Categories
Telephone Answering Service

8 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Running a Telephone Answering Service

Don’t Let the Day-to-Day Pressures of Running Your TAS Push Aside What Matters More

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Running a telephone answering service is a challenging proposition. It seems there’s always too much to do and not enough time to do it.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Therefore, it’s understandable when the day ends before you complete your to-do-list. But that’s not justification for making these common TAS mistakes.

1. Training Shortfalls

It’s critical to get new hires answering calls and productive as soon as possible. Yet too often the temptation is to rush through training. Don’t do this. It’s short sighted. Instead provide thorough agent training to ensure they’re ready to handle client calls efficiently and professionally.

2. Inconsistent Processes

Review your standard operating procedures (SOP). Efficiency requires consistent handling and processing of client calls. Every deviation is a chance for an error to occur. Having standard processes in place helps ensure consistency and accuracy in the way calls are handled.

3. Overlooking Basic Agent Skills

Don’t forget the importance of call etiquette and customer service skills. It’s the foundation for providing a good service and having satisfied callers. This starts with standard communication skills and proper call etiquette. This is an essential step to provide a positive experience for callers.

4. Aversion to Technology

Another common mistake is overlooking the importance of technology. This doesn’t mean you need the latest, leading-edge tools in your answering service. But don’t skimp in this area either.

Keep abreast of the latest developments to determine the right time to invest in technology. With the right infrastructure in place, you’ll increase agent efficiency and enhance customer service outcomes.

This will provide a better overall service experience.

5. Ignoring Data

Answering service platforms are known for all the statistics they produce. It’s easy to let all the numbers and quantitative output overwhelm you. Yet the other extreme is spending too much time dwelling on these statistics.

It is essential, however, to monitor and analyze call data. There are three areas to address: agent metrics, client results, and overall system performance. Don’t neglect any of these areas.

Use the data to make informed decisions to improve outcomes.

6. Withholding Feedback

Ensure that your agents know how they’re doing. Most of them want to do their job well and are looking for ways to improve. And if they don’t want to improve, why are you employing them?

Give them regular feedback on their performance. This includes both quantitative results and qualitative coaching. By providing ongoing feedback and coaching you will improve staff performance and enhance service quality.

7. Not Prioritizing the Client

The function of a telephone answering service is to answer calls. Therefore, it’s easy to focus on the calls that come into your operation.

While you don’t want to overlook these callers, remember that it’s ultimately your clients you must keep happy. Focus on them.

Yes, this starts with keeping their customers happy when they call and serving them with excellence. But, as you delight clients’ customers when they call, it’s possible to overlook your clients in the process.

8. No Contingency Plans

A final consideration is to plan for the unexpected. Have a backup plan in place to address unexpected events such as technical problems, staffing shortages, weather issues, natural disasters, local emergencies, and pandemics.

Not having an adequate response during a crisis will damage your reputation, frustrate clients, and not serve your clients’ customers.

Conclusion

Though these eight common TAS mistakes may seem like a formidable list of items to deal with—amid the day-to-day challenges of running your operation—it’s essential to make time to address them,

A failure to do so will damage your bottom line and jeopardize the long-term viability of your telephone answering service. Your job—and the jobs of everyone who works there—are at stake.

Address these common TAS mistakes, and you’ll see much of the rest fall into place.

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

Measuring Success in Healthcare Contact Centers

Top Metrics for Evaluating Performance and Efficacy

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Call centers have been around for decades, and the industry has an established set of proven metrics to measure overall performance and outcomes.

Let’s take a moment to review some of these top call center metrics to use in measuring success. Then consider how they apply to non-call interactions too.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

We’ll look at three categories of metrics: patient centric, agent performance, and scheduling, with three key considerations in each category.

Patient Centric Metrics

First Call Resolution: FCR or First Call Resolution measures the percentage of inquiries that are resolved on the first contact. No patient wants to call back and no agent wants to receive those calls. Do it right the first time.

That’s what matters most, especially in healthcare where patient frustration levels are increasing and not decreasing. Now take this concept and apply it to all your other contact channels.

