Healthcare Call Centers

Multichannel Contact Center Scheduling

Staff Your Operation with Agents with the Right Stills to Work at the Time They’re Most Needed

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

You run a multichannel contact center for the healthcare industry and have staffed it with well-trained agents. Some specialize in one specific channel, others can handle related channels, and some are cross trained on all channels.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

This is a great start. Now comes implementation; now comes multichannel contact center scheduling.

Schedule Channel-Specific Agents First

Start with the channel that receives the most interaction, and schedule agents for that channel. By way of example, let’s assume the majority of your contacts are via the telephone. Schedule telephone agents, across your hours of operation, to take a percentage of those calls.

If they can cover 50 percent of those calls overall, don’t schedule them to cover 100 percent on some shifts and ignore other shifts. Instead populate your schedule so that your telephone-only specialists can cover 50 percent of those calls throughout your hours of operation.

Repeat this for your next highest used channel.

Continue this process for each channel that has enough traffic in any given time slot to call for scheduling a specialist to handle it.

As you work through this, you’ll find a particular time-of-day or day-of-week that doesn’t have enough traffic to keep one agent busy. Don’t schedule a specialist for those time slots. Instead move them to an area with enough work to fill their scheduled hours.

Schedule Partially Cross-Trained Agents Next

With your single-channel specialists scheduled, next fold in those who are trained on more than one channel. Let’s assume you have an agent trained to handle both text and email contacts. Place them on the schedule where there will be enough activity from one channel or the other to keep them busy.

Depending on the dynamics of your traffic, they could spend their shift bouncing between the two channels or primarily receiving contacts on one channel or the other.

This is to be expected, and they need to be aware it could happen. The key is to not schedule them for shifts where there isn’t enough potential traffic in either of the channels they’re trained to handle.

Schedule Fully Cross Trained Agents Last

Once you have your channel-specific agents and partially cross-trained agents on the schedule, fill the remaining open slots with agents who are fully cross trained to handle any channel. This is the last step of multichannel contact center scheduling.

At minimum you should have one fully cross-trained agent on every shift throughout the day. They’ll serve as your buffer, able to pick up traffic from whatever channel has the greatest need.

Assuming you have enough staff, the fully cross trained agents will smooth out your schedule. They’ll pick up the slack on the channel where they’re most needed.

You can use these fully cross-trained agents in two ways. And their personality may align with one approach or the other.

Although able to take contacts on any channel, some agents will want to start on one channel and focus on those interactions until you move them to another channel—or until some preset condition exists, signaling them to make the switch themselves.

Other fully cross-trained agents are completely comfortable bouncing between channels from one contact to the next.

They thrive on the moment-to-moment variability, which ideally positions them to pick up the moment-to-moment traffic changes that occur within any multichannel contact center.

Scheduling Tools

Knowing the philosophy of multichannel contact center scheduling forms the foundational understanding of what to do. Now comes the challenge of making it happen. For smaller operations with minimal channels, you can do this with some degree of proficiency on a spreadsheet.

A better solution, however, is scheduling software. But don’t try to use a single-channel scheduling package. Instead look for a solution that can take historical inputs from multiple channels and allow you to match agents according to the projected need.

Having a full-featured, robust scheduling solution will make the task of multichannel contact center scheduling much easier—once you’ve mastered the foundational staffing strategy.

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

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

Call Center

Is Your Management Style Hurting Your Call Center?

After Doing All You Can on the Hiring Side, Turn Your Attention to Retention

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

A college friend recently shared his experience working at his part-time job. Several of his coworkers had quit, and he planned to do so as well. His departure would move his employer from drastically short-staffed to critically understaffed.

She begged him to stay and offered him a significant pay bump, moving him to nearly three times minimum wage for his unskilled, entry-level position.

He accepted. But he quickly regretted his decision.

Three weeks later he quit for good. “She was just too hard to work for,” he said, “and no amount of money would get me to stay.”

He found another job right away. Though his new one doesn’t pay as well, he likes his boss and feels appreciated. He now enjoys going to work. As a bonus, the hours don’t interfere with his school schedule or studying.

Times Have Changed

In a different era, his first boss’s management style would have worked. Yes, she would have churned through employees, but hiring a replacement wouldn’t have been an issue.

