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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, Ph.D., is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat and Medical Call Center News covering the healthcare call center industry. Get his book, Sticky Customer Service.

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Healthcare Call Centers

Review Your Website

Plan to Evaluate Your Online Information and Make Sure It’s Up to Date

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

For the past 25 years I’ve worked on my own websites, designing them, posting content, and keeping them up to date. Sometimes I break them too; then I get to fix my mistakes.

I currently have ten websites for myself, my writing, and my business. Though this experience doesn’t make me a website guru, it has taught me to look at the sites I visit with a critical eye.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

Sadly, I see areas that need improvement on most websites. And too many have obsolete information. You probably know your website needs some attention, but you haven’t gotten around to doing it yet.

I urge you to move this task from your want-to-do list, and put it on your schedule. Write it down and put a date on it. Then do it. Here’s some things to consider:

Read Through Your Website

Start by going through your website. Read through your site methodically, page by page, and read every one. Unless you want to be really diligent, you can skip blog posts. The main thing is to focus on the pages.

This is hard to do and time consuming, especially for large sites. It’s something I don’t do often enough myself, but don’t follow my example. You can do better; after all, you probably don’t have ten sites to go through.

To get through it faster, you can always ask for the help of other people in your organization. This will make the job go faster and be less taxing for everyone.

As you read each page, look for out-of-date text and missing information. Also be on the lookout for missing words, wrong words, and punctuation errors. Likewise flag confusing information so you can fix it later.

Pages To Remove

As you go through your site, you may come across pages you don’t need anymore. Make a note to remove those obsolete pages. The good news is that once you decide you don’t need it, you can stop reading it.

Pages To Add

Just as there are pages you may want to remove, you’ll also discover important content that’s missing. Make a note to add it. This may include new services or products, procedural changes, and information your patients or visitors may commonly seek.

For ideas, check with your call center agents to find out what questions they keep hearing over and over. This is prime material to go online. Yes, not everyone will see it, and they’ll still call and ask. But some people will notice it, and then you’ve just saved your staff a needless phone call.

Site Navigation

When it comes to adding new pages and removing obsolete ones, this affects your website menu and site navigation. You need to adjust your menu accordingly.

Don’t just add or delete options. Instead take a step back, and see if the navigation is logical, intuitive, and easy to use. For help, ask someone outside your organization to look at it and tell you what confuses them about moving through your website. Then implement their suggestions.

Conclusion

For your website to best do the job it’s supposed to do, it must have correct information and give visitors what they’re looking for. This requires periodic reviews of your website’s content and navigation.

Don’t put this step off. Both your staff and your patients will appreciate it.

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

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

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Healthcare Call Centers

Cross Channel Training

Consider the Optimum Strategy for Your Contact Center Staff

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

At one time call centers handled calls and nothing else. They had one channel. That was it. Now most call centers handle more than just telephone calls. They’ve become multichannel. Contact center is a better name for them.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

Along with phone calls—which is still the predominant channel at many operations—we’re now seeing text chat, web support and assisted browsing, email response, and a multitude of social media platforms to monitor and engage. In addition to these is a possibility of handling two older channels: mail and fax.

Although there may be some overlap, each channel requires a separate set of skills, which means supplying channel-specific training. Do you want to cross train all contact center agents so that any employee can handle any contact, regardless of the channel and when needed?

Or do you want specialists that excel in one area? Or is a mixture of both approaches the best strategy for your operation?

Here are some considerations about cross channel training:

Channel Specialists

Contact center specialists, such as telephone agents or text chat representatives, handle communications through one channel and one channel only.

Because they specialize in that channel, they excel at it and can serve customers with greater effectiveness, proficiency, and speed. A specialist will be more efficient in their channel than a generalist.

This is ideal for some operations, and its ideal for some agents. These employees relish consistency and find comfort in knowing what they will do at work each day, each week, and each month.