Abandonment Rate: Another patient-focused metric is abandonment rate. It looks at the percentage of callers who give up before speaking to an agent.

They hang up in frustration because the agent takes longer than they expect. A low abandonment rate signals better customer service performance.

Just as with FCR, give the same attention to your abandonment rate on your text chat channel and with any other real-time interactions.

Customer Satisfaction: C-SAT, which stands for Customer Satisfaction, seeks to quantify patients’ overall satisfaction level after they interact with you.

It can be measured through post-call surveys to assess the overall customer experience. This works equally well regardless of the communication channel used.

A key consideration, however, is to not ask too soon.

For example, a C-SAT survey tacked on to the end of a call often asks for feedback before the patient can give an informed answer. When this occurs, they’ll guess, but you’ll never know.

Agent Performance Metrics

Average Handle Time: AHT measures the average time for an agent to handle a call, from start to finish. This includes agent talk time, hold time, and post-call work.

A low AHT suggests an efficient operation, but balance this with maintaining your patient-centric metrics, as a too low AHT will increase patient frustration.

Average Speed of Answer: ASA looks at the average time agents take to answer calls. A lower ASA reflects better call center efficiency and more satisfied callers.

Quality Assurance: QA evaluations measure the quality of patient-agent interaction. This may be done by a person or automated through technology.

Keep in mind that this occurs independent of the patient and merely addresses what the call center thinks is important to the patient.

Schedule Metrics

Adherence: This metric confirms how well agents follow their schedule. Full adherence ensures agents are present when they’re supposed to be.

Occupancy: Occupancy tracks the percentage of time agents spend handling calls and patient-related activities. It looks at work time versus idle time.

Strive to keep agents comfortably busy without overwhelming them, which only leads to burnout.

Availability: This stat measures how much of the time agents are ready, or available, to interact with patients and callers.

Agent availability is within the control of agents, determined by their willingness to be ready to communicate with patients.

Measuring Success Conclusion

Review these nine standard call center metrics and consider which ones you need to give more attention to. Then determine how to apply these concepts to all your communication channels.

This is the best way to help you in measuring success.

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.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Is Your Call Center Centralized?

A Decentralized Call Center Is an Oxymoron

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

In the early days of our industry, the label call center fit perfectly. We handled calls from a central location. This was necessitated by the platform we used, which we installed in our office. It consisted of physical hardware to switch calls and network our computers.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Centralized

The physical limitations of our call center equipment required that all agent stations be onsite. It was impractical, if not impossible, to connect an offsite workstation.

Because of this configuration, both our practices and management styles emerged from the idea of everyone working as a team from a centralized operations room.

Though calls could originate from anywhere, they all ended up in one place. Our staff handled them with ease and effectiveness. It was efficient and easy to manage.

Multilocation

With the advent of the internet, it became possible to connect a second location to the centralized telephone platform. Though the offsite agent experience was often not as fast or as reliable as its onsite counterpart, it did, nonetheless, allow for the first wave of a decentralized call center to occur.

This simple change, however, revealed some weaknesses in how we did business.

First, managing staff in two locations required a different management style. The informal—yet proven—management-by-walking-around approach was great in a centralized environment.

Yet not being able to be in two places at once, the manager effectively ignored the staff at the other location. Though some employees worked well without direct in-person oversight, others did not. Too often quality struggled and productivity dropped.

The other issue was out of sight, out of mind. Leaving a box of donuts in the break room as a “thank you” to the staff, dismissed the employees at the second location.

The proven communication technique of posting notices on a physical bulletin board ignored staff at the second site.

And holding an office potluck became more problematic, resulting in further division as opposed to enhancing comradery. Too often, an us-versus-them mentality emerged between two sparring locations.

Yet over time, wise managers adjusted their management style and operational practices to equally embrace employees at both locations.

Home Based

As hosted systems, also called SaaS (Software as a Service), became available, the longstanding dream of many a manager at last became a viable reality.

What was this grand vision? A truly distributed workforce where every employee could work at a different location, such as their own home. In truth, any location with a stable internet connection could become an effective remote agent station.

