Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Celebrate Medical Call Center Agents

Look for Ways to Applaud Customer Service and Patient Care Excellence

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Working in a call center is challenging. Working in a medical call center is even harder, especially given what we’ve had to deal with in the past couple of years. The result has been rapid changes, often in quick succession, trying to adapt to an ever- moving set of expectations and criteria. Perhaps never before have call centers had to push so hard and to do so much for so long.

Throughout this all, the venerable call center agent adapts, presses through, and produces success in some of the most challenging situations. Here are areas where you can applaud the work of your medical call center agents.

Celebrate Customer Service Success

What some might see as a day-to-day grind and a call-by-call repetition, astute call center agents see as a continual set of opportunities to provide customer service excellence. Acknowledge your leading agents who have this attitude. Strive to catch them doing something right and celebrate their outstanding work. Do this in public and in private.

Celebrate Patient Care Excellence

Medical call center agents play a key—but frequently unrecognized—role in the patient-care continuum. They often stand as a patient’s or future patient’s first point of contact, smoothly ushering them into the organization’s healthcare system. And in growing instances, these same agents serve as a concluding point of contact as the patient wraps up a specific healthcare incident. And sometimes, the agents serve critical functions throughout the provision of healthcare to maintain or facilitate forward progress for both patient and provider.

Your agents do this so often—providing critical links in the provision of patient care excellence—that they may not even realize it. Let them see the value they have in fulfilling your organization’s goal of successfully providing healthcare services to your patients. Allow them to relish their role in your patient’s health and in your organization’s overall accomplishments. Know that this will encourage them in their too-often-underappreciated work.

Action Plan

If you haven’t done so lately, take time to celebrate your medical call center agents. Yes, you confirm your gratitude by providing a paycheck and benefits. You thank them with your words. And you express your appreciation whenever possible. 

But you need to do more. Look for additional ways to celebrate their achievements and trumpet their accomplishments. They so deserve it.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s upcoming book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials, coming in the second quarter 2022.

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

Celebrate the Telephone

The TAS Industry Centers on a Readily Understood, Universal, and Reliable Technology

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Telephone answering services handle thousands of telephone calls every day. The majority are incoming calls that come from clients’ customers and prospects. The rest are outgoing calls made for clients. With the continual use of the telephone at work, it’s easy to dismiss it as commonplace, even boring. But let’s not overlook the all-critical role the telephone plays in our every-day work. 

In fact, let’s take a moment to celebrate the telephone as the essential star that it is. Let’s pause to applaud the telephone:

It’s Understood

Everyone knows how to use a telephone. Even those who prefer not to call someone and seek alternative means whenever possible still possess the knowledge of how to call a telephone number to talk to someone. 

The telephone is the best understood communication option, used by more people than any other alternative. The phone is also the easiest to use and requires little technical expertise and minimal training.

It’s Universal

The telephone is also ubiquitous. Though not all residences have a hard-wired telephone sitting in their homes, as they once did, virtually all businesses do. 

And most everyone carries around a telephone in their pocket. They may even have two.

Reliable

Email make get blocked, end up in spam, or be accidentally deleted. Text messages can suffer from delay or non-delivery. 

Not so with a telephone. A phone call goes through most every time. And in those rare cases when it doesn’t, the caller immediately knows by receiving a busy signal or a recording alerting them of a problem.

Conclusion

It may seem silly to celebrate the telephone, but without it we wouldn’t be in business. Though it’s easy to overlook the telephone for its always-available, always-working nature, let’s take a moment to appreciate it is the essential element and central icon that it is.

We exist because of the telephone.

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

Consider Three Customer Service Channels

Enhance Patient Communication by Applying Customer Service Skills to Your Call Center

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Customer service can occur at various touch points from the telephone, to on-line, to in-person. Consider each one of these as it relates to your medical call center operation.

The Telephone Channel

The obvious and common source of interaction with patients and customers at medical call centers is the telephone. Telephone customer service skills are of paramount importance in this environment, as there is no face-to-face interaction, and everything relies on voice communication.

The need is to balance efficiency with effectiveness. 

Efficiency means to do things in the quickest, most cost-effective manner. Effectiveness means to address caller concerns correctly and to do so on the first call. Another element of effectiveness is the caller’s perspective. How do they feel about the call? Are they satisfied with the outcome? Did you leave them with a positive feeling or a negative one?

