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Healthcare Call Centers

Integrate Call Center Staff

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.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

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.

Conclusion

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, 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

When Something Goes Viral

You Can’t Control What Happens Online, but How You React Is Key

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Content posted on the internet can take on a life of its own, with the masses sharing it, adding comments, and promoting it to more and more people. This is usually an emotional response and seldom an informed decision.

The result is that something posted about you or your call center can go viral. There’s nothing you can do about it. Yet you can control how you react to it. It’s the only thing in your control.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

Though we tend to think of something going viral as a negative occurrence, it can be positive. Don’t lose sight of this.

For positive viral content enjoy it, add fuel to it, and ride it for as long as you can. The only challenge is knowing when the message has run its course. Then it’s time for you to move on as well.

What’s more common, unfortunately, is negative viral content. It’s something we fear but ignoring its potential to appear won’t stop it. Instead, be prepared to react to it wisely to minimize its negative impact.

Here are some tips to dealing with negative viral content online:

Don’t Go on the Offensive

A common response when attacked is to fight back. This seldom helps and often fuels the fire. Whoever first posted the information or was one of the first to promote it, doesn’t care about the truth. They care about attention and feed off it.

The worst thing you could do is have a public conflict with this person. Their followers will defend them, and your followers will defend you. This escalates the situation and prolongs it.

Share Your Perspective Privately with Your Customers

Quickly communicate the truth or—your side of the story—with your customers. Keep your employees informed as well. A mailed letter may have the biggest impact and the least potential for misuse, though it also takes time to produce and deliver.

An email to your customer list is a faster approach. Just be aware that anyone who receives it can easily forward it or post its contents. Even when a supporter’s actions are well-intended, it could make the problem worse.

An email is especially risky if the message is hastily thrown together, has a critical tone, or is defensive.

You may consider posting something on your website but do so only after careful deliberation. It could hurt as much as it helps.

Let Your Supporters Defend You

Avoid the temptation to defend yourself online. Let your supporters do that for you. A carefully worded reaction from a third party could be the first step to vindicate you, lessen the negative impact, and give reasonable people a chance to consider your perspective.

Conclusion

You can’t stop negative information about you or your call center from spreading unabated over the internet. but you can mitigate its impact. Preparation is the first step. Plan how to respond should the time arise. And if it does, don’t panic and work your plan.

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

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, 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

Coordinate with Marketing

The Call Center Should Be the First to Know, Not the Last

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Too many call center agents learn about the launch of their healthcare organization’s product, incentive, or promotion from callers, not management. I hope your operation is different, but I fear you, too, have found yourself in this unenviable situation.

The results are dismayed callers shaking their heads in frustrated disbelief, flustered agents fumbling through the calls while irritation bubbles inside, and a peeved call center manager scrambling to piece together the details, while simultaneously trying to educate staff on how to respond.

Marketing doesn’t intend to leave the call center out of the loop, yet it happens. And each time it occurs, a wall of distrust and animosity builds in the call center toward marketing.

And marketing—not knowing they dropped the ball—is angry at the unprepared call center for bungling their carefully constructed marketing initiative.

The solution is to coordinate with marketing.

Establish an Interdepartmental Connection

Though you may be upset with marketing for their latest oversight, don’t take a confrontational approach. Instead adopt a cooperative mindset to seek your mutual benefit. Discuss ways to develop a standard communication channel.

One option might be a fixed, recurring meeting between marketing manager and call center manager, where the two sit down for marketing to talk about their projects. In doing so, the areas needing coordination will surface.

Another thought is for marketing to assign a call center liaison, who has the responsibility to look at every marketing project for possible call center application, be it direct or ancillary. Then communicate needed details to the call center.

Also invite marketing to tour your call center—preferably sitting with an agent to better understand the scope of their work. They will leave with a greater respect for the complexities of the call center, replacing a simple view of the job as “just talking on the phone—anyone can do that” with a more realistic appreciation.

Items to Consider

Sometimes your call center will be able to handle the work generated by a marketing campaign with no problem. Other times will require training. This could be on the new elements of the initiative or how to access an unfamiliar app or navigate a database.

You may also need to adjust your call center schedule on launch day and thereafter. This could require overtime, scaling back on nonessential tasks for a few days, or even hiring more staff.

If you need to hire staff for a marketing campaign but lack the needed time to fully train them, teach them only the skills needed for the marketing project, letting existing staff handle other communications. Then, once the campaign is over, consider completing their training for all other call types and communication needs.

Also have a candid discussion with marketing about launch dates, addressing contingencies should a mail piece drop early or if delivery delays occur.

The Outcome When You Coordinate with Marketing

The result of following these recommendations is your call center and marketing working together for your organization’s common good and your callers’ welfare.

And it all starts when you coordinate with marketing.

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

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.

Read more in Peter’s Sticky series, including 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.

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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.