Though some resisted this opportunity, citing HIPAA and data security concerns, others already had procedures in place to effectively deal with this. And when the pandemic hit, forcing many call centers to close or pivot, some easily switched to a 100 percent home-based operation.

Hybrid

Though some call centers today continue to operate solely in one of these three operational models, most take a hybrid approach.

In this fully decentralized call center model, some staff work in a central office, other employees operate from a second location, and still others work from their home offices. This allows for the greatest efficiency and flexibility.

In this way, our operation benefits, our organization benefits, and our patients and callers benefit. Having a distributed operation is an ideal situation, even if we still refer to it as a call center.

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.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Call Center Stakeholder Integration

Connect with Critical Groups Who Often Go Overlooked

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

As we wrap up our five-part series, Integrate Your Call Center, our fourth consideration is stakeholder integration. (If you want to review, the other three are Integrate Your Call Center Staff, Integrate Your Call Center Tools, and Integrate with Your Organization.)

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

When we integrate our call center with our stakeholders, this means a better information flow between you and other groups that are ancillary to the call center but also integral to success. Here are some items to consider when it comes to integrating with your stakeholders.

Vendors

First up for stakeholder integration is your vendors and suppliers. They are critical to your call center success, so it’s critical to have a good relationship with them. I’ve been on both sides of adversarial vendor-call center relationships, and the results are never good. For this reason, I always strive for mutually supportive, win-win interactions.

When you lift your vendors up, they’ll lift you up. And if you tear your vendors down, your operation is apt to suffer as a result. Seek interactions and solutions that are in your mutual self-interest. Your positivity will be rewarded.

And when difficulties arise—which they invariably will—seek to work with your vendors to find a solution rather than harass or threaten them. Remember, patience goes both ways.

Investors

Whether you’re part of a for-profit or nonprofit organization, someone has invested money in your operation, and they expect a return on that investment (ROI). If the call center fails to provide the return they expect, they’ll close it down and outsource the work. In a worst-case scenario, the organization will go out of business and close their doors. Either way, all those calls center jobs will be lost.

Yes, it’s the owners of your operation that control the purse strings. They are the ones who can say no to your funding requests. But they are not your enemy, so it’s important to have a good working relationship with them.

Call center investors and owners are the second source of stakeholder integration.

Staff

We’ve already talked about the importance of cross training when it comes to integrating your staff, yet call center employees are also stakeholders. They can be appreciative of their employers or hostile towards them. While this is a choice they decide, management plays a critical role in how well they’re integrated into the mission of the organization.

Key elements include their compensation package, managerial support, and how appreciated they feel for the work they do. Other areas are scheduling, workload, and a sense of a shared vision.

If they’re unhappy they’ll vent their frustrations with their coworkers, their family and friends, and potentially everyone who calls. Since they talk to a lot of people every day, a disgruntled telephone agent can harm your brand and hamper your objectives in quick order.

Thankfully, the opposite is also true. When they’re treated right, they’re much more apt to be happy and satisfied with their work. Then they’ll likewise let other people know, and their work will show it.

Conclusion

When it comes to making your call center the best it can be, be sure to include your stakeholders and integrate them into your operation. Though these groups often go overlooked, they are critical to your success. Don’t overlook stakeholder integration.

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.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Integrate with Your Organization

Don’t Stay in Your Silo or Function in Isolation

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

I once needed to call a company in the healthcare sector. With their call center I encountered long wait times, surly representatives, and little help in resolving my dilemma. I made many unsuccessful phone calls.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

At last, one rep transferred me to a different department. My experience with that call center was the opposite of the first one.

The employee answered quickly, was cheerful, and offered help. In one phone call, lasting but a couple of minutes, she resolved my concern. I thanked her for her helpful resolution and remarked how difficult it was to get to her department.

Her response took me aback.

“No one knows we exist,” she laughed. “We’re our company’s best kept secret.”

It seems she worked in a silo within her organization. Her silo functioned wonderfully, in contrast to the organization’s primary call center. What made the difference? I assume it was management, but that’s a topic for another time.

Today’s discussion is about integrating your call center with the rest of your organization.