Online Channels

As medical call centers expand their service connection points beyond the telephone, they embrace various online communication options. These include email, text, web chat, and social media.

Each of these touch points provides an opportunity for customer service success or failure. Many of the skills required for telephone communications readily apply to online, but online channels require some additional skills. These include typing speed and accuracy, being able to effectively multitask, and the ability to read and process patients’ typed communications quickly.

In-Person Channels

At an initial consideration, face-to-face communication skills don’t apply to call-center situations. Yet as we integrate video into the call center, we add a new element to our communication skill set: the ability to incorporate body language into our communications. 

This includes both what we see from the customer and what we visually supply to them. This opens another training opportunity we can use to enhance our call center agents’ abilities to better interact with patients and callers.

Sticky Customer Service

Sticky Customer Service book, by Peter Lyle DeHaan

My book Sticky Customer Service covers all three of these communication options. In this book, I share real-world examples to celebrate customer service successes and suggest improvement insights from customer service failures.

In this year, I encourage you to apply the examples from Sticky Customer Service to your medical call center operation. You, your staff, and your stakeholders will all benefit.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Seek Rules You Can Eliminate to Empower Your Call Center Staff

Make Sure the Procedures You Expect Your Employees to Follow Still Make Sense for Their Job Today

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

We’ve talked about asking your staff for feedback and using their input to uncover ways to tweak your procedures. One way to do this is to eliminate processes that keep your call center staff from doing the job you hired them to do.

Many of the instructions you provide your staff exist to address a past problem. Though some of these scenarios recur too often, other situations may have been an isolated instance that’s unlikely to repeat. 

Other expectations exist to accomplish management goals and advance operational paradigms. Though well intended and once applicable, their purpose may have lost relevancy over time.

With this background in mind, let’s reevaluate the procedures—that is, the rules—you’ve put into place for your staff. Consider these options:

Eliminate Obsolete Policies

Too many call center procedures once made sense but no longer do. You can make everyone’s job in your medical call center easier by eliminating unnecessary rules. The fewer procedures you expect your staff to follow, the better they’ll adhere to the ones that remain.

Simplify Existing Rules

Another category is procedures that have detailed and exacting expectations to follow. Although the general impetus behind the procedure still stands, you can look to lessen its severity. This could include reducing the number of steps required, removing time-consuming doublechecks, or empowering agents to act in specific situations without supervisor approval.

Implement Helpful Guidelines

Though our focus is on reduction, this doesn’t mean all procedures are bad. In fact, you may need to add some. 

Look for areas of ambiguity that your staff routinely struggles with. Could you ease their burden by giving them specific guidelines to follow? Would a straightforward procedure save them the agony of trying to make a quick determination to address a perplexing scenario?

Conclusion

All call centers, especially those in the healthcare industry, require rules to run efficiently and effectively. But not all rules are good. You should eliminate some and simplify others. Also look to implement judicious rules that will help staff deal with challenging situations. 

The goal is to make their job easier. When you do this, everyone benefits: you, your staff, your organization, and your callers.

Categories
Telephone Answering Service

Get More Clients

Discover the Key Characteristics to Close More Sales

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

In the August issue of TAS Trader, we talked about identifying where your clients are located and adjusting your market strategy accordingly. But marketing is only half of a successful sales and marketing initiative. The other half is closing sales.

Though much has been written, and will continue to be written, about making sales, a few basic, yet key, characteristics are the foundation for sales success. Sadly, too many organizations fail to address these essential elements and can’t figure out why the latest can’t-miss initiative isn’t producing the results they want.

What follows are common sense characteristics, yet too many organizations overlook them as they pursue other strategies.

Respond Fast

The first key is to react quickly. Gone is the time when the next business day or within 24 hours is good enough. Though some services have a one-hour response goal, even this falls short in today’s market where perspective clients seek instant results. Studies abound about response rate efficacy, but the bottom line is the faster you respond to an inquiry, the more likely you are to close a sale.

And to be clear, I’m not talking about the time from when a sales rep gets the lead to when they make the first contact, I’m talking about from when a client clicks a link or submits a request to when they are interacting with a sales professional. 

Strive to make this as fast as possible. The goal is to close the sale before your competition responds.