For them, they counter the repetition of their work by embracing the unexpected variety from one call to the next or one text to the next.

For agents who like a variety of tasks, specializing in one channel is a horrific prospect. If you don’t offer a way to counter their boredom, they’ll leave as soon as a more suitable job becomes available.

Channel Generalists

Contact center generalists receive instruction on how to handle communication on each channel your operation offers. This means that every employee receives cross channel training. They relish the opportunity to learn and master each channel.

They have a flexible mindset and see benefits of enjoying a varied workday.

Having a contact center staffed with generalists provides the most responsive configuration, with any agent able to handle any channel at any time.

This is ideal for time-critical communications that don’t tolerate interaction delays, such as the telephone, text chat, and web support. (Having a delayed response with email, social media, mail, and fax isn’t an issue, providing they’re handled in a reasonable time.)

Selective Cross Training

The discussion between contact center specialists and generalists, however, isn’t an exclusive one. You can have a mixture of both. You can even have partial cross channel training where an agent receives training on some channels but not all.

For agents who want to handle the same type of communication, let them specialize. Don’t force them away from something they like into something they don’t want to do by cross channel training them.

All that will do is taking a successful agent who happily serves you well in one channel and turning them into a disillusioned employee who seeks a different job.

Other agents, however, will clamor for the opportunity to receive training on and handle every communication channel you offer. And they’ll be the first in line to explore opportunities with new channels.

There’s a middle ground, however, where agents may want to and benefit from receiving cross channel training on specific channels with similar skill sets.

One example might be the text chat and email channels, which both need quick and accurate typing skills. But they may shudder at the idea of talking on the phone. Conversely a phone agent may also enjoy text chat, as both have back-and-forth interaction with the contact.

In these cases, let agents select which channels they want to receive training on. Be sure, however, that cross channel training is optional and not expected. Embrace those employees who want to remain one-channel experts.

Cross Channel Implementation

Regardless of the degree of cross channel training in your contact center, there are two implementation strategies for your cross-trained agents.

One possibility is with agents assigned to a particular channel for the day, with the understanding that you may reassign them to another channel as traffic warrants. This switch may be for an hour or two or for the rest of the day. Regardless, staff always begins the day on a scheduled channel.

The other approach is a universal distribution of contacts, with any customer communication going to any agent regardless of the channel. This makes scheduling the easiest and offers the most responsiveness to customers, but it may come at the cost of optimum efficiency.

Conclusion

If your call center handles other communication channels, or is thinking about it, consider how you want to approach it. You can adopt a specialist mindset, pursue a generalist tactic, or embrace a mixture of the two.

The point is to consider the cross channel training strategy that’s ideal for your operation, your customers, and your staff. Balance their needs to provide the best outcome for all stakeholders.

Check out Sticky Customer Service for practical insights into how to provide great customer service (and what to avoid).

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

Go Beyond the Call  

Seek Ways to Solve Caller’s Pain Points

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

As a medical call center your job is to answer healthcare-related calls and respond to each one efficiently. Yet what if this isn’t what the patient needs? To paraphrase and old saying, sometimes we can win the battle but lose the war. That’s why we need to go beyond the call.

Being efficient sometimes gets in the way of truly winning. Call centers have a lot of metrics to track. These help us quantify results, but they may not measure outcomes. We need to find a balance between efficiency and patient-centric results.

Here are some ideas:

Offer Empathy

Sometimes callers need to know you heard them just as much as they need their issue addressed. This requires listening and offering empathy. Correcting a caller’s issue but doing so abruptly or without listening to them leaves the caller more frustrated than satisfied.

To you, they are one more call in a busy day. But to them you may be the most important call they’ll make all day.

Pursue Resolution

Other times what a patient asks for isn’t what they need—not really. Yet a passive-aggressive response results in answering the question, while not resolving the problem.