It’s Us Instead of Them

When you integrate with your organization you move away from the mindset of us referring to the call center and them referring to the rest of the organization.

Instead, everyone in the company becomes us.

Making this mental switch is key. Without it, any plans to integrate with your organization will not succeed. Embracing a holistic us mentality is the first step to successfully integrate with your organization.

It’s Focusing on Others Instead of Self

As you make this mindset shift, you also shift your focus. By redefining us to include the entire organization, you encompass a greater set of employees who can band together to serve patients and callers. Isn’t that why your organization exists? To help patients and callers? To best accomplish this the focus must be on callers and what you can do—with your whole company behind you—to best address their concerns or needs.

It’s a Team Approach

This reformed focus embraces a team approach to problem solving. The goal isn’t to make yourself look good or even your whole department. The goal is to work as a team to make your organization look good. When you do this you and your company win, and—more importantly —so do your patients and callers.

Implementation

This grand vision to integrate with your organization is easier to visualize than to realize.

Though you can start it from within your call center, it will take time to permeate through your entire organization. It’s easier when the initiative comes from the C-suite. And, of course, some managers will resist this change. But this reveals their selfishness.

They’re more concerned about maintaining the status quo than about what’s best for the organization and your customers.

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.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Do Video Calls Have a Place in Your Contact Center?

Examine the Benefits and Disadvantages of Video Calling

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

For years, some call center managers have looked forward to having video capability in their call centers. Others weren’t so open to video calls. And most agents have opposed it as well.

Yet the past few years have prepared us, even conditioned us, to participate in video communication.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

If you don’t already have video in your call center or are moving in that direction, now might be the right time to explore it more seriously.

The Benefits of Video

There are three components to our communication: words, vocal, and nonverbal. The words we use comprise only 7 percent of our communication. Our tone of voice and inflection account for another 38 percent. The remaining 55 percent is nonverbal; it’s our body language.

In a typical call center, agents can only use words and vocal components to communicate with callers. This totals 45 percent, not being able to tap into the remaining 55 percent nonverbal component.

Video calls add this nonverbal component into the mix, allowing for all 100 percent of communication to occur. The result is enhanced interaction, more effective information exchange, and easier rapport building. These combine to improve customer service, which results in happier callers, less miscommunication, and fewer callbacks.

An added benefit in the healthcare industry is the ability to see patients online, which can be a huge benefit, especially in telephone triage.

The Disadvantages of Video

Despite all the upsides to video calls, there are some downsides as well.

Employees opt for call center work for assorted reasons. A common one is that they want to avoid in-person interaction with the public. This may be due to appearance, low self-confidence, or social anxiety. They feel safe and competent over the telephone, whereas they would struggle with in-person scenarios. Adding video to the call center removes that safety net.

Other agents may feel uncomfortable in front of the camera, not have a personality that works with video, or lack the appearance needed for successful visual communication.

In all these situations, forcing an employee to accept video as part of their work may alienate them and cause them to resign.

Preparing for Video Calls

Here are some tips to successfully implement video in your call center:

  • Make it optional for existing employees: Allow them to opt out if they’re uncomfortable. Don’t penalize them for this.
  • Provide training: Though most employees know how to use a camera—from both a technical and practical standpoint—not all will. Offer instruction as needed.
  • Review your dress code: Some call centers have a relaxed dress code or no dress code, reasoning that when you’re talking on the phone it doesn’t matter what you look like. This goes away with video. Make sure video agents look presentable and act professional.
  • Update your documentation: Make sure your employee handbook, policies, and written expectations reflect video calling and the use of cameras in your call center.
  • Hire new employees for video: Screen applicants and hire staff with the expectation of video.

With these elements in place, you’re ready to move forward with video calls in your contact center. May you enjoy the process and realize success.

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.

Categories
Telephone Answering Service

TAS Staffing Lessons from Restaurants

Tips to Finding Qualified Staff for Your Telephone Answering Service

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Finding qualified staff for telephone answering services has always been challenging, but it may be more of a struggle now than ever before. Interestingly, we can gain insights from the food services industry.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

Before you dismiss the idea, consider that the goal at both restaurants and answering services is to serve people. Also, both industries often tap the same labor pool. What applies to one, readily applies to the other.

