Medical Call Centers: When You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
In today’s world, success is the only acceptable outcome when very limited funds are allocated for a strategic project. Healthcare leaders place their jobs and reputations on the line when their initiatives fail to achieve the anticipated outcome.
For example, when an organization looks to open a centralized contact center, there are no concerns about the center’s value—a single point of contact, standardization, integration of services, improved efficiencies, and satisfied patients to name only a few. It appears to be a simple undertaking to rent space, purchase phones, hire operators, and “Voilà!” Your call center is ready to go live. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
To ensure the success, more must be considered. What unique knowledge base and expertise will your staff need? What processes need to be followed, and what technology is required?
Leaders are at a disadvantage when they don’t know what they don’t know. Therefore, after funding has been approved, it’s best to seek out advice from call center industry experts to ensure the limited resources of time, money, and talent are not squandered.
The success of a call center highly depends on getting the right mix of talent and implementing logical processes and intelligent technology. Labor costs are the greatest ongoing expense, so recruitment and hiring efforts must result in a workforce of intelligent, customer-focused, sustainable employees. Retention is key—not just from a financial perspective, but to also achieve growth and succession planning as the call center grows. Managers and directors should have proven track records of exceeding expectations, an understanding of the organization’s goals, and the ability and desire to assemble and lead the team. Call Center consultants can work with you to create job descriptions that attract viable candidates and help interview and hire team members who have a high probability for success.
The phrase “Call Center Process” is used synonymously with “call flow” (i.e., the route the call follows to achieve resolution of an issue). You don’t want callers to feel like they’re on a direct path to having their needs met rather than jumping through hoops or repeating information to different people in order to be transferred into a dark abyss.
When defining the strategic expectations of your call center and what “success” will look like for your organization, it is crucial to involve an expert to oversee the work. If possible, assign roles and responsibilities to key stakeholders from the C-suite, Operations, IT, Human Resources, Compliance, Finance, and Nursing departments. A call center consultant should engage the team in mapping the different paths callers will follow based on a variety of situations.
The goal should always be that the first person the caller speaks with can provide a resolution. However, “first-call resolution” requires that front line staff have access to the knowledge and resources needed to meet the caller’s needs. With robust, dynamic, interactive training programs and tools, first-call resolution can be achieved with robust, dynamic, interactive training programs and tools. An organization’s leader must set the stage for call center agents’ success. If the leader has limited experience in the world of call centers, collaborate with an expert to ensure success the first time. The result will be a call center that starts out on the right foot—with you receiving the credit.
The final component of call center operations is also the most unique and costly component. That is the dedicated technology that forms the center’s infrastructure. Today, the hardware, software, and applications are available to deliver the vast telephony capabilities needed, but it is essential that your organization’s requirements are well defined prior to making technology purchases. Your planning should include answers to the following questions:
- Does your organization want every call to be recorded? A common practice in medical call centers, this is valuable from a risk management perspective and as a quality monitoring tool.
- What about Interactive Voice Response? (e.g., “To hear this message in Spanish press 1.” or “To talk to a nurse press 2.”) Voice responses support efforts to route the caller to the most appropriate person the first time.
- Are you familiar with or know the terms CRM, CTI, AWI, ASA, ABD, UTIL and AHA. If you’re familiar with those call-center-specific terms, you are on your way!
When choosing vendors and equipment, always do extensive research. Failing to make the right choices at the beginning of the project can cost you. If you “don’t know what you don’t know,” consider consulting an expert to educate you and your team and help you develop, design, and implement the emerging contact center—this step can provide valuable information and ideas that may mean the difference between success or failure. A good consultant will take a “train-the-trainer” approach when facilitating the go-live process and will step away when the team displays a fully functional level of experience, confidence, and demonstrated success.
Because healthcare is multidimensional, no one person has all the answers. With so many specialty areas, subject matter experts, achievements and accomplishments, there is always more information to learn and insight to gain despite our current knowledge level about our respective industries. A courageous leader admits that he or she may not know everything to be known about call center operation and seizes the opportunity to learn from an expert. A humble leader knows enough to engage a call center expert to solve the problem and obtain the expected solution-based results.
Don’t wait until it’s too late to find out that you don’t know what you don’t know.
Gina Tabone, MSN, RNC serves as the Vice President of Strategic Clinical Solutions for AccessNurse.
Prior to joining AccessNurse, she served as the Administrator of Cleveland Clinic’s NURSE on CALL 24/7 nurse triage program. Under her direction, ED utilization declined, continuous care coordination improved, performance metric targets dropped from 33% ABD to less than 5%, URAC accreditation was achieved, and the call center grew from covering 350 physicians to the integration of more than 1,500 employed and affiliated providers.