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Healthcare Call Centers

Channel Specialization versus Multichannel Proficiency

Effectively Handle Communication Channels in a Medical Contact Center

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

In the last issue of AnswerStat we looked at the need for multichannel integration in your healthcare contact center to better serve patients and produce superior outcomes. We considered this from a systems standpoint. Now let’s look at multichannel from an agent and operational perspective, specifically channel specialization versus multichannel proficiency.

Ideally you want every agent trained and fully proficient to handle communication on any channel option that comes in, be it voice, text, email, video, social media, and so forth. Some agents relish being proficient on all channels, while others prefer to specialize. A contact center needs both types of agents.

Channel Specialization

An agent that specializes in one channel, for instance telephone calls, will develop a higher level of effectiveness by focusing on that one channel. Through repetition they’ll gain an enhanced level of skill through their specialization.

This will enable them to move from one call to another with greater speed and increased efficacy. In short, they’ll get more done faster.

But they must also be cross trained on other channels. There are two reasons for this.

One is in the event of a telephone call that needs to switch channels, such as to move to video or email to better facilitate effective communication.

In this instance you don’t want an agent with a telephone channel specialization handing the call off to a video or email specialist. Instead, you want the original agent to move with the patient or caller to the new channel.

The second reason you want agents cross trained is so they can switch to a different channel if there’s a need to do so. This could occur with an increased amount of traffic in a channel different from the one they specialize in.

Without this cross training, you could end up with specialists in one channel sitting idle while specialists in another channel struggle to keep up.

Though you have agents that specialize in one channel and mostly work in that area, they must be ready and willing to jump to another channel when the situation requires it.

Multichannel Proficiency

Other agents would find channel specialization to be quite boring. They relish being proficient on many channels, even on every channel your healthcare contact center handles. They enjoy the variety that comes from interacting with patients on various channels.

These multi-channel agents can handle patient contacts on any channel as needed, whenever needed.

This allows them to switch between real-time communication (telephone and video calls) depending on the traffic demands at any moment. Yet at the same time they are equally proficient at processing non-real-time communication (email, text, and social media) as required.

This means they can effectively work in the channel where they’re most needed.

Specialists and Generalists

While channel specialization is good for some agents and multichannel proficiency is ideal for others, this mix of channel focus is also essential for your contact center. Just like with healthcare, a contact center needs both specialists and generalists.

The specialists can concentrate on one channel, reaching a level of effectiveness that a generalist could never achieve. Yet a generalist is effective at quickly and easily migrating from one channel to another.

Though every agent in your contact center should be cross trained to handle any channel, determine which area is the best for each agent, channel specialization or multichannel proficiency. You need both.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Healthcare Call Center Essentials, available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D., is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat and Medical Call Center News covering the healthcare call center industry. Get his book, Sticky Customer Service.

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Healthcare Call Centers

Be Sure to Thank Your Staff

Let Your Call Center Employees Know You Appreciate Their Work

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

We just celebrated Thanksgiving in the United States, which is a time where we typically reflect on what we’re thankful for—when we’re not scarfing down a holiday feast. 

Do you let your staff know you appreciate them? I’m sure you’ll say yes, but what will they say? I’m not being critical, but I am seeking to prompt some deep consideration into how you thank your staff. 

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

I suspect you’re already making a list:

  • You provide employment, a paycheck, and a decent compensation package
  • You send a Thanksgiving card, note, or even a small bonus
  • You give them a frozen turkey or gift card
  • You serve a Thanksgiving meal for those who work on Thanksgiving
  • You pay a bonus for those who work over the holiday weekend

These things are great, but your staff has grown to expect them. These efforts at indicating gratitude, while appreciated, don’t convey that you’re truly thankful for your staff and the work they do throughout the year. If they are to realize that you appreciate them, you need to find a better way to say thank you.

I once had a boss who personally gave me my paycheck every week. Though a man of few words, he would hand me my check, look me in the eye, and say “thank you.” He did this for all twenty to thirty people in his department, without fail, every pay period. 

That was thirty years ago, but I still remember it as if it just happened. Though he was a hard man to figure out and often frustrating to work for, I had no doubt that he appreciated my efforts. His periodic, heartfelt thank you kept me motivated, even though his management style sometimes grated on my soul.

