Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Multi-Channel Integration

Serve Patients Better and Produce Superior Outcomes

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Some healthcare call centers only handle telephone calls by design and others do it because that’s what they’ve always done. But most have embraced a contact center mindset, where they’re handling more than telephone calls.

Channel Options

This can include email, text messaging, and web chat. They may also incorporate social media monitoring and response.

There is also an opportunity with video. Integrating video communications into the call center has received much theoretical attention for a couple of decades, with proponents predicting it would be only a year or two out. We are, at last, moving from potential to possible.

Over the past two years many people have become more comfortable talking to a camera to communicate with someone far away. Though not everyone embraced this as an acceptable alternative to in-person meetings, they did, however, become more comfortable using it and less resistant to the technology.

This prepares people for the option of video chatting with their healthcare provider, nurse triage operation, or medical call center. These are exciting times for patients and their healthcare call centers.

Channel Switching

All these options, however, will inevitably lead to patients using multiple communication channels to accomplish their task, depending on what’s available at the time or what will achieve their goal the fastest.

What could start as a telephone call could switch to video for face-to-face interaction. In the same way, a text message chain could migrate to the telephone or a social media post to email. The only limit to the sequences is our creativity.

Yet regardless of the scenario, one key issue remains paramount. Each channel must integrate with all the others, allowing information to effortlessly pass from one option to another. We must eliminate isolated silos of information that don’t communicate with each other. We need full multi-channel integration.

This usually falls to the platform vendor. If you use a singular system to handle all communication channels, you’re one step closer to making multi-channel integration a reality. Though harder, integration between disparate systems can also occur. It just requires more effort on the part of the respective vendors to pull off.

Multi-Channel Integration

Here’s what you can do to move things forward to enjoy multi-channel integration.

Educate Staff

Make sure your front-line employees know what they must do to allow for the smoothest information handoff as patients move from one channel to another. If your staff doesn’t do their part correctly, the decree of integration won’t matter.

Test Your System

Make a contact on one channel as a patient would. Then switch channels and see what happens. Is your text messaging exchange accessible by the telephone rep when you switch to voice? Or do you need to start over and re-state the same information?

Test this in each combination of channels possible, regardless of how unlikely it seems to you that anyone would ever make that switch. Know that someone will.

Identify Weaknesses

As you conduct your field test of switching channels, look for three things. Identify what works well, what somewhat works, and what doesn’t work at all. Celebrate the areas of success, seek ways to shore up the areas that have limitations, and note what doesn’t work at all.

Encourage Your Vendor

Armed with this information, approach your vendor, not in a confrontational manner, but with a positive, let’s-work-together attitude to move toward full multi-channel integration.

Conclusion

Multi-channel integration is what your patients expect. It’s what they deserve. Start now to move toward this outcome.

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
Telephone Answering Service

A Lifetime of Industry Related Writing

Article Repository Consolidates Industry Resources  

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

I published my first article in 1982. It was about pagers. Remember them? 

It was also the hardest piece I’ve ever written, but it set me on a journey for a lifetime of writing. Over the years I authored a couple thousand articles, some of which have been forever lost, but most are still available online. And I’ve written even more blog posts. That’s millions of words.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

I write a lot about the telephone answering service and call center industries. Each year I publish twelve columns for TAS Trader and another six each for Connections Magazine, AnswerStat, and Medical Call Center News. That’s thirty new pieces of industry related content each year, with over 500 in total. 

You can go to the respective publication websites to read these articles, but now they’re all compiled into one convenient repository at peterdehaanpublishing.com/peter-lyle-dehaan-articles for easy access. Please bookmark this page for future reference.

The articles are also grouped by category. This allows you to quickly drill down to your area of interest: answering service, call center, and healthcare call center. They are also cross indexed by specific topics. There are 100 articles about telephone answering service, 200 addressing the call center industry, and nearly 200 covering healthcare call centers. In addition, I have posted 130 business related articles and over 600 about writing and publishing

Now, for the first time ever, these are accessible for you at one location. Altogether I’ve posted more than 1,400 articles that I’ve written over the years.

In addition to them being online, I will compile and update the best, most relevant articles for upcoming books. With a dozen book title ideas in mind, I’m already working on the first one. The working title is Customer Service Success Stories. I’ll let you know when it’s available. 

My next title will cover the telephone answering service industry. I think I’ll call it The Best of TAS Trader. I can’t wait to share it with you.

Learn more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s book, How to Start a Telephone Answering Service.