Times have changed. It seems every business today is in a hiring mode. They’ve upped their pay, improved their compensation plan, and lowered their expectations. But they still have trouble filling open slots, as well as keeping the employees they do have.

And I hear rumblings—and have personally witnessed it—that some of the employees they do have fall short of expectations and are less than the caliber they once hired.

The common solutions to filling open positions in a tight labor market are to pay more, improve benefits, and be more accommodating. These are good solutions, but a better approach may be to re-examine your management style.

Management Style

Quite succinctly, is your management style hurting your call center?

In thinking back to past jobs, I’ve had managers who were patient, and others who were demanding; some were kind, and others were tyrants; some were complimentary, and others were condemning. I liked some and feared others. And when it came to compensation, some were fair, and others were cheap.

For the good jobs with great bosses, I stayed with those companies for a long time, working until my situation or their need for me changed. For the other jobs with less-than-ideal bosses, I moved on as quickly as I could.

Each one of these was a learning opportunity, teaching me what to do and not to do when it came to supervising staff and leading people.

Managerial Impact

When I moved into management, I strived to be a fair boss and treat employees well—to be the kind of employer I wanted to work for.

Though I didn’t always succeed at meeting my goal, I know that most of the time I did. Some employees noticed this and even thanked me for it. And a few told me I was the best boss they ever had.

I’m not sure how my focus on being a desirable boss and worthy employer affected our turnover, but I do know I felt good about myself and the effort I put forth to make the operation a better place to work.

Take Action

If your call center is short-staffed and you can’t find enough qualified employees, despite paying more and offering more, the long-term solution may be to focus on the retention side of the equation.

Look at your management style. Seek changes that will allow you to have a more positive impact on your staff and lead them in a more effective way.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Sticky Series books, including Sticky Customer Service and Sticky Sales and Marketing, featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Common themes at every turn have included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.


The Only Constant is Change

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

As I look back, I see how things have changed. I have changed, my family has changed, technologies have changed, my business has changed, and the industries I work in have changed.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

In today’s business environment, a culture of change is essential for every organization. In my younger days, I would recommend change for the sheer fun of it. Now, older and wiser, I only advocate change when there is a real reason to do so.

For most people, change is difficult. Change takes something familiar and replaces it with something unknown. Each organization has people who are change-resistant. And each leader, manager, and supervisor knows exactly who these people are.

With such folks, their aversion to change varies from unspoken trepidation to being overtly confrontational. Regardless of the manifestation, we need to be compassionate, realizing that these reactions are merely their way of responding to fear—fear of the unknown.

To establish a change-oriented culture in our organizations, the first step is to minimize employee fears of change. Generally, employees can accept change if 1) the change is incremental and small, 2) they have a degree of input or control over the change, and 3) the change is clearly understood.

The key is communication. Address change head-on. For every change, employees wonder how it will affect them:

  • Could they lose their job?
  • Might their hours be cut?
  • Will they be asked to work harder than they already are?
  • Will they be made to do something unpleasant or distasteful?
  • What happens if they can’t learn the new skills?

These are all worries, worries about the unknown. As with most worries, the majority will never happen. But with a lack of reliable information and top-down assurances, these irrational worries take on a life all their own.

Successfully orchestrating change requires effective communication. Not once, but ongoing; not to key staff, but to all employees; not by one method, but by several: group meetings, written correspondence, and one-on-one discussions.

A true and effective open-door policy helps, too. Also, it is critical that a positive attitude is set, in the beginning, from the top of the organization, which never waivers. Celebrate milestones, generously thank staff along the way, and provide reasonable rewards at the end.

Successfully taking these steps will send a strong signal to the staff. Even though the change may still concern them, they will be comforted knowing they have accurate information and the assurance that they are safe and will be protected. And for each successful change, the next one becomes easier to bring about.

We will know we have successfully created a change-friendly organization when our employees—all of them—get bored with the status quo and begin seeking change on their own. They will ask for more challenging work, seek to expand their job, and want to add new technology.

At this point, the potential of our organizations becomes unlimited; the personal growth of our staff, unshackled; and the future, inviting. We don’t know what that future will entail, only that things will change for the better.