Follow Up

The second key is ongoing interaction. Most people pursue easy solutions and desire to achieve the best results with the least amount of effort. Salespeople are no different in this regard.

It’s true that many sales close on the first interaction, which tapers off with each subsequent follow-up effort. Yet collectively contacts two through ten (or more) produce a substantial number of sales as well. 

It’s just that most salespeople don’t know this because they don’t follow up with their leads. They seek the low hanging fruit of that initial contact and write off the prospects who don’t readily say “yes.”

Be Intentional

The next key is to ensure each contact has a purpose. Don’t call a prospect to “touch base” or see if they’re ready to begin service. Instead, be deliberate with each contact, be it by phone, email, or text. Make sure each interaction moves the sales process forward.

Learn the steps they plan to take to make their decision. Do they need someone to sign-off on their recommendation? Do they need to research something? They might need to look at their budget. Ask them how you can help them move the process forward. 

Another option is to contact them with additional information. This might not even be material that relates to your answering service or them using it. If you find something that may relate to their business or could be of interest to them, that’s a great reason to contact them. 

The point is that each follow-up contact should move them closer to deciding to use your service.

Don’t Stop Until You Get a Decision

The fourth key is persistence. Too many salespeople give up too soon. Know that some people are deliberate in making changes and need time to process it. Don’t risk writing them off just as they’re getting ready to say “yes.”

Continue following up with prospects until there’s no more reason to do so. 

The most obvious reason is that they sign up to use your answering service. Another reason is that they tell you to stop contacting them; respect that. And if they’ve gone with one of your competitors, ask their permission to follow up with them at a certain point to see how things are going. 

A timely call could turn a “no” into a “yes.”

Summary

A foundation for sales success is to respond fast, follow-up, be intentional, and don’t stop. Few salespeople do this, so implementing these four basic skills will put you ahead of most people. And along the way you’ll close more sales.

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

Look for Ways to Streamline Your Call Center Processes

Remove What’s Unnecessary and Retain What Is

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Although I’m not trained as an industrial engineer, I think I’d make a good one. I have a knack of looking at processes and streamlining them. It gives me great satisfaction to take something overly complex and reduce it to its essential elements.

It doesn’t matter what the task is, whether setting an appointment, doing a patient intake, or making a post-discharge phone call, there’s a process to assure it’s done correctly. 

Sometimes we view these steps as common sense and don’t feel a need to document them—that is until someone fails to follow common sense. Other times—be it through past failures or an overly complex process—we document the path to produce success.

Too often, however, these processes are more involved than they need to be. We need to look for ways to streamline them. Here are four considerations.

1. Remove Obsolete Elements: Any process that’s been around for a while, likely contains unnecessary steps. Though once required, they no longer are. 

One healthcare call center compiled data from every call for marketing. But marketing didn’t even know the report existed. The person who requested it had left the organization two years before.

2. Eliminate Redundant Tasks: When I started Medical Call Center News, I entered data into three spreadsheets for each issue. Some numbers went on multiple sheets. 

I reviewed the purpose I sought to accomplish and what I was doing. One section was a carryover from another publication and no longer applied. Another area contained information that was personally interesting but had no business relevance. 

By taking away what was not essential, it was easy to see how the remaining data could smartly fit on one simplified spreadsheet. Not only did I save time with each issue, but the result was easier to use information.

A corollary that applies in many large organizations is multiple departments that want the same data. Enter it in one place and allow everyone to access it there. Don’t do something twice when once will work.

3. Combine Steps: I once toured an apple farm and watched them make cider using an old-fashioned apple press. Though I admired the employee’s diligent work, the inefficiency appalled me. They could have combined five steps into two. And a simple adjustment to the press’s set up would have eliminated all five, which took about 20 percent of the time to make each batch.

4. Cull Historical Baggage: Processes that have been around for a while often include steps that are there because of one error that happened long ago. Yes, mistakes do occur, but it’s not wise to systematize preventing the possible reoccurrence of one long ago oversight.

Conclusion

Streamlining a process may seem like too much work, but once simplified your staff will save time, reduce errors, and be more efficient every time they use it. A little effort now will pay huge dividends for the long-term.

Categories
Telephone Answering Service

Where Are Your Clients Located?

Align Sales and Marketing Strategy with Client Geographic Distribution

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Since you can target online ads to specific markets, conduct a geographic analysis of where your customers are located. Let the results inform future ad targeting. 

