Pursue Agent Cross Training to Produce Better Outcomes and Improve Efficacy
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.
In my post “Integrate Your Call Center” I discussed various integration strategies to pursue. Now I’ll dive into each one of them with more intentionality. First up is to integrate call center staff.
The key requirement to staffing integration is cross training. Cross training will improve efficiency, increase employee skills, and better serve callers. Cross training also moves your operation closer to FCR (first call resolution), which produces both caller-centric benefits and improved operational outcomes.
Here are some ways cross training can take place:
Channel Cross Training
Many people use the phrase call center, and we all understand what it means. A better label, however, is contact center. This reflects that we no longer process just calls, but contacts. These various forms of contact come to us on different communication channels.
The most common communication channel is voice, as in the telephone. It is ubiquitous and will continue to serve a vital role in our contact center.
Text chat emerges as another critical channel with increasing acceptance and use. Many customers persist in texting even when reverting to a phone call would more effectively meet their objective, both in terms of accuracy and timeliness.
Email communication is another channel. Some rely on it completely and expect contact centers to provide that option.
Social media is a fourth channel that is the default for some, even though it’s not always ideal for healthcare scenarios. And there are other possible channels.
The goal of channel-cross training is to have all operators adept at all channels. Though some may specialize, they need to know how all channels work and be able to function efficiently on each one. This allows you to integrate call center staff and have them move between channels as needed, either according to schedule or on demand.
Call Type Cross Training
The second type of cross training relates to call types. For example, an agent who focuses on taking messages, should also be able to schedule an appointment or take a class registration. Or an agent who functions as a receptionist and spends all day transferring calls, also needs training on other features to better meet caller needs.
Without cross training, patients and callers can easily bounce around from one agent to another based on employee specialty and training particularity. With cross training, however, one agent can address whatever need the caller may have. They could take a message for the doctor’s office, register a patient for a class, and cancel an appointment, all before transferring them to a different department—assuming that’s needed.
Call type cross training allows you to integrate call center staff more fully.
Cross Training Pitfalls
Yet not all cross training is wise. So use common sense when you integrate call center staff. Though you don’t want a highly paid nurse taking a message for billing, there’s no harm in them doing so. Yet you don’t want non-medically trained personnel addressing a patient’s questions about a healthcare concern. This is a disservice to the patient, will likely provide misinformation, and could result in a lawsuit.
Therefore, encourage agents to have a patient-first perspective and seek to help callers in every way possible, while at the same time communicating clearly their limitations.
Embarking on an intentional and robust cross training initiative will help you to fully integrate call center staff. The goal is that, within reason, any employee can help any caller on any request through any channel.
When you do this your patients and callers win, your contact center becomes more efficient, and your agents increase their value to your organization.
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.