For example, a patient might ask for the web address of your online portal so they can check the results of a recent test. You give them the address because that’s what they asked for. Yet you know the results they want won’t be available for at least another day. Do you tell them that, even though it’s not what they asked? Can you suggest a different method for them to get the results quicker?

Anticipate Problems

Let’s say a patient calls to verify the location of where they need to go for an appointment with a specialist. You give them the address.

They didn’t ask about parking, but you know that’s an issue that frustrates many people. So, you can go the extra mile and let them know where they should park and how much time to allow themselves so they can arrive at the specialist’s office without being frazzled or out of breath.

Stay on the Line

Back to our caller who asked for the web address. You can give it to them and get off the call. Or you can give it to them and stay on the line to see if they have any more questions. Maybe they wrote it down wrong. If you’re still connected, you can clarify it, instead of making them call back a second time.

Or you can help them navigate the site, offering a quick tip that will save several minutes of frustration on their part. The point is, don’t end the call prematurely. If you think they’ll need help, the best approach may be to stick around.

Putting These Tips into Practice

You may acknowledge that while these are insightful ideas, they’re not practical for your busy call center and that you can’t afford to implement them. But recall the concept of winning the battle and losing the war.

That means the better perspective is that perhaps you can’t afford not to.

Think about it.

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

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

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Healthcare Call Centers

Channel Specialization versus Multichannel Proficiency

Effectively Handle Communication Channels in a Medical Contact Center

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

In the last issue of AnswerStat we looked at the need for multichannel integration in your healthcare contact center to better serve patients and produce superior outcomes. We considered this from a systems standpoint. Now let’s look at multichannel from an agent and operational perspective, specifically channel specialization versus multichannel proficiency.

Ideally you want every agent trained and fully proficient to handle communication on any channel option that comes in, be it voice, text, email, video, social media, and so forth. Some agents relish being proficient on all channels, while others prefer to specialize. A contact center needs both types of agents.

Channel Specialization

An agent that specializes in one channel, for instance telephone calls, will develop a higher level of effectiveness by focusing on that one channel. Through repetition they’ll gain an enhanced level of skill through their specialization.

This will enable them to move from one call to another with greater speed and increased efficacy. In short, they’ll get more done faster.

But they must also be cross trained on other channels. There are two reasons for this.

One is in the event of a telephone call that needs to switch channels, such as to move to video or email to better facilitate effective communication.

In this instance you don’t want an agent with a telephone channel specialization handing the call off to a video or email specialist. Instead, you want the original agent to move with the patient or caller to the new channel.

The second reason you want agents cross trained is so they can switch to a different channel if there’s a need to do so. This could occur with an increased amount of traffic in a channel different from the one they specialize in.

Without this cross training, you could end up with specialists in one channel sitting idle while specialists in another channel struggle to keep up.

Though you have agents that specialize in one channel and mostly work in that area, they must be ready and willing to jump to another channel when the situation requires it.

Multichannel Proficiency

Other agents would find channel specialization to be quite boring. They relish being proficient on many channels, even on every channel your healthcare contact center handles. They enjoy the variety that comes from interacting with patients on various channels.

These multi-channel agents can handle patient contacts on any channel as needed, whenever needed.

This allows them to switch between real-time communication (telephone and video calls) depending on the traffic demands at any moment. Yet at the same time they are equally proficient at processing non-real-time communication (email, text, and social media) as required.

This means they can effectively work in the channel where they’re most needed.

Specialists and Generalists

While channel specialization is good for some agents and multichannel proficiency is ideal for others, this mix of channel focus is also essential for your contact center. Just like with healthcare, a contact center needs both specialists and generalists.

The specialists can concentrate on one channel, reaching a level of effectiveness that a generalist could never achieve. Yet a generalist is effective at quickly and easily migrating from one channel to another.

Though every agent in your contact center should be cross trained to handle any channel, determine which area is the best for each agent, channel specialization or multichannel proficiency. You need both.