Here are some considerations:

Local Market

Though there’s no longer a technical reason to go with a local answering service, some businesses prefer to work with nearby vendors. Their reasons for doing so vary, but the main factor in your favor is that their preference to buy local gives you an automatic advantage over everyone else who’s marketing to them from a distant location. Use this fact to your advantage when targeting your local market.

Highly Reached Markets

Is there another state or city where you already have a lot of clients? Explore the reasons why this is the case. Look for ways to capitalize on these reasons in future online marketing initiatives. Another benefit is that when it comes to closing the sale, some prospects will be impressed if you can list other businesses in their area that you already serve.

Under Reached Markets

Now consider other states or regions where you have few customers or none. Is there a reason for this? Let this explanation inform your decision about targeting these areas. Maybe you never marketed to that area. Or perhaps you did, but the results disappointed you. If so, see the next item.

Conduct a Test

Your current geographic distribution of clients is a culmination of past factors. This may not be indicative of future success. Therefore, some periodic wide-scale testing is in order. 

Conduct an online ad campaign targeting your ideal client, but don’t specify any geographic area. Then look at the results. 

If you receive a greater click through rate in a particular geographic market, this area may be positively predisposed—for whatever reason—to be interested in switching answering services at this time. It doesn’t matter why; not really. The key is that your message resonates with them right now. So target that area. Continue to do so for as long as you see results.

Time Zone Targeting

I once mused about having an answering service with 25 percent of my client base in each major US time zone. This, I reasoned, would smooth out each day’s traffic peaks and valleys that occur when most all clients are on the same schedule. Now, with geographic online ad targeting its feasible and practical to pursue this specific time zone mix—assuming you see reason a to do so.

Conclusion 

Answering service sales and marketing tactics change over time. A current marketing favorite is online advertising. But this is only half of the equation. The other half is the sales part.

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

Solicit Feedback from Your Frontline Staff

Verify Key Information and Don’t Assume You Know the Answer 

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

My first full-time job was repairing copy machines. One day, toward the end of my short tenure there, the new service manager shared his vision for the future of his department. The company had two product lines, each with its own technical staff. This was inefficient, as the paths of the respective service teams would often cross.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

His grand idea was to cross train us on both product lines so we would do less driving and be more efficient. Customers would receive quicker service, and the company would save money.

It was a clever idea, but I pointed out something he overlooked. Already jammed with copier machine parts, my service vehicle had no room left to carry additional supplies for another product line. In fact, I revealed that I had removed my spare tire to make room for the parts I needed to carry.

His once pleased smile evaporated. My revelation left him dismayed, shooting down his brilliant idea. I’m not sure if I were the first technician that he shared his plan with, but I was the first one to point out why it wouldn’t succeed.

I respected him as a leader, in part because he understood my job. In fact, he once did what I and my three dozen compatriots were doing now. But things changed over time with more models to service and more spare parts to carry. His assumption that his knowledge from years ago still applied left him vulnerable to making a miscalculation.

This error can happen in any organization, including medical call centers and answering services. Many people in management and leadership rose through the ranks, having once answered patient phone calls themselves. But things change over time, and what may have once made sense, no longer applies.

That’s why it’s important for leaders to keep in touch with what their frontline staff does each day. This doesn’t mean caring a vague comprehension, but instead possessing an in-depth understanding.

Short of periodically taking calls—which is a great idea—the solution is to talk with your telephone representatives. This will help you better understand what they do on a day-to-day basis and aid you in making informed decisions about the work they do and the policies that support them.

Don’t assume you know the answer. Ask the people who know. They’ll either confirm or correct your perspective. Either way it’s a win.

Categories
Telephone Answering Service

Is It Time to Rethink Your TAS for the Long Term?

Apply Your Experiences of the Past Year to Chart Your Future Course

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Throughout my career, at both the businesses I’ve managed and the ones I’ve owned, I’ve sought incremental improvements, making small ongoing tweaks on a regular basis. By fine-tuning processes and paradigms over time, I made the operation better without subjecting employees to deal with substantial change.

Yet there are times that require significant correction. As an industry, we are at one of those crossroads. Here are four areas that warrant strategic contemplation.