Three Categories

My recent experience at restaurants is most illuminating. They fit into three categories.

1. The first are restaurants with quality staff that provide exceptional service.

2. Next are those restaurants whose hiring choices have noticeably slipped in recent years, and their service reflects it.

3. Third are those restaurants who can’t find enough employees and have scaled back their hours or streamlined their menu and options accordingly.

Which staffing scenario best describes your answering service situation?

1. Successful Models to Follow

Restaurants in the first category—those with quality staff who provide excellent service—have several things in common. First, they have modern, well-maintained facilities. Their pride in their operation shows.

Next, they have accomplished managers and supervisors backed by finely-honed procedures.

Third, they offer better compensation packages. These restaurants don’t have “help wanted” appeals hanging in their windows or on their signage. And they have not needed to lower their expectations or hiring criteria to find quality employees.

People want to work for them.

2. Lowered Expectations and Struggling

Restaurants in the second category—those who have lowered their staffing expectations—also have several things in common. Their facilities are acceptable but not much more. They’re not as clean as they once were; areas of neglect are apparent.

Management and supervision are also lacking, seemingly from decreased expectations and accountability. They have “help wanted” ads in their windows, door, and signage. And they don’t pay as much and offer fewer benefits.

3. Essentially Giving Up

Restaurants in the third category—those who scaled back to address their inability to hire staff—are harder to comprehend. The one thing I can identify them having in common is that they seem to have given up finding enough reliable staff.

They act as though being short-staffed is inevitable, and they expect their clientele to deal with it.

One quick serve restaurant I used to frequent will only open their dining room if enough people show up to work. Else they lock their doors and expect everyone to use their drive through. As for me, I just drive to the restaurant down the street.

Another area restaurant struggled for months in a downward spiral of being understaffed, having inconsistent hours, and providing inferior quality food and sub-par dining experiences.

They let all their staff and supervision go, starting over with all new employees. These new hires—who I suspect are being paid more—have restored the level of service that this restaurant once offered.

If you lament the poor-quality applicants you receive and struggle to staff as you once did, the problem may not be with the available workforce. As hard as it is to say, the problem may be an internal issue.

Action Step

Don’t blame the worker pool when the problem may be internal.

Look at your facility, your management and supervision, and your processes. Once these are as good as you can make them, address your compensation package.

These elements all work together to bring in the workforce you need to best run your telephone answering service.

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
Call Center

Artificial Intelligence in the Call Center

3 Responses to Using AI to Serve Customers

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Predictions about the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) have been with us for decades. But until recently they only showed up in science fiction books and movies—usually with dire results. Such is the basis for good fiction.

Yet in recent months, advances in artificial intelligence have surged forward, reaching into every industry, including the call center and customer service sphere. With AI, just as with any technological advancement, there are three responses.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

Ignore It and Maybe It Will Go Away

The first reaction, which is really a nonreaction, is to dismiss it. Maybe you’re already sick of the hype or maybe you’re not aware of it. Yet assuming a computer algorithm has no place in your call center is not a wise conclusion to make.

The risk of this approach is getting left behind. You will find—likely in short order—your call center operation and your company competing with others who have thoughtfully integrated artificial intelligence into their operation.

They will serve customers in a way you cannot and save money you’re not able to.

Gung Ho Adoption

The second response is the opposite. It’s to go full speed ahead in adopting artificial intelligence technology for the call center. Yet this is also fraught with peril.

The news is filled with artificial intelligence going awry. In recent months, companies have been publicly embarrassed and their stock has taken a hit, not because of human error (at least not directly) but because of computer error.

These occurred from AI applications running unchecked and without restraint.

If you’ve ever used text chat to submit a customer service request, you’ve likely interacted with a chat bot, which is an artificial intelligence application. In my experience they’re unlikely to solve my problem, but usually they collect some preliminary information and route me to a real person who can help.