If your efforts to thank your staff fail to communicate your appreciation, it’s time for a different approach. Why not try handing each employee their paycheck, looking them in the eye, and saying “thank you.” And if your operation is too big or your staff schedule is too varied for you to do this, do it for your direct reports and encourage them to do it for theirs.

Though thanking your staff on Thanksgiving is a great start, personally thanking them every pay period will make an impression that lasts.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Healthcare Call Center Essentials, available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D., is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat and Medical Call Center News covering the healthcare call center industry. Get his book, Sticky Customer Service.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Today’s Employees Want to Make a Difference

Give Staff Opportunities to Make an Impact through Their Work

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

We’ve been considering five strategies to retain call center staff. The first four are through agent compensation, agent benefits, learning situations, and growth potential. Now we’ll address the fifth one. It’s showing staff how they can make a difference in their work and through their work. Today’s employees, especially Millennials and even more so Gen-Z, want employment where they can make a difference by having a positive influence through their jobs and their work.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Through Each Call

Starting at training, and reinforced on a regular basis, help employees see how each call they take makes a difference. This difference can positively impact both the caller and the person, department, or recipient of the transaction or information. This way they’ll have dozens or even hundreds of opportunities each day to make the world a little bit better. Over the course of a year that’s thousands or tens of thousands of small but meaningful positive interactions to help impact their world in a positive way.

In the Work Environment

Beyond each call, provide opportunities for employees to help make their workplace better. This can include serving on an ad hoc committee, assigning them additional tasks that add value, and taking on special assignments to improve their work environment and better serve callers. Even more beneficial is when they can work together as a team when making a difference.

Offer Volunteer Opportunities

Some progressive companies include paid time for employees to volunteer at their favorite nonprofit. When doing so, they perceive their employer as supporting the causes that they support. They value their work more because of this.

Though it may not be feasible for a medical call center to offer this benefit to every entry-level employee, this paid volunteer time could be a perk for senior operators and those who advance in the company.

And even if you’re reluctant to provide paid time for staff to do this, you can still support their favorite nonprofit in other ways. This could be as simple as offering them free voicemail service to help facilitate their favorite organizations’ communication.

Provide Matching Donations

Other forward-thinking businesses will match employee donations, usually dollar for dollar, to nonprofit organizations. Usually they place a cap on total matching funds, but this may be an unneeded precaution.

But if you’re just starting this program, having a donation cap may be an easy way to test its effectiveness and limit financial risk. You can always remove or increase the cap later. Some companies have a list of acceptable recipients for matching donations, but this could irritate employees and cause them to resent the company’s generosity and not appreciate it.

The key is to join your employees in supporting what they support. And when you do, they’ll be more supportive of you.

Summary

Today’s employees want a job that does more than provide income. They want work that helps them make a difference in their community and their world. Give them these opportunities, and they’ll give you their dedication.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Healthcare Call Center Essentials, available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D., is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat and Medical Call Center News covering the healthcare call center industry. Get his book, Sticky Customer Service.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Provide Meaningful Agent Benefits to Improve Agent Retention

Spend More on Retaining Staff and Less on Hiring and Training Their Replacements

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

We’ve looked at five tips to better retain call center staff. Agent compensation is first on most people’s list. However, it might not be the most important item, merely the one most cited. Pay rate alone isn’t enough to keep most call center agents happy and employed. Other items factor into this equation. A related issue is benefits. Today’s workers expect more than decent pay. They expect benefits too. This includes part-timers. Yes, your part-timers deserve benefits. If you want to keep them, you better provide what they want.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Paid Vacation

Your agents work hard for you and your callers. They deserve a vacation. This gives them a break from the routine of work, provides something for them to look forward to, and helps them recharge. A paid vacation is the top benefit employees seek. Be sure to provide it to them, both full and part-timers.

(As with all benefits for part-time agents, make it proportional to the average amount of time they work. For example, if they work twenty-hours a week, their vacation pay should be based on a twenty-hour workweek.)

Paid Time Off

Next up is paid time off. This includes sick days and personal days. Ideally, we want healthy employees who don’t get sick and who schedule their appointments on their days off. But this isn’t always feasible. Failing to provide paid time off could result in an agent coming into work sick or not attending to some important personal issue, which could have negative consequences later.

