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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.

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Healthcare Call Centers

Article Library at PeterDeHaanPublishing.com

Access Two Hundred Healthcare Call Center Articles Now in One Place 

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

For the past twenty years I’ve covered various aspects of the call center industry, publishing relevant trade periodicals. This includes AnswerStat, as well as our sister publication, Medical Call Center News. During these two decades, I’ve written over five hundred pieces about various aspects of operating and optimizing call centers. 

That’s a lot of material, averaging over two new articles a month for the entire twenty-year journey. This content spans four websites. Besides AnswerStat and Medical Call Center News, there are also Connections Magazine and TAS Trader.

Though you can go to each individual periodical website to read these articles, you can now access all this content in one place. (In addition, there are also posts about writing and publishing, as well as business content, accounting for 800 more pieces.) 

Conservatively, I estimate this article library totals over half a million words. That’s a lot of writing, enough for several books. I just need to find the time to edit and publish them. So, stay tuned for updates when these books release.

For readers who want to focus specifically on the medical field, you can read all two hundred healthcare call center articles from this one site.

This article library of content merges most of my industry information on one website. Plus, the handy search feature allows you to quickly access a specific topic. If you want to refresh your memory or reread something I’ve written in the past, this site is the ideal place to find it.

I begin this publishing adventure in September 2001, and I look forward to continuing it as we move into the future. And as this unfolds, watch for this article library to grow at the projected pace of two articles a month.

Something that’s become clear after the turmoil of 2020 is that the call center industry is an essential business communications vehicle that can weather any storm. More importantly, healthcare call centers have emerged as the future of the industry. 

It’s going to be exciting to watch this unfold, and I’ll be here every step of the way.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Move from Crisis Mode to Intentional Action

Failing to Prepare Is Preparation for Failure

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Most medical call centers scrambled during the past year to adapt to ever-changing protocols. This includes adjusting to meet caller expectations, appropriately scheduling staff while ensuring their safety, and handling more calls than usual. As a result, a day-to-day survival mentality has emerged in many operations. Just handle the next phone call, get through the day unscathed, and return tomorrow to do it again.

If we’re not intentional, we could find ourselves mired in this mode for a long time. The solution is to take initiative to inform our future so that it doesn’t force us into maintaining this uncomfortable status quo. Our future starts today.

Take time to consider what happens next.

Adapt a Dual-Strategy Mentality

While we all hope to one day return to normal, many people wonder if we ever will. Although our current situation could persist into the future, we could also morph into a new normal that falls midway between what was and what is.

Since we don’t know what will happen, our strategy should account for both possibilities. Though this requires extra work, demanding time that we may not have to give to it, it’s worth the effort to plan for two scenarios: 1) how we can best move back to how things used to be, and 2) how we can best move forward into a new way of doing business. Plan today to prepare for either possibility.

Platform

How well has your call center system performed in the past twelve months? If it’s handled everything you’ve thrown at it with ease and excellence, then you have a firm foundation from which to move forward. 

If, however, a few cracks emerged in performance or capability, this is the time to plan for needed upgrades or a system replacement. Even if your call center platform performed well prior to the pandemic, you’ll expect more from it even if we’re able to return to the way things used to be. 

Do what you need to do now to make sure you have the technological infrastructure in place to move into the future, whatever that may look like.

Staffing

Though some call centers have had a distributed workforce or been virtual for years, many in the healthcare call center arena have been reluctant to send their agents home to work. Though a centrally located staff is easier to manage, it’s increasingly hard for most operations to staff.

Having the flexibility to tap into a home-based workforce—whether home-bound out of necessity or preference—may be the only solution for some call centers to fully staff their operation. If you’re not able to accommodate off-premise workers, take the needed steps to be able to move in that direction if or when needed.

Conclusion

Though it’s understandably easy to continue functioning in a crisis mode, it’s critical to take initiative today to prepare for a better tomorrow. 

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Healthcare Call Centers

Who Signs Your Paycheck?