Yet just recently, a chat bot took me down the wrong path, leaving me with two unacceptable options: agree that the chatbot had solved my problem or pay to upgrade my service. End of discussion. But it wouldn’t allow me to start a new chat session until I concluded the first one by picking either of its two unsatisfactory answers.

I also think artificial intelligence was involved in a recent near-miss with an email support effort. I had submitted a service ticket, but a couple hours later I figured out the solution on my own. I sent a follow up email to cancel the ticket.

The response told me how to cancel my service with the company. This may have been a human error by an agent who scanned and didn’t read my email, but I suspect it was artificial intelligence which responded wrongly to the word cancel.

Fortunately, the AI bot didn’t take the initiative to close my account.

Imagine seeing these examples extended to telephone calls at your call center. Yet it’s already happening.

I recently read a report of artificial intelligence telling human agents how the solve customer problems and what to say. The AI then grades the agent on compliance, penalizing agents who use common sense to override the AI’s bad guidance.

Then the common excuse of “I was just following orders,” becomes “I was just doing what the computer told me to.” May it never be.

Cautious Implementation

The third response—the one I recommend—is a balanced perspective. Investigate the use of artificial intelligence in your call center operation. Make an informed decision as to how to best use it. The wise application is to implement artificial intelligence to better serve customers.

Don’t pursue AI merely to save money, even though this should emerge as an expected outcome.

Seek ways where artificial intelligence can make your agents’ jobs easier. Look for ways where AI can help your human staff better serve your human customers. A guiding principle in this is to keep AI in an advisory capacity.

Give your agents final say. They should be able to control the AI, not have the AI control them.

As you appropriately implement artificial intelligence in your call center, the goal should be to offer better customer service, improve response times, and lower payroll costs. But don’t look for AI to replace your staff anytime soon.

And my advice is to resist the urge to blindly implement AI, lest you end up with a public relations nightmare, lost business, and a decrease in new customer acquisitions, all through AI run amok.

AI Conclusion

A good baseline requirement to guide your use of artificial intelligence in the call center is to empower your agents to control it, not let AI replace the common sense and empathetic problem-solving ability of real people.

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

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Integrate Your Call Center

Facilitate Better Communication and Connectivity Within and Outside Your Operation

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

With the staffing challenges that most every healthcare call center faces, it’s more critical now than ever to optimize your operation for greater effectiveness and increased efficiency. One way to do this is to integrate your call center.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

Let’s consider some ways for enhanced contact center integration.

Integrate Your Staffing

To integrate your call center staffing is essentially a move from specialists to generalists. This means cross training. It includes both cross training on types of contacts (such as give information, transfer calls, take messages, schedule appointments, and so forth) and channels (such as phone, text, email, and social).

Granted, you may have some areas where cross training doesn’t make sense, but these should be rare exceptions and not the norm.

Cross training improves operational efficiency, increases employee skill level, and better serves patients and callers. Cross training also moves your operation closer to FCR (first call resolution), which produces both caller-centric and center-centric results.

Integrate Your Tools

How often do your employees need to rekey information? Ideally the answer is never. Yet reality falls short of this ideal. Not only is re-entering data time consuming, but it’s also error prone. And although a cut-and-paste transfer helps in both areas, it’s not a solution but more of a shortcut.

Related to this in integrating your auto-attendant with your agent screens. Making an agent ask in person for information the caller has already shared electronically wastes agent time and infuriates callers.

The simple solution is to integrate your call center technology and smartly avoid this needless duplication.

Integrate with Your Organization

Next is to integrate your call center operation with other departments or divisions within your organization. Move from an us-versus-them mentality to a holistic we-and-us team approach. Seek proverbial win-win outcomes as opposed to clinging to a win-lose mindset.

This may be the most challenging integration initiative as it requires a shared perspective to reach a mutually beneficial result. Without having a common goal, the altruistic call center manager can fall victim to the me-first mentality of a predatory counterpart.

Integrate with Your Stakeholders

The final consideration is to integrate your call center with your stakeholders. For the inhouse call center, this means a better information flow between you and other departments, such as marketing. For the outsourcing operation, this means a better data exchange between you and your clients.

