Please Tell Your Team, Coworkers, and Colleagues About Medical Call Center News
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.
Medical Call Center News has a loyal group of subscribers. You appreciate our content and read most every issue. But our subscriber list also changes a bit from one issue to the next, with a 2.3 percent churn rate. Some people retire or move to other jobs, while new people join the industry or discover our publication. This is a constant reminder that the healthcare industry is undergoing constant change, perhaps more than any other industry.
Given these changes, our overall subscriber numbers stay fairly constant, but we’d like more people to receive Medical Call Center News. Will you do me a favor and help us get the word out?
Please take a few moments and think of team members, coworkers, and industry colleagues who might not be receiving Medical Call Center News. Will you please send them a quick email and ask them to check us out and subscribe?
As you may recall, subscribing to Medical Call Center News is a quick and easy process. We request four pieces of basic information and only require two: your email address and first name. To do things properly, it’s a double opt-in process, so once you submit your subscription information, you’ll receive a confirmation email. Just click on “confirm” and your good to go. It’s that easy.
And don’t worry. We won’t share your name or email with anyone or spam you. You may unsubscribe at any time, but if we do our job right, I don’t think you will.
That’s my request. Now it’s your turn. Please let your call center team, coworkers, and colleagues know about Medical Call Center News.
How We Handle Each Day Prepares Us for the Next One
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.
In the medical answering service and call center industry, there’s always more than enough to do to fill each day. Between staffing issues, client or caller crises, and technical problems there’s not enough hours to attend to them all. Given this pressure from the present, how can we ever prepare for the future?
Here are some thoughts about how to handle the workload at your medical call center.
Put Out Fires
The default mode of operation at most answering services and call centers is putting out fires. A problem arises, and we react. Sometimes more than one issue shows up at the same time. Then we triage them and handle the most pressing one first, hoping we can get to the next one before it’s too late. We do this from day to day, week to week, and month to month. It’s all too easy for this management approach to continue year after year. There must be a better way.
Wouldn’t it be better to control the day instead of letting the day control us? To do this, we need to plan. We must be strategic. This means we schedule our day, our week, and our month. We know what we will do each hour, and we don’t let anything distract us from it.
Of course, having a rigid plan is idealistic. Though this strategic approach deals with what’s most important, it ignores the unexpected urgent things that are bound to come up. If all we do is prepare for tomorrow, who will take care of today? That’s where balance comes in. We need to balance putting out fires to being strategic, with reacting to being proactive.
To do this, make part of each day strategic and then allow the rest for reacting to the urgent matters that will crop up. This works best by blocking out an hour or two each day where interruptions are not allowed. I prefer first thing in the morning. Spend this time working on projects that will make your call center better. Focus on doing things today that will reduce the fires to put out tomorrow.
This is hard to do it first, but each time we’re successful it brings us one step closer to running our call center better and to do it with less stress. Are you ready to begin?
Some healthcare call centers embrace the work-at-home option, while others are categorically against it. Let’s explore the pros and cons of using home-based agents, along with the potential risks of embracing or dismissing this option.
Benefits of Home-Based Agents
There are two primary reasons to use home-based agents to staff your medical call center. The main reason is to tap into a larger labor pool of qualified employees. This is especially critical given the nationwide shrinkage of credentialed healthcare workers.
A secondary reason is the potential to attract lower-cost personnel. This is because they live in areas with a lower cost of living. Though reducing labor costs should never be the driving force in pursuing work-at-home staff, it may be an exciting side benefit.
Concerns About Home-Based Agents
Opponents to hiring work at home staff site management challenges and HIPAA concerns. This is certainly understandable. Employees who are physically present are easier to oversee. When they work from home, who knows what they’re doing?
However, keep in mind that in the healthcare industry, on-site call center workers receive more scrutiny than most and are the easiest to manage. Whereas, off-site call center workers have a level of supervision comparable to most other healthcare workers.
The Risk of Using Home-Based Agents
This concern over management brings up the risk of hiring work-at-home staff for your call center. Call center managers fear a HIPAA breach and PHI being abused and misappropriated. The key, however, is not location but employee ethics. An unethical employee is just as likely to misuse PHI on-site as off-site. It’s just that they must work harder to access and misuse information if they’re on-site. By the same logic, an ethical employee will treat PHI appropriately whether on-site or off-site. The fear over hiring off-site call center staff is understandable, but hiring the right staff negates this concern.
The Risk of Not Using Home-Based Agents
The chief risk of not using work-at-home agents is the risk of not being able to fully staff your call center. That’s a disservice to callers and causes your existing staff to work even harder, which may result in burnout and resignations. Tapping home-based agents is a smart way to avoid this from happening.
When determining if work-at-home agents are the right solution for your call center, look at the pros and cons. Then factor in the risks. That will guide you to the right decision.
Though I no longer work in a call center, I remember those days well. There was always something demanding my attention, some urgent matter to attend to. I’d often spend an entire day, sometimes all week, just putting out fires. Charles Hummel called this the “tyranny of the urgent,” where urgent matters occupy all our time and push aside doing those important things that matter more.
This is true in the call center industry and even more so when you connect healthcare to it. Do more, do it for less, and do it faster. It seems there’s always a pressing need that demands our attention: an open shift, employee conflicts, and scheduling problems. There’s technical issues, vendor problems, and stakeholder complaints. It seems there’s never enough time to handle everything, let alone attending to what’s most important, such as making things better.
But working to make things better is exactly what we need to do. Here are some ideas.
Expand Agent Recruitment
A common call center complaint is not enough qualified applicants. Look at what you can do to change that. Is there a new labor market you can tap? What can you do to make your call center more attractive to the type of people you want to hire? Addressing this will require some creativity. It may help to seek assistance from knowledgeable people outside your organization and even outside medical call centers.