So, sit back and enjoy the ride, fully confident that the only constant changes.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Sticky Series books, including Sticky Customer Service and Sticky Sales and Marketing, featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Common themes at every turn have included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.


Finding a Good Manager

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

“I need to find a good manager.”

This statement is simple, and its occurrence too common. I’ve heard it many times over the years and have experienced it firsthand. Despite the straightforward nature of this basic need, its successful conclusion is anything but easy.

Quite simply, if you make the wrong selection the future of your organization is in jeopardy. It only takes a few months of bad management to undo years of work spent building a smooth functioning machine.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

The problem is that the downward spiral is seldom realized until the damage is done. By then, good employees have left, remaining staff is demoralized, longtime customers are gone, and cyberspace is abuzz.

Despite the careful vetting process, employment screens, interviews, background checks, and personal references, your handpicked manager – the golden child who would solve all your problems and make your job easy – has failed to meet expectations.

Once again you’re pressed into finding a good manager. The options before you are deceptively simple; there are only two: promote from within or hire from without.

Promote From Within

When you promote existing employees into management, there are several items working in your favor.

First, you know them and their work ethic. Next, they have already proven themselves, perhaps as a supervisor, a trainer, a star employee, or maybe all three. Third, they know your business; they will not need to be trained in how your organization operates. Last, they know the industry; they understand your company.

The downside is they seldom have management experience. This means management training will be required, followed by close supervision as they grow into their job. That will not happen quickly. Along the way, they will make mistakes. We hope the blunders will be minor and the successes will greatly outweigh the errors.

Hire From Without

The other approach is to hire an experienced manager. This solves all the issues surrounding management training. Yes, the new manager will still require some oversight in the beginning, but the time will be much shorter than for someone with no managerial experience.

The disadvantage of hiring from the outside is that you have no history together. You don’t know their work ethic or character, and they don’t know your business or your operation.

They will likely lack specific relevant experience and won’t understand your industry. And if they do have the needed industry expertise, you may be faced with needing to retrain them to fit your organization.

There is no easy approach when hiring a manager. There is a real art to it, but that’s what makes running a business or non-profit fun. After all, if anyone could do it, then everyone would!

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Sticky Series books, including Sticky Customer Service and Sticky Sales and Marketing, featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Common themes at every turn have included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.


A Different Perspective on Health Insurance

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

It happened again. It shouldn’t surprise me but it does. In fact, it has been said so often that most people believe it to be true and accept it as fact. What am I talking about? Once again, a politician has stood up and passionately, emphatically, and convincingly asserted that we, as citizens of the United States of America, have a right to healthcare.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Wait a minute, we have a right to healthcare? Is it in the Constitution? Is it listed in the Bill of Rights? No, healthcare is not a right, but asserting that it is serves as an effective rallying cry for those who feel under-insured.

People who do not enjoy this “right” imagine themselves as victims and in need of a champion to rescue them from their implied substandard existence. Who will rescue them? The very same politician who pointed out this grave injustice in the first place.

Political rhetoric aside, there are several other misunderstandings about health insurance, as well.

According to Webster’s, insurance is the “coverage by contract whereby one party undertakes to indemnify or guarantee against loss by a specified contingency or peril.” The key words here are “contingency or peril.” Let’s look at some examples.

I have insurance on my house that will replace it if it is destroyed or suffers major damage. Without insurance, losing a home would be a financially devastating hardship. My homeowner’s policy doesn’t cover repairs or maintenance; those are things I can afford to pay myself.

My cars are insured as well. When they are new, I have full coverage in the event of a major accident. The thought of needing to unexpectedly shell out tens of thousands of dollars to replace a car is sufficient justification to pay for premiums with full coverage.

If people had the same expectations of their car insurance as they do for their medical insurance, here is how it might work. First, there would be a five dollar co-pay for gasoline. It wouldn’t matter if the tank were half-full or empty; the cost of a fill up would be five dollars.

This would provide little incentive to buy fuel-efficient vehicles—we would merely want cars with bigger gas tanks! Oil changes would probably not be covered, but that’s okay. Just skip the oil changes and when the engine seizes up, there’s nothing to worry about, because engine replacement is covered.