Knowing Who You Work for Helps You Do a Better Job

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Do you know who signs your paycheck? Whose signature is it that authorizes payment for the work you do? This, of course, is a theoretical question because most workers today receive their compensation electronically. It shows up in their bank account each payday, without a knowledge of who authorized the transfer.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

When I ask who signs your paycheck, however, I don’t mean in a literal sense but in a broader, holistic way. That is, who is responsible for the money you make? Who do you work for? Let’s consider the options:

Your Employer

First on the list is the company you work for, your employer. They hired you, trained you, and pay you for your work. Regardless of the size of the organization you work for, however, there are numerous facets to employment.

First is your boss, and the managers and supervisors she has in place to oversee your work. Larger organizations have a hierarchy. There is your bosses’ boss and maybe even their boss. There could be officers and a Board of Directors. A corporation has stockholders, who own the company. You work for them all. In effect, each one signs your paycheck.

What about your coworkers? In a well-functioning organization, everyone works together to meet a common goal: serving callers. And if you’re in a position of authority, you have people working under you. In a way, you work for them, too, by providing support, encouragement, and direction. If they succeed in their jobs, you succeed in yours.

Your Clients

If you’re employed in an outsource call center, where you handle calls for other companies, you work for them too. Serve them well to retain their business, and you will continue to have a job. Serve them poorly, and they’ll cancel service. If this happens too often, your future employment is at risk. In this way, you work for your clients as much as you work for your employer.

Your Callers

Regardless of the type of call center you’re in, you work for your callers too. Without callers, you would have nothing to do. They’re critical to your ongoing employment success as well. 

Though most people who work in call centers have an inherent desire to do their best to help callers, not everyone is so service-oriented. Do your best to take care of them, which is what your company hired you to do. Then you will continue to have a job.

You

In addition to your employer, clients, and callers, you also work for yourself. You work to earn a living. It’s in your best interest to handle calls with excellence, thereby keeping your job.

Conclusion

In practice, you don’t work for one person, but for many. They are who signs your paycheck. Though there’s an obvious priority, strive to give your best work to each one of them, including yourself.

Don’t let this thought of working for everyone overwhelm you. Instead let it motivate you to give your best to your job every day, on every call.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.

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.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Mixing Full-time And Part-time Call Center Staff

Discover the Right Balance in Agent Scheduling for Your Healthcare Contact Center

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Some healthcare call centers only employ full-time staff. Others do the opposite and only hire part-timers. The ideal solution might be to balance a combination of both full-time and part-time agents.

Full-Time Call Center Agents

A key benefit of staffing your call center with full-time employees is greater stability and predictability. A full-time employee with benefits, especially healthcare benefits, is more likely to be committed to their work and less likely to seek a new job.

This commitment results in having an accomplished workforce that possesses the knowledge accumulated only through longevity. The typical result is more accurate communication with callers and the potential for better outcomes. With these as the benefits of having a full-time staff, why wouldn’t every call center want to hire only full timers?

Call centers with only full-time staff face a couple limitations. The key one is that call traffic seldom fits the nice 9-to-5 work schedule of full-time employees. Instead, callers arrive in predictable surges throughout the day. When attempting to address these traffic peaks with full-time staff working eight-hour shifts, the result is they will need to work like crazy some of the time and still not be able to keep up. At other times they won’t have enough to do.

Another limitation is a lack of flexibility. If a full timer’s shift is over, having worked there eight hours, but you need them to stay late to take more calls, you’re looking at an overtime situation. On the other hand, if you have people sitting around twiddling their thumbs, you can’t send a full-time employee home early because they won’t get there forty hours of work that you promised them and that they expect.

Part-Time Call Center Agents

As a reaction of this, other call centers hire only part-time staff. This gives them maximum scheduling flexibility. They’re able to have employees work exactly when they need them, no more and no less. If things get especially busy and you need someone to stay later, many are happy to pick up extra hours. Conversely, if it is slower than expected and you want to send staff home, there is usually someone anxious to accommodate.

Yet this maximum flexibility comes at a price. Part-time staff are less committed to you, your call center, and your callers. They’re more likely to look for other jobs that pay more, have better benefits, or offer more appealing schedules. They may desire full-time work and only accepted your offer because the hours you offered them were better than no hours.

This means that a call center of part-time employees has higher turnover, along with all the problems that the constant churn of employees can present.