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

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

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Healthcare Call Centers

Tips to Deal with Angry Callers

Prepare How to Best Handle Abusive Callers

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

People today, it seems, are more demanding and less tolerant than they once were. They want immediate answers and have little patience to wait. And this unfortunate trend may be even more pronounced when speaking to someone over the telephone. This is the reality of angry callers that our medical call centers must deal with.

Here are some strategies to address this troubling issue:

Tips For Management

Determining an appropriate response to angry callers starts with call center leadership. Implement these ideas for your call center or organization to support your frontline people when they encounter a difficult phone call:

Have a Plan

Develop a written strategy for how agents should best respond to and deal with angry callers. This goes beyond well-sounding platitudes and should offer practical, actionable steps. This includes recommendations for how agents should react to volatile callers and the options you recommend for them to deal with the aftermath.

Communicate the Plan

Share your strategy with your staff. Teach it during their initial training, reinforce it in ongoing instruction, and make it readily available to all parties: your frontline staff, your supervisors, and your managers.

Support Your Staff

Let your staff know that you care how they are treated. The off-repeated adage that “the customer is always right” isn’t always true. Sometimes callers are wrong, unreasonable, or mean. Let your agents know that you have their back.

Offer Options

In most instances, when an agent hangs up from one phone call, there’s another one waiting in queue. The goal, in normal situations, is for the agent to immediately go to the next call. But after an extremely difficult interaction, they may not be at their best to assist the next caller right away.

Give them options to take in extreme cases. Else they risk turning one bad call into a string of bad calls. One idea is allowing them to take themselves out of rotation for a moment to regain their composure. Extreme cases may warrant taking an early break. Just place appropriate guidelines on when these steps are applicable.

Tips For Agents

I hope your call center has provided instruction and tools to help you deal with angry callers who won’t calm down. Always follow their policy.

But if you’re in a position without the needed direction, here are some ideas you can use to better cope with abusive callers. Exercise care, however, to use these sparingly, especially as you move down the list.

Also, your organization may have given you variations on these techniques, so follow their processes. And don’t be alarmed if your call center prohibits one or more of these options, particularly the last one. Know that they have a good reason for doing so. Respect it and follow their wishes.

Lower Your Voice

It’s in our nature to raise our voice in response to someone who raises theirs. This just escalates the situation. Instead do the opposite. Talk more softly. They’re apt to do the same. And even if they don’t, it will calm you.

Take Five

Sometimes a five-second respite at the conclusion of a phone call can help. Close your eyes, inhale slowly, exhale slowly, and quiet your emotions. Do a shoulder roll to release tension.

Press Hold

When a caller escalates out of control, place them on hold under the guise of needing to check something. Maybe you actually do, and you’ll be able to accomplish it more effectively if they aren’t venting their anger in the process. But even if you don’t need to check something, use this time to refocus yourself. Hopefully, they’ll calm down a bit as well. Just make sure you politely and patiently explain to them that you will place them on hold before pressing that button.

Pass Off the Call

Do you have a supervisor or manager who can help you deal with difficult callers? Sometimes your coworker sitting next to you can serve as an ad hoc “supervisor” to take a difficult caller that you’re not connecting with. Of course, be willing to do the same when they have a difficult conversation of their own.

Know That It’s Not Personal

Most angry callers are mad at your organization, and they take it out on you as its representative. Know that their frustration isn’t personally directed at you. This understanding puts a buffer between their emotions and your self-esteem. Though this is easier to say than to do, acknowledging that their anger isn’t personal may help you take an emotional step back from a volatile situation.

But Sometimes It Is Personal

Sometimes, however, an angry caller becomes abusive and attacks you personally. They may call you a name, question your intelligence, or worse. These direct attacks sting. It becomes personal. You can’t separate yourself from their emotion because they just verbally assaulted you.