Improve Employee Screening
Another frequent call center issue is agent turnover. You hire promising individuals, spend time and money to train them, and then they quit. Look at why they leave. And consider those who stay. Seek to find patterns. Then apply these conclusions to your hiring practices.
Unless you can validate these findings, from a legal standpoint, you must be careful in how you use this information. Here’s one thought: At some point during the interview process, you could say, “We found that people with these characteristics tend to enjoy working for us. Do you feel this describes you?” This will help applicants self-select, with some ill-fitting candidates opting not to pursue the position further.
A third concern is training, a task that is necessary, time-consuming, and expensive. Rethink how you train. Focus on what will make it more effective. Ask around and see what others are doing, both those at other medical call centers, as well as those outside the industry. Every organization needs to train employees. Learn what you can from others and apply it to your situation. Seek to make training fun, effective, and fast.
Expand Service Offerings
The idea of adding more to your workload may seem crazy, but often doing new things will invigorate staff. Look for additional ways to help your clientele. This will increase your call center’s value and serve callers more fully.
Investigate New Technology
Technological opportunities for medical call centers change fast. It seems each week there’s something new, something better, something more powerful that could help your staff do their job more effectively. Seek these tools. Test them and implement them. Your staff will thank you.
Don’t try to address all these opportunities at once. That will drive you crazy. Instead pick the one that will have the greatest impact on your operation and make it your priority. Let this become your important initiative that will take precedence over dealing exclusively with the urgency of day-to-day operations.
In the last issue of Medical Call Center News, we talked about using video in your call center. Three advantages are that video can help build caller rapport, aid triage, and elevate the professionalism of your call center.
However, before you embrace video, consider these elements and prepare accordingly:
Having the right video gear is critical to success. Don’t select the cheapest option, but pick the solution that provides great results. Just as you want your agents to have high quality headsets, you should want high-quality video as well. Your reputation as a professional communications provider is at stake.
Look at your operations room. Specifically, what will be in the background of every shot? People walking behind agents as they talk with callers will be distracting. And if a broken chair, cluttered cubicle, or overflowing wastebasket is visible to callers, that sends the wrong message. You may need to install a backdrop for some agent stations. Don’t neglect this and hope to figure it out later.
In the audio-only world of a call center, an agent’s voice is all that matters. In a video world, appearance is important, too. And while an attractive visual helps a great deal, it isn’t essential. But good grooming is. Many call centers already have a dress code in place. And if yours doesn’t, this is a good reason to have one. But beyond attire there are basic personal appearance issues which you should insist upon.
Though some people are naturals, it takes practice for most of us to be comfortable in front of a camera, especially those who didn’t grow up in a video-centric world where every action could be recorded.
In agent training, we tell them to smile, because callers can hear the smile in their voice. With video, a smile is even more important because callers can see it, too.
First, get your agents use to the camera being at their station before turning it on. Teach them how to use it and what to expect. Then let them practice with coworkers. Only when they’re ready should they begin sharing their video with callers.
It’s best to roll out a video initiative in phases. Don’t announce that on next Monday morning your call center is going 100 percent video enabled. You may suddenly find yourself short staffed. Instead phase in video.
Seek volunteers to pilot the program. Let the most eager ones go first. They can work out the bugs and help fine-tune your technology and processes. Building on this success, your agents who are sitting on the fence when it comes to video will begin to show interest. Work them into the schedule over time. Then deal with the outliers. It might be that a few agents will refuse. Know what you will do if this occurs. There may be an ongoing non-video role for them in your call center. If that’s okay, except it. Just be sure that all new hires are ready to embrace video.
Just as your callers will not all be ready for video at the same time, your agents don’t have to be ready either. But you do want to be able to direct video calls to video agents and keep audio-only calls to audio-only agents.
Though no one knows how quickly the move to call center video will occur, it could happen sooner than we expect. Now is the time to begin moving toward that future.
Last time we talked about web chat and it’s growing use in the call center. Another interesting technology that will make inroads in the call center is video. Just as text messaging is driving demand for web chat, the use of Skype, Face Time, and other video apps will spur interest in video calls to your call center.
Here are some advantages of video calling in your call center:
Builds Rapport: Most communication happens from body language, which puts call center agents at a definite disadvantage. All we can go on are the words spoken and the tone of voice, because when we’re on the phone, we miss the visual cues so critical in face-to-face communication. But with video, we open ourselves to a fuller communication experience. This will help us communicate more effectively and build rapport with our callers and patients.
Aids Triage: In a telephone triage environment, video calls can pay off huge. No longer is the triage nurse limited to verbal interaction to decide on the best course of action. With video, healthcare practitioners can see the patient and incorporate important images and visual cues in their assessment. Not only will this make for more accurate results, but it will also get there faster.
Elevates the Call Center: For too many people, especially younger generations, the call center is low on their list of communication choices. Too many view a phone call as an option of last resort, while some dismiss it altogether. However, these same people are open to video. Providing video as an option will draw some reluctant patients back to your call center. They’ll consider it as a viable, and even preferred, option to find answers to questions and communicate with your organization.
Where do you stand on video for your call center? Perhaps you’ve already embraced it. Or maybe you’re moving in that direction, by researching, planning, and even testing.
Though possibly you’re doing nothing with video. This might be because you’re too busy with other things, worry about how your staff will react to video, or need more technology to make it happen. But doing nothing is not a solution.
Take some time to consider the role of video in your call center. And to help you with this thought process, next time we’ll talk about how video will affect your agents and impact your operation.