Hybrid Staffing

The solution is to strategically hire full-time and part-time employees. This provides the best solution to achieve both a degree of stability along with much-needed flexibility. Though the ideal ratio of full-time to part-time workers varies from one call center to the next, a general initial goal is 50-50. That is to have a foundation of full-time employees filling half of your typical schedule, using part-time staffers for the remaining half.

In your actual operation, however, you may find it works better to have fewer full-time agents or have more, but you won’t know what the ideal ratio is and will have to home in on it over time.

Call center staffing is part art and part science, balancing your organization’s fiscal responsibility with your caller’s healthcare needs. A hybrid staff comprised of both full-time and part-time agents may be the best way to get there.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Update Your Employee Handbook or Department Manual

Make Sure Your Policies and Procedures Accurately Reflect Remote Work

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

In the past year, many healthcare call centers scrambled to adjust to ever-changing expectations and requirements to keep employees safe while continuing to work. Some call centers already had viable work-at-home protocols in place and a few were already 100 percent remote. Most phone centers, however, needed to accomplish a quick pivot to make working from home a viable reality.

By now, call centers have worked the technological and logistical bugs out of remotely answering phone calls from the security of a home office. Now is an ideal time to make sure your documentation matches reality and fully addresses the ramifications of people taking medical calls from home. Make sure your employee handbook, department manual, or written policies and procedures fully address staff who work remotely.

Though some managers have already brought employees back to the call center and others look toward doing it soon, this doesn’t mean they’re exempt from updating these critical documents. Why is that? 

We may again find ourselves in a situation to repeat working from home. In addition, even if working from a centralized location reemerges as a standard call center operating procedure, some employees will request to continue answering calls remotely. Make sure you have everything in place to allow them to remain in their home office. If you’re unwilling to accommodate their request, you could find them leaving your organization to join one that will.

Notably, having now experienced it, some call centers have embraced remote work as a preferable operational model. They’ve sent their employees home for good. Now they only need to make sure their internal documentation aligns with this new reality.

If you’ve experienced staff working from home, you already know what you must cover in your documentation. This will get you started. Next, check with an attorney to address legal concerns. Also consider contacting a consultant who is familiar with off-site employees working out of home-based offices.

With these documents in place, you’ll find yourself ready to deal with whatever happens next.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Finish Strong and Don’t Coast into the New Year

How We Conclude This Year Will Prepare Us for What Happens Next Year

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

This year continues to be a challenging one, more so than most others—perhaps any other. As we look forward to a new year in our healthcare call center, we turn the calendar with expectations of a better future, along with a wondering about how much things will change. Whether we find ourselves forced into a new normal or can return to an old normal looms as a huge question. But what we do know for sure is that what we do today in the remaining months of this year will influence what we encounter in the next.

Here are some things to consider.

Make Flexible Plans 

As you look forward to the new year, develop a strategy with contingencies. Do it now. Factor in options. This means developing a plan A and a plan B and even a plan C. It means considering tactics in how to do things in person and remotely. Look to implement technology that can adapt to accommodate expectations as needed, regardless of what path the future takes. Assume that what you’re doing today in your call center will change as you move throughout the year.

Don’t Coast

The understandable temptation, after an especially grueling year, is to relax. It might be you’re worn out and want a break. Another thought is that you’ve worked hard and deserve to take it easy. Though resting has its merits, that’s not justification to check out and coast through this year’s remaining days. 

Resist the temptation to tell yourself that you’ll make up for taking a break now by promising to hit the ground running on January 2. By then inertia will have set in, and it will take too long to get back up to speed. Breezing through work for a few weeks may seem like an attractive option, but the big-picture perspective is that you run the risk of not being able to embrace a new year.

Be Intentional

Instead, be deliberate in how you wind down the final days of December. This doesn’t mean accelerating at full speed, but don’t hit the brakes either. Look to wrap up projects so that you don’t have to carry them into a new year. Pursue small initiatives now to form a foundation you can build on to produce success faster when you return to work after the holidays.