Retirement

Though not every employee thinks about retirement, some do. And for those who do, it’s of critical importance. They want to take control of what their retirement looks like, and that means planning for it now, regardless of how far away it is. Be sure to offer them the option to set money aside now for their retirement.

Continuing Education

Next up is the ability to pursue ongoing education. As with retirement, this isn’t a benefit that most people seek or will use, but for those who want it, it could make the difference between them quitting or staying. Tailor your program so that it provides value to participants and to your organization too. Also include a reasonable precaution to avoid abuse, but be fair. An employee with the opportunity to learn more, will provide more value to your organization and be more loyal.

Healthcare Coverage

The last significant benefit is healthcare coverage. Healthcare coverage is a growing concern for people in the United States. The cost rises and the coverage shrinks. Yet being in the healthcare industry, we’re in the unique position to help our agents with decent healthcare coverage, or at least we should be.

Conclusion

When it comes to retaining call center staff, don’t skimp on benefits. Offer them paid vacation and time off, retirement and continuing education options, and healthcare coverage. This will increase their loyalty to your organization and decrease the likelihood of them leaving your call center for another company that does provide these benefits. Just as with compensation, the cost of providing benefits concerns most managers. The key is to offer what you can without jeopardizing your organization. But if you think you can’t afford to offer benefits, the reality is that you can’t afford not to.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Healthcare Call Center Essentials, available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D., is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat and Medical Call Center News covering the healthcare call center industry. Get his book, Sticky Customer Service.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Develop an Ideal Agent Schedule to Maximize Call Center Efficiency and Effectiveness

For Optimum Results Schedule Agents to Meet Projected Call Traffic

 By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Call centers rely on people—that is, agents—to meet the needs of callers. This requires developing an ideal agent schedule.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Having too many agents results in idle time, with staff on the clock but without enough work to do. This bloats operational costs. From a theoretical standpoint, an overstaffed call center should provide a high level of service, but this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes an overstaffed call center grows lackadaisical and provides poor service.

The opposite of overstaffing is not having enough agents. Not only does this cause agent burnout, but it also lengthens hold times and lowers service levels.

The key is to schedule the appropriate number of agents throughout the day to provide a suitable level of service at an acceptable cost. This minimizes complaints from both callers and agents.

Consider these key points when developing an optimum agent schedule.

Balance Staff Needs with Patient Needs

If your call center agents work eight-hour shifts, I guarantee your schedule needs work. Though their average workload and service level may be acceptable, most of the day they will swing from either working too hard to not having enough to do.

This means moving away from eight-hour shifts and scheduling staff to work when you need them. This may result in shorter shifts or longer shifts. To accomplish this, you’ll need a mixture of full-time and part-time employees, with part timers usually being predominant. This could be a huge culture shift.

Analyze Small Time Increments

If you track call traffic by the day, your scope is too large. One hour is the longest increment you should consider, but quarter hour segments are better, and some call centers look at six-minute increments (a tenth of an hour), or even less. When you analyze traffic in this granular fashion, you’ll see predictable rises and dips throughout the day. Overlay your shifts to cover these peaks and miss the valleys.

Consider Historical Data

In most cases the call traffic from one week will approximate the traffic for the following week. Averaging several consecutive weeks produces a more accurate projection. You can also look at traffic from one year ago if you have seasonal fluctuations. Last, to staff for a holiday, consider the historical traffic from that holiday last year or other comparable days. This lets you project traffic demands and develop an accurate agent schedule.

Pursue Incremental Improvement

Hoping to develop one agent schedule that you can copy each week isn’t realistic. Even if traffic doesn’t change much, you’ll still need to fine-tune it to best align your agents’ availability with your patients’ calling patterns. Also, most call center traffic trends up or down from one season to the next. Be sure to adjust for that.

Conclusion

Finding your ideal agent schedule is part art and part science. It’s a time-consuming task, but the results of having an ideally staffed call center are worth the effort.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Healthcare Call Center Essentials, available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D., is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat and Medical Call Center News covering the healthcare call center industry. Get his book, Sticky Customer Service.