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

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Use a Quality Assurance Program to Improve Your Call Center

Use a Quality Assurance Program to Improve Your Call Center

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

In the last issue, we talked about improving your call center by providing ongoing skills training. Now we’ll continue the discussion by addressing a quality assurance (QA) program.

In the call center industry, everyone’s talking about providing quality transactions. Quality call center work helps bring about quality healthcare outcomes, which starts with quality agent communication.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

One essential step to keep the focus on quality is to have a quality assurance process. Most leading call centers have a QA program in place. Others plan to add one. And some had one but, in a rush to deal with the urgent, they put the practice on hold, which they later pushed aside.

Last are those call centers that don’t have a QA program, never did, and aren’t planning to. It’s time for this to change. Every call center that cares about its callers needs to put quality at the forefront of all they do, and a QA program is the surest way to accomplish that.

A QA program is a methodical system that regularly evaluates calls from each agent. These calls can be live or recorded. Regardless of the format, a trained quality professional evaluates each call according to established criteria. They then share the results with each agent, providing encouragement whenever possible, and offering constructive criticism when appropriate. The goal of a QA program stands to reinforce the positive and offer corrections to improve the not so great.

Successful QA programs have an established process they follow without fail. And most programs have dedicated a trained quality professional to administer the program. Conducting QA evaluations and providing immediate feedback are generally this person’s sole responsibility.

To start a QA program or restart one on hold, think small. This might be performing one call evaluation per agent per month. As the process becomes fine-tuned and the practice becomes routine, increase the frequency to twice a month and then weekly. Some established robust QA programs evaluate their agents much more frequently.

In addition to dedicating a person to do QA evaluations, another key is to secure agent buy-in from the onset. This starts before launching the program and continues as a QA professional provides feedback to each agent. The goal of each feedback session is to celebrate what the agent did well. Make it a positive experience that they can anticipate. Then add one area to work on. Eventually, some calls won’t warrant any suggestions for improvement at all. And that’s the goal of a QA program.

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

Pursuing Work-Life Balance in the Medical Call Center

Take Key Steps to Reduce Burnout and Increase Retention

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

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.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

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.

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

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.

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.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

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.

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

Stop Reacting and Take Initiative

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Though I no longer work in a call center, I remember those days well. There was always something demanding my attention, some urgent matter to attend to. I’d often spend an entire day, sometimes all week, just putting out fires. Charles Hummel called this the “tyranny of the urgent,” where urgent matters occupy all our time and push aside doing those important things that matter more.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

This is true in the call center industry and even more so when you connect healthcare to it. Do more, do it for less, and do it faster. It seems there’s always a pressing need that demands our attention: an open shift, employee conflicts, and scheduling problems. There are technical issues, vendor problems, and stakeholder complaints. It seems there’s never enough time to handle everything, let alone attending to what’s most important, such as making things better.

But working to make things better is exactly what we need to do. Here are some ideas.

Expand Agent Recruitment

A common call center complaint is not enough qualified applicants. Look at what you can do to change that. Is there a new labor market you can tap? What can you do to make your call center more attractive to the type of people you want to hire? Addressing this will require some creativity. It may help to seek assistance from knowledgeable people outside your organization and even outside medical call centers.

Improve Employee Screening

Another frequent call center issue is agent turnover. You hire promising individuals, spend time and money to train them, and then they quit. Look at why they leave. And consider those who stay. Seek to find patterns. Then apply these conclusions to your hiring practices.

Unless you can validate these findings, from a legal standpoint, you must be careful in how you use this information. Here’s one thought: At some point during the interview process, you could say, “We found that people with these characteristics tend to enjoy working for us. Do you feel this describes you?” This will help applicants self-select, with some ill-fitting candidates opting not to pursue the position further.

Enhance Training

A third concern is training, a task that is necessary, time-consuming, and expensive. Rethink how you train. Focus on what will make it more effective. Ask around and see what others are doing, both those at other medical call centers, as well as those outside the industry. Every organization needs to train employees. Learn what you can from others and apply it to your situation. Seek to make training fun, effective, and fast.

Expand Service Offerings

The idea of adding more to your workload may seem crazy, but often doing new things will invigorate staff. Look for additional ways to help your clientele. This will increase your call center’s value and serve callers more fully.

Investigate New Technology

Technological opportunities for medical call centers change fast. It seems each week there’s something new, something better, something more powerful that could help your staff do their job more effectively. Seek these tools. Test them and implement them. Your staff will thank you.

Don’t try to address all these opportunities at once. That will drive you crazy. Instead, pick the one that will have the greatest impact on your operation and make it your priority. Let this become your important initiative that will take precedence over dealing exclusively with the urgency of day-to-day operations.

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.