Make Time for Family and Friends

Speaking of holidays, this year your celebrations may look different than in the past. Even so, seek safe ways to connect with family and friends. Don’t take unnecessary risks, but don’t be a hermit either. We need each other, we crave connection—whatever that looks like today, and we require interaction if we are to stay mentally fit and emotionally healthy.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Let Your Call Center Staff Know How Much You Appreciate Their Work

Now More Than Ever, Take Time to Say “Thank You”

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

I’ve seldom been in a call center that wasn’t busy. Even the ones that weren’t quite as busy as others still had calls come in at a steady pace. And this was during normal times. What about the not normal times when things really get extra busy? Really busy? When call traffic spikes, agents committed to the work before them elevate their game to the next level. They shift into overdrive and handle more calls than they would do on a regularly busy day. 

But what happens when this spike of traffic isn’t so much of a spike but more of a sustained onslaught of incoming calls, such as what might occur in a medical call center during a pandemic? This isn’t a short-term situation, which will be better in a couple hours . . . or tomorrow . . . or next week. This is a new normal that pushes us and our staff to the breaking point and sometimes beyond.

Although there’s not much we can do to hold back the flood of calls coming in, we can let our staff know how much we appreciate their work. We can celebrate customer service distinction. We can recognize team members who serve patients with finesse. Take time to acknowledge their work and their dedication.

These simple gestures show telephone agents that their work is noticed and appreciated, providing benefits that don’t come from compensation alone. Unfortunately, when we’re in the middle of a crisis, we easily forget to take the time to honor our staff for the exceptional work they do. 

This need not take a lot of time nor require much preparation. Just catch your staff doing something right and praise them—publicly, if possible. This will motivate them and encourage others. When you do this be genuine. Make eye contact, state your appreciation, and thank them for their work. Then move on. Don’t belabor it. 

How long will this take? It might only require five seconds of your time. But the impact will last much longer.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Serve Your Stakeholders

Understand Your Purpose in Working at a Healthcare Call Center

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

You work in a healthcare call center. Why? The most basic answer is to receive a paycheck so that you can pay your bills. Though this is an essential motivation, earning a living will only take you so far in your call center work—and your career. To find fulfillment, you must move beyond a paycheck to embrace the purpose of the call center. Why are you there? To serve your stakeholders—all of them.

Callers

The most obvious on the list of stakeholders are the people who call you. They have a need, and they hope you can meet that need. When you do, you end up making their life a little bit better. They end the call glad to have talked with you and appreciative of what you did for them. But when you fall short of helping them achieve their goal, you cause consternation. They hang up frustrated.

Although you won’t win with every call, you can strive to succeed as often as possible. Meeting the needs of callers and patients is the first way to serve your stakeholders. Be an asset to your organization and serve your stakeholders—all of them—with excellence.

Coworkers

As you serve callers, you do so within a team environment. Are you a team player? Do your coworkers view your presence as an asset or a liability? Make sure your colleagues can count on you to do your part and not cause more work for them. In fact, do more than what’s expected whenever possible to help make your associates’ jobs easier. 

Your coworkers are also stakeholders, albeit an often-overlooked cadre. Don’t be the person who blasts through the day without regard to the people who work around you. Instead aim to be the person everyone wants to sit next to.

Boss

Whatever position you fill in your healthcare call center, you have a boss—often more than one. Your bosses are also stakeholders. By serving callers with excellence and getting along well with your colleagues, you’ve taken the first two steps in being the employee every manager wants to have. Now look for ways you can do more to make their job easier or lighten the load they carry in your call center.

Community

A fourth stakeholder to consider is your local environment. By doing your job well, you play a part in making society better. As you address the healthcare needs of your callers, you elevate the overall health of the area you live in. Don’t lose sight of the fact that the work you do benefits your neighbors and community.

Organization

Whether a corporation or nonprofit, the organization you work for is an essential stakeholder. It provides the infrastructure for you to work in and the means to pay you and provide benefits. As your organization succeeds, you will be the better for it. But if your organization struggles—especially if you could have helped realize a different outcome—you’ll experience the same fate. 

Though no organization is perfect in all it does, do what you can to help yours become the best it can. This not only occurs on every phone call you take but also in the space between them.

Conclusion

Don’t be an employee who just shows up to collect a paycheck. Be an asset to your organization and serve your stakeholders—all of them—with excellence. This includes your callers, your coworkers, your boss, your community, and your organization.