, it’s always alone, which is a bit sad to mention.

But today I saw two: hopping, playing tag, just hangin’ out. Then a third one appeared. One hopped left, the other scurried right, while the third went in a circle. They were on the smaller side, perhaps siblings born this year.

Then, to my delight, a fourth one hopped into view, a bit larger and more deliberate in movement. I surmised this to be the mom. For quite a while I admired their comings and goings, their freedom, and their life.

I’m glad I took the time to watch them frolic; it was good to slow down – and to marvel.

Most people who work in healthcare are finding there are more pressures, work, stress, and changes than ever before. While there’s not much that can be done to stop that, we can periodically slow down.

What do you do to slow down?

Healthcare Call Centers

Be Happy and Successful at Work

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

As a magazine publisher, I receive frequent pitches from publicists wanting me to read their clients’ book in hopes I will publish a favorable review. They’re happy to send me a free copy – and sometimes the books just show up unannounced. Although tempting, I already have a stack of books awaiting my attention. So, I sagely but sadly decline their solicitation.

I don’t recall the details surrounding the arrival of Barbara Burke’s book, The Napkin, the Melon & the Monkey, but there it was, relegated to my pile of “books to read” and soon other books that seemed more promising buried it.

But, one day, I had to babysit my computer during a remote troubleshooting session. Wanting to make the most of my time, I sought a short book with easy-to-read chapters to aptly occupy myself between occasional glances at the computer screen. A couple of hours later, the book was finished, but the computer issue wasn’t.

Promoted as “a customer service fable,” The Napkin, the Melon & the Monkey is subtitled: How to Be Happy and Successful at Work and in Life by Simply Changing Your Mind. The inside back cover notes author “Barbara Burke is an internationally-known consultant, speaker, and author who specializes in the ‘people side’ of customer service management.” Generally, books about customer service are generic in nature and need to be tweaked to even somewhat fit call center realities. However, The Napkin, the Melon & the Monkey is all about the call center.

Reminiscent of the classic The One Minute Manager, this fable follows the vocational pursuits of Olivia, a harried customer service representative – that is, a call center agent – working for the local utility. Starting her position with much excitement and high expectation, it isn’t long before the crush of complaint calls and barbs from angry customers brings her to her breaking point.

At this point, wise Isabel, an insightful veteran of the team, fortuitously comes to Olivia’s rescue. With one simple piece of advice, Isabel changes Olivia’s job outlook and career trajectory. This, however, is not the only interaction between mentor and mentee, but the first of many such exchanges. Along the way, Olivia records twenty-two “aha!” moments, which have broad application for call center work, as well as all customer service efforts and even life itself.

In case you’re wondering how a napkin, a melon, and a monkey fit into this, let me assure you they do, serving as metaphors for three key points, the reoccurring themes in the book. But don’t take my word for it. Read The Napkin, the Melon & the Monkey yourself, and then share it with your call center staff.

It just might help you be happy and successful at work.

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.

[From the August/September 2012 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Healthcare Call Centers

Game On: Time to Get Started With Gamification

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

I was quite skeptical when I first heard about “gamification,” the use of gaming concepts to motivate desirable behavior among customers (or employees).

I reasoned that while expecting customers to “play games” might result in a short-term increase in brand involvement or purchases, I doubted if it was sustainable. However, I am rethinking my initial assessment.

As a Netflix customer, I was likely involved in a basic gamification effort. As I posted movie reviews on their site, I was given a “reviewer rank.” As I posted more reviews, my rank would improve. At one point I had worked my way to the neighborhood of 5,000 out of several million reviewers. Bettering my reviewer rank became a game for me. Yes, I enjoyed watching the movies and yes, I found it rewarding to share my input with other Netflix customers, but the validation of my efforts came through watching my reviewer rank improve.

However, if it was a “game,” the problem was I didn’t know the rules. I assumed that more reviews were good, more readers of my reviews were beneficial, and more people flagging my reviews as “helpful” in comparison to “not helpful” were a factor. But this could not be verified, as everything I did was in competition with what others did. I could do something to improve my reviewer rank, but if others did even more to improve theirs, my rank would actually decrease.

I reviewed 71 movies and then abruptly stopped when I realized I no longer enjoyed doing so. It seems gamification may work after all — at least for a while.

While I’m yet to envision a viable gamification application for call center callers, I do see it as having value for call center agents: to improve their metrics, learn new skills, increase first call resolution, and enhance caller satisfaction. Plus, as covered later in this issue, gamification is also being used to improve employee health and reduce costs. Game on!