If you hadn’t reached your deductible, you might need to pay twenty percent of the “reasonable and expected” charges for an engine rebuild, but that’s all. Then there are tires. Your policy would pay to have tires replaced every two years.

It wouldn’t matter if you needed tires or not. So even though there is still usable tread on them, you have them replaced—insurance will pay for them.

Of course, if one of these new tires has a blow out before the two years are up, then you’re out of luck—and you get mad at your insurance company. What about the cost to keep that old beloved car running?

Not a problem, insurance covers it. Never mind that the parts are no longer being manufactured, hard to find, and expensive. Insurance will pick up the tab. The downsides to this incredulous scenario are that there will be lots of paperwork and you can only go to mechanics that are “part of the system.”

“Wait,” you say, “Cars are not people.” You’re right. They’re not. So, let’s talk life insurance. I want my family taken care of in the event I die unexpectedly. This sounds simple, but there is a decision to be made as to just how well I want them to be provided for.

The first reaction is that my family should be totally and completely taken care of—forever. Let’s see, that will be a policy for a gazillion dollars and the monthly payment will be…slightly more than my take-home pay.

Okay then, how about if they are partially taken care of but still need to work. Now the monthly insurance payment drops but is still too high. Okay, how much insurance can I get for fifty bucks a month? I’ll take it!

So insuring our lives is reduced to an economic decision, a cost-benefit calculation. If the tendency is to focus on the expense of life insurance, rather then the benefit, why not do the same for medical insurance?

Back when companies paid all their employees’ health insurance premiums, we, the insured, didn’t care about—or even consider—the cost of that benefit. But as premiums skyrocketed, companies began shifting some of that cost to employees.

This should have driven home the financial cost of company-provided health insurance, but for far too many employees it didn’t. Over the years, I’ve had employees come to me with this common lament about their health insurance: “I didn’t even get back as much as I put in!”

Health insurance isn’t like the lottery. The expectation of receiving more than you paid is simply ludicrous. Yet, for some reason, many people view their health insurance with such a mindset.

I submit they don’t think that way about their auto or home insurance, and certainly not their life insurance. Personally, each time that I write a check from the premium for my car, house, or life insurance, I am thankful that I didn’t need to use it!

What many workers don’t realize is that insurance companies are in the business to make money. Even non-profit insurance companies have to have this attitude. How do they make money?

Quite simply, their income (that is, the insurance premiums you pay) needs to exceed their expenses (that is, the claims they pay and overhead). That means, on average, no one is going to “get back as much as they put in.”

If they do, the insurance company has lost money on them. If the insurance company losses money on too many people, or for too long, they either go out of business or must dramatically raise rates.

Once we recognize the economic aspects of insurance (the cost-benefit perspective), are cognizant of the insurance business model (to make money), and jettison wrong expectations (getting more than we put in), we can move forward with an attitude that health insurance should cover the “big” things and we should take care of the rest.

Therefore, I want a policy that will cover a major surgery, a catastrophic illness, and prolonged treatments. I want to, and should be able to, cover the rest. But how can I do that?

Incredibly, the government has a solution! It starts with a high-deductible health plan. High-deductible means much lower premiums. This addresses concerns of catastrophic illnesses and bills that would result in financial ruin.

My own health plan deductible is $7,500. That means I am on my own to cover most, if not all, of my family’s medical expenses. This brings up the second aspect, a health savings account (HSA). An HSA lets me set aside money, tax-free, for medical expenses. This money can generate a return, which is also tax-free, and when I use the money for medical expenses, it is again tax-free.

With the high-deductible medical insurance combined with a health savings account, I have taken control of my medical costs and saved money. I make decisions for how and when money will be spent on medical procedures, just like every other expense I consider—on the cost-benefit of the transaction.

Lest you become aghast at me turning health considerations into a dollar sign, let me remind you that every other purchase is treated that way. So why not medical costs, too? After all, what we eat has a great bearing on our health, but it is common to bypass healthy and advisable foods based solely on their cost.

We buy life insurance not by how much we need, but by what we can afford. The place we live and the car we drive, both of which can have health ramifications, are again based on cost.

Originally, high-deductible health insurance plans and HSAs were intended for the self-employed, but they have been expanded to include small businesses.