If this occurs and none of the above options help, you’re justified in telling the caller that their behavior is inappropriate. Explain that you want to help, but until they calm down you won’t be able to. If they persist, warn them that you’ll need to disconnect their call. If they don’t soften their demeanor, hang up on them.

Conclusion

Though you can do little to change how abusive callers treat you, you do have control over how you respond. Follow these ideas to help you successfully move forward.

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

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

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Healthcare Call Centers

Multi-Channel Integration

Serve Patients Better and Produce Superior Outcomes

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

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

Channel Options

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

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

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

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

Channel Switching

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

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

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

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

Multi-Channel Integration

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

Educate Staff

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

Test Your System

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

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

Identify Weaknesses

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

Encourage Your Vendor

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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Healthcare Call Centers

Celebrate Medical Call Center Agents

Look for Ways to Applaud Customer Service and Patient Care Excellence

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 Healthcare Call Center Essentials, available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book.

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

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Healthcare Call Centers

Provide Multi-Channel Access

Be Sure You Deliver the Options Today’s Consumers Expect

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

For years we’ve talked about the need for healthcare call centers to become contact centers. This name realignment shifts our attention from telephone calls to embrace other forms of contact as well.

This is a multi-channel mindset, and we provide multi-channel access to deliver the contact options that today’s consumers expect, which we must do if we’re to remain viable. 

Some people call this omnichannel, which implies all channels, while multi-channel more realistically looks at many channels. We’ll not debate which name is more appropriate. Instead, we’ll focus on the concept of moving beyond the telephone. 

Here are some multi-channel access points to consider.

Telephone

The telephone remains key for most people in most industries. In our push for multichannel access, let’s not forget the telephone as it will continue to be the foundation for what we do. The telephone has been around for a long time, longer than any of us. 

The first healthcare call centers started nearly a century ago in the form of medical answering services, often called doctors exchanges. The telephone is proven, ubiquitous, and dependable. It’s not new or exciting, but it is stable. 

And most consumers expect you to answer their telephone calls.

Email

Email has been around for several decades. It’s no longer novel, with naysayers long claiming that email is dead. It’s not. It’s very much alive. When you consider growing your call center beyond the telephone, the first multi-channel access option to consider should be email.

Email integrates smartly into call center activity. Unlike the telephone, where callers expect a timely answer with minimal delay, their expectation with email is less demanding. This doesn’t mean you can sit on a pending email message for days and should aim for a same-day response, but most people accept a reasonable delay as normal. This provides the opportunity to set email aside when call traffic is high and to process email messages during slow times.

Email agents should be able to read and absorb typed information quickly. They should also be able to type fast and accurately, without the need for editing.

Text Chat

A third multi-channel access option to consider is text chat. This common, and increasingly popular, communication option is how many people communicate with their family and friends. It’s no wonder that they expect businesses—including the healthcare industry—to embrace it too. 

Text chat agents, like email agents, must be able to quickly process typed messages and respond with accuracy. Unlike email, however, texting carries with it the expectation of minimal delay. In comparing chat with telephone calls, where multitasking doesn’t work, experienced chat agents can effectively handle multiple simultaneous chat sessions.

Social Media

Next consider social media. If patients try to contact you on social media, be prepared to respond. If you ignore them or take too long, they’ll be sure to vent their frustration to everyone on their platform of choice.

Social media agents need many of the same skills as email and chat agents. In addition, they must understand and be comfortable using each of the social media platforms that people could use to contact you.

Other Channels

This list is a great start, but it’s not conclusive. If people want to contact you by mail or fax, be ready to handle those interactions. Also watch for emerging communication technologies so you can prepare for them before your patients ask.

Multi-Channel Access Conclusion

If your call center is already providing multi-channel access, that’s great. Look for ways to make your channel offerings more effective. 

And if your call center focuses exclusively on the phone, explore how you can move decisively and methodically forward to offer multi-channel access to your patients and customers.

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

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

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Consider Three Customer Service Channels

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

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, by Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

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.

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

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