Location

Since its inception, nearly a century ago, the telephone answering service industry has operated out of a singular location. Although the concept of remote operator has been an option since the late 80s, only within the past decade has the promise of a distributed workforce become a viable consideration.

With few exceptions, answering service owners and managers hold a firm perspective on which setting—centrally located or geographically dispersed—is the best. Most, understandably, prefer a centralized workforce.

Now, however, is an ideal time to push aside this proven, preferred way of doing business to at least consider the alternative. This distributed model can work out of dispersed offices, from employ’s homes, or a combination of both. The centralized location, and all its associated cost, can become relegated to history.

Platform

For the past decade or so, answering services have had two platform configurations to choose from: on premise or offsite, also known as SaaS (software as a service). Both have their advantages, as well as their drawbacks. There is no one universally right answer, but there is a right answer for your service and what you want to accomplish.

Take a serious look at the strengths and weaknesses of your current platform configuration. Contrast this to the opposite situation and see which one is the better strategic move for the long-term. Consider stability, flexibility, cost, and future potential. There is much to contemplate.

Staffing

Relating to location and platform type is the staffing paradigm you want to pursue. Many managers desire to see their staff at work each day, or at least be able to work some of their shifts at the main answering service location. This requires all employees to live within driving distance of the service.

This requirement, however, limits your labor pool. What if agents could do all their work remotely? What if you could fully train them at a distance? Then your potential labor pool expands geographically, as well as allowing you to consider nontraditional workers, such as the homebound but otherwise qualified employee.

Management

Make no mistake, it’s hard for most to manage a distributed workforce. What worked well in person seldom translates to a dispersed team working from multiple locations. This may be the hardest transition of the four to make. It requires learning, implementing, and mastering the ability to manage from a distance. Most will find it challenging, but it may prove a necessary pursuit.

Conclusion

The last year has given us significant glimpses or actual experience that touches on each of these four areas. With this as the historical background and an unknown future ahead, now is the time to think strategically and make these wide-ranging, future-facilitating changes to your telephone answering service.

Prepare now to better deal with whatever the future throws at us. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, you’ll be glad you planned for it today.

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

How to Setup a Quality Assurance Program f Your Call Center Operation

Work to Enhance Customer Service to Better Meet Caller Expectations

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

What does your healthcare call center do to improve quality interactions with your callers and patients? While some call centers have robust programs in place, others struggle with implementation or following through, and a few keep putting it off. 

Regardless of where you stand on the quality spectrum, too many call centers lack a methodical quality assurance (QA) program that they consistently use to track and improve the quality of the interactions that their agents have with callers.

Here are some thoughts to move forward:

Start Small

Though you could begin with a grand comprehensive plan to have a dedicated QA leader or team evaluate every agent every day, this is too big of a vision for most organizations to start with. Instead think small. Aim to evaluate each employee once a month. This feels manageable.

Though evaluating one call a month may not provide statistically meaningful insights, it does communicate to every employee the importance you place on the quality of their work. It also brings a customer service focus to the forefront of their thinking.

Be Consistent

Now that you’ve evaluated one call per person in a month, repeat the process. Do it a second month and then a third. Some employees will catch the vision right away, while others will have a wait-and-see attitude. But as you consistently assess one call per agent per month, your staff will see your commitment and take the goal of quality seriously.

Celebrate Wins

Instead of evaluating calls to discover where agents fall short, seek to catch them doing something right. Focus on the positive whenever possible. Yes, you must address some errors immediately, but even in this case frame them between what they did right. 

Let them self-identify areas to improve. For example, listen to a call with them and ask, “What was good about this call?” You may need to prod a bit, provide suggestions, or offer affirmation. After they’ve identified several areas of success, then ask them, “What is one thing that could’ve gone better?” Then offer instruction, encouragement, or support as needed to help them turn this one weak area into a strength.

Grow as Needed

Once you have a system down and have consistently evaluated one call per agent per month, look to expand your program. Seek to assess two calls per month. This will also be an ideal time to train other people in your QA process so that they, too, can help appraise calls. Continue to add calls to the process until you have a statistically significant dataset for each employee each month. 

Also, be sure to allocate time for your QA manager or team so they can complete their call evaluation work. Don’t expect them to squeeze this task in among many others. If you do, something will suffer, and I suspect it will be your QA program. 

Your employees—and your callers—deserve better.