We have an opportunity to adapt a new attitude and take control of rising medical costs; let’s do so.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Sticky Series books, including Sticky Customer Service and Sticky Sales and Marketing, featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Common themes at every turn have included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.


Bombay Calling

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

I recently stumbled onto a TV program entitled Bombay Calling. It was about an offshore call center, providing a compelling exposé of an India-based outsourcing call center and the people who worked there. In a gripping documentary style, it showed both the good and the bad in offshore call centers.

Just as proponents of offshoring would find plenty to celebrate, opponents would likewise be encouraged. I was both mesmerized and saddened by what I saw.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Although I have been privileged to visit many call centers in the United States, I have not had the opportunity to tour an offshore operation. Through the eye of the camera, I was fascinated to witness a call center in a culture for which I was not too familiar, functioning in a manner that was very familiar.

I was pleasantly surprised to see many of the same call center conventions repeated in this overseas operation (with only a few adaptations to accommodate culture). I was greatly encouraged with the bright-eyed, enthusiastic workforce, their can-do spirit, and an optimistic outlook. How wonderful it would be to have a call center—regardless of location—filled with reps like these; but, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The show begins by introducing us to Kaz Lalani. Not only does he outsource calls to Bombay, India, but he also operates call centers in other countries. Kaz boasts that his Indian reps have a strong work ethic.

They try hard and really care—unlike agents in Britain, he states (which is where this outbound campaign is targeted). His experience with British agents was not positive.

He says they don’t want to work and are always watching the clock, leaving the moment their scheduled shift is over. Not so with their Indian counterparts, who work hard and eagerly stay late when needed.

There is an air of joyous excitement and capable confidence among the agents. The call center is filled with hard-working, fun-loving staff who enjoy their co-workers, their jobs, and the work they do.

Staff interviews reveal why. “It’s a great job, for good pay,” states one agent, “even for an undergrad.” Another boasts that he makes more than his girlfriend—even though she has a graduate degree. A third employee dropped out of engineering school for the express purpose of pursuing a call center career.

As astounding as all this seems, the average starting pay for a call center agent in Bombay was reported to be more that four times the average Indian income. This is why young people to leave rural areas for call center work in Bombay.

This does cause some angst, both for parents—who lament a loss of tradition—and their children—who must adapt to city life without the nearby help of family. Nevertheless, there is a general acquiescence to the situation.

Several of the agents send money back home, pay bills for their parents, or do things to increase the standard of living for their family; all of which is made possible by their call center jobs.

With even more call centers opening in Bombay, these agents are acutely aware of the great demand for their English-speaking skills. They perceive this ability as their unrestricted ticket to opportunity and success.

A paradoxical aside is that the show’s producers occasionally resorted to subtitles for some of their English-speaking interviewees—a necessary decision, which, by my reckoning, was not made often enough.

Eight months later, the call center is hurriedly expanding. They are calling Australia (first shift) and the U.K. (second shift). Some reps have been promoted to training, supervisory, and QA positions. However, the dark-side of their sharp rise in income is beginning to show.

One rep proudly admits that he has become materialistic; another longs for more time to spend with his wife and child; a third wants to leave the call center, but can’t—he has become accustomed to his new standard of living.

Many of the reps are now complaining about the stress of the job—and they turn to partying and alcohol—every night—to dull the pain.

With the rapid expansion, not all of the new hires are ideal and some do not work out; sales numbers plummet. Some reps aren’t concerned—they’ll just go to another center; others are worried, but at a loss what to do.

One once-confident rep has lost his swagger—he has gone two days without a sale—and has a shell-shocked glaze.

This call center is no longer producing like it used to—or like the others ones in the network. An ultimatum is given. Some agents are sent to retraining, others are terminated. The call center is now a somber and dreary place.

A pall hangs over the cubicles; the optimism is gone. Eventually the operation is scaled back to 25 agents—some of the agents we met survive the cuts, others do not. Kaz turns his concentration to other call centers.

In Bombay, call center work is truly changing the lives of it’s agents—for better and for worse.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Sticky Series books, including Sticky Customer Service and Sticky Sales and Marketing, featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Common themes at every turn have included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.