Healthcare Call Centers

Someone Should Write a Book About That

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

You don’t need to spend much time in a call center before realizing agents enjoy sharing stories about their callers. This can be good: establishing community, providing a safe outlet, and building a collective understanding. (Conversely, venting about callers should be discouraged.) After such stories are shared, someone often says, “We could write a book about this.” Unfortunately, it never goes much further. I’d like to change that – and I need your help to do so.

As you’re thinking of stories you can share, here are some of mine:

Like a Birgin: At a hospital call center, I was doing side-by-side monitoring when a call came from an elderly lady with a heavy accent. The agent requested the woman to spell her name. The caller said “B,” and the agent replied, “B?” The frustrated caller said, “No, B!” This exchange repeated until the agent eventually asked, “B as in baker?” The exasperated caller retorted, “No! B as in birgin.”

Fifteen minutes later, the information was finally gathered. But before the women could be thanked for calling, she interjected, “Don’t you want my daughter’s address? The brochure is for her!”

Timing Is Everything: We’ve all been guilty about muttering a disparaging remark after a call is completed. This practice is highly discouraged; nevertheless, when it is done, it’s critical to completely disconnect before voicing any editorial comments. One agent, who persisted in making post-call comments, caused a ruckus one day. It was on a patient call that was being recorded for the doctor. Although the caller hung up, the audio was still being recorded when the agent spouted her opinion of the patient using a most unacceptable expletive.

The doctor, while not disagreeing with the agent’s assessment, forwarded the recording to the call center manager. The agent was understandably embarrassed, learning an important lesson to not say everything she was thinking. After learning she would not be terminated for her error, she graciously allowed the manager to share the recording with her fellow agents. It was a powerful lesson of what not to do – and was heard more effectively than anecdotes from any trainer’s lips.

I’m Not Keith: In working at a technical helpdesk, I fielded a call from a man covering for his son over the weekend. Although Dad knew how to manage a call center staff, he wasn’t up to speed on the technology. The system was down and could not be restarted.

Over the next couple of hours, I guided him through a troubleshooting process. Even the most basic steps, such as, “Open the cabinet door” or “Check the power light,” required an excruciating amount of detailed instruction. Throughout the ordeal, he kept calling me Keith, the name of my coworker. After correcting him for the third time, I gave up, realizing my name was not important at that time. Eventually the problem was resolved, and a most grateful customer thanked me profusely.

About a week later, my boss bounced into our call center, gleefully waving a poignant thank-you note for a stellar job “Keith” did in helping resolve a most arduous problem under difficult circumstances. My boss enthusiastically read the note to our entire team, ceremoniously handing it to a befuddled Keith. Keith gracious accepted the kudus but later admitted, “I don’t even remember taking the call.” Nonetheless, the note – for the work I did – was proudly posted at Keith’s workstation.

Now It’s Your Turn: Email me ( with your amusing, entertaining, or educational call center stories. Be sure to include your name and your call center – or you can remain anonymous. I have the first three stories for our book; will you help with the rest?

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.

[From the June/July 2012 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Healthcare Call Centers

Upsell Futility: Would You Like Fries With That?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

I needed to order some ink cartridges for my printer, the kind I can only buy from the vendor. I called and told the agent I wanted to order two black ink cartridges. Not surprisingly she suggested I buy a package that included two color cartridges. “No thank you, just black,” I replied.

Upon discovering the age of my printer, she tried to sell me a new printer. “No thank you – I just need ink.”

When I acknowledged that I own several computers from her company, she asked if they were working okay and did I…. “No, I just want to buy ink.”

Then she offered me a special price on anti-virus software for only…. “No, I only want ink!”

Next she inquired if I was interested in a maintenance plan to…. “NO, just ink!”

Perhaps she was supposed to try to upsell me five times, or maybe she was on commission. I don’t know, but I do know the call took much longer than necessary. I became irritated, and I won’t buy another printer from this vendor.

Now let’s imagine a call to refill my prescription. The agent says, “Would you like to meet with the doctor to review your current health status?” I decline.

“When was your last annual checkup? Should I schedule you for one?” I refuse.

“We have a special this month on colonoscopies, and I see you’re at the age….” I spurn that offer.

“Can I have a representative contact you to review all the services that we offer?” I reject her proposal.

“We have a new family plan to save….” “NO!”

What would be the results of this pretend health call? Did we have a positive interaction? Has the agent made a positive impression? The next time I have a healthcare need, will this organization be first on my list to contact – or will they be last?

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