Also don’t overlook your staff. Seek to better integrate with them and their needs. Look at schedule development and posting, performance reviews, and handling the compensation aspects of their work. This integration is even more critical now in face of a worker shortage. Although your primary stakeholders are those you serve, without your staff, you’d have no chance to serve them.

Conclusion

Pursue integration initiatives to make your call center operation be more effective and a nicer, saner place to work.

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.

Categories
Telephone Answering Service

Conduct a Year-End Review

To Know Where You’re Headed You Must First Determine Where You Are

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Year end is an especially busy time at most telephone answering services, but that’s not an excuse to focus strictly on the present and stop thinking about the future. In fact, December is an ideal time to give some thought to where you are and to what lies ahead so that you can prepare for next year. It starts when you conduct a year end review.

If you don’t know where you are, it’s impossible to get to where you want to be. Take some time now to evaluate your current situation. This will form the basis to move forward with intentionality next year. Here are some things to assess.

Staff

Let’s start your year end review with a look at the backbone of your answering service, your employees. They make you shine, but they can also produce problems, affecting your clients, the schedule, and overall profitability. In short, they can make or break your business. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Telephone Staff: Do you have enough frontline employees to answer phone calls? Don’t worry (too much) if your answer is no; you’re in good company. This fact, however, provides you with an opportunity for improvement.
  • Staffing Model: Do you have a centralized workforce, a distributed one, or a hybrid plan? What elements of this works for you? Which ones do not? What needs to change?
  • Turnover Rate: Do you struggle to achieve an acceptable turnover rate? Regardless of where you’re at now, what steps do you need to take to lower it?
  • Operator Quality: Are you producing the quality service you aspire to offer and that your clients expect? Can you quantify your answer, or is it wishful thinking?
  • Non-Operations Staff: Do you have adequate management and support personnel? In addition to operations, look at accounting, sales, marketing, and technical roles, as well as administration. Consider your strongest areas and weakest. How can you keep your top employees? How can you best help those who struggle?
  • Yourself: Do you have adequate time to address what’s most essential for your answering service’s long-term viability? Or do you spend too much time putting out fires and handling day-to-day minutia? What steps can you take to be the leader your answering service needs?

Vendors

Your software and equipment provider is a critical element of your operation’s success. Leading vendors strive to enhance their offerings every year, providing new capabilities and value-added opportunities.

Look at your annual expenses to use their products. This includes one-time charges, ongoing costs, and leases. Is the vendor easy to work with? Do they provide you with what you need to achieve your goals? How is their tech support?

And if your vendor isn’t providing what you need or keeping pace with the industry, consider what you can do to help them achieve the results you want. Work with them, not against them. Changing vendors is the last thing anyone wants to do, so your first goal should be to make the best of what you have.

Industry Developments

Here are some common answering service industry trends to consider:

  • Consolidation: The industry continues to consolidate. This produces an opportunity to sell. It also provides niche markets that nimble, smaller players can capture.
  • Competition: At the same time, the remaining operations encounter increased competition in a national and even international marketplace. How can you make your service stand out?
  • Labor Market: Coupled with these two items is that most services have recently experienced an unprecedented challenge in hiring qualified employees and keeping them. Successfully addressing this dilemma could provide the biggest boost to your operation.
  • Technology: The next consideration is technology, which allows you to do more and to do it more easily, but it comes at the cost of a greater investment, coupled with increased configuration complexities.

What else would you add to this list of industry trends?

Marketplace Opportunities

You compete in a national market, but you exist in a local one. What can you do to rise above other providers around the country? What can you do to distinguish yourself in your local marketplace?

Financial Situation

For the final element of your year end review, look at the money side of your answering service. Two common items to address are increasing the money coming in and decreasing the money going out. Another item is access to capital, along with building up reserve fund.

Moving Forward

Don’t attempt to tackle this lengthy list of a year end review all at once. Work on it over time, adding to it and fine-tuning it as you go. As you move toward the completion of this effort, a strategy to move forward will emerge.

Use this as your plan for next year. May it be your best one yet.

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.