Three Ways to Exceed the Expectations of the New Healthcare Consumer

By Wes Hayden

Even consumers not directly impacted by the Affordable Care Act are seeing a big shift in healthcare. Instead of simply accepting the care and services available, consumers are proactively seeking information and reaching out to healthcare providers. And with more healthcare choices available, consumers are now making care decisions based on accessibility, customer service, cost, and collaboration.

Traditionally the path to a physician was straight to his or her door. Now consumers often self-diagnose, search online for local providers, or check provider websites and ratings. Although some patients immediately reach for the phone to call the appointment line, many start this journey online: through the provider’s appointment engine, the patient’s own online medical portal, or even via a mobile app.

According to a 2015 Gartner study, Business Drivers of Technology Decisions for Healthcare Providers, healthcare service organizations will need to raise their performance standards for today’s varied points of patient engagement, using tools such as mobile, text, and email. But for an industry that hasn’t exactly been on the cutting edge of customer support trends, how will healthcare providers bridge this gap?

The key is to take our cues from patient behavior. Many healthcare providers have gone with an “educate and empower” strategy, providing significant amounts of information on websites in an effort to educate the consumer and push us toward self-service options. But this has only been partially successful. For consumers who simply don’t understand how the healthcare systems works – which seems to be the majority of people with healthcare access – this glut of information only makes it more confusing to quickly focus in on the right providers and services.

Instead consumers, even tech savvy ones, are now bypassing overloaded online resources and turning directly to customer service for quick advice and scheduling. However, healthcare providers who were busy “educating and empowering” didn’t take into account how they would manage large volumes of customer service requests that fell outside of the self-service silo.

By evaluating these consumer behaviors, we know there are three basic customer service features consumers prefer. By working to implement this approach – and complement and extend existing customer service strategies – healthcare providers can work toward a better balance of self-service and assisted service:

1) One Consistent Experience Across All Customer Service Channels: Dealing with healthcare concerns is bad enough. But when every customer support channel offers a different experience, it makes consumers question the professionalism and service of the brand; it increases frustration and damages loyalty.

Despite more consumers starting with online channels today, many patients end up moving to a different channel to complete their interaction. Often the experience of channel hopping leads to more complexity and disappointment. In fact, according to a 2013 research study by Accenture Global Customer Pulse, 72 percent of customers get frustrated with the inconsistent service they receive across different contact channels within the same company. The top two frustrations noted are being asked to repeat information and not being able to get a human on the phone. These inconsistencies are generally caused by a strategy that allows different channels to be owned and managed by different groups within a business.

This silo approach leads to gaps in the communication process that are directly felt by consumers and are costing healthcare providers more than they realize. By using an omni-channel customer service strategy, healthcare providers can integrate multiple channels to decrease the silos and improve communication consistency. To do this, start by consolidating all interactions through one portal. Software like omni-channel callback can integrate non-voice interactions with existing intelligent call routing and VoIP and CTI systems so patients that start an interaction online or with chat can quickly and easily move to a live agent who will know the context of why they are calling.

2) Proactive Notifications and Engagement With Patients: Automated notifications or touch points are an ideal way for healthcare providers to connect with consumers on their channel of choice – email, SMS, Web, text, or voice. Notifications can confirm scheduled appointments, file deadlines, provide status updates on requests, or offer information a consumer would be interested in – all before a patient requests it.

But let’s not stop there. Before each notification, healthcare providers need to anticipate the response to the notification. Will patients have additional questions? Will they want to reschedule that appointment? Maybe they’ll want to connect with a live agent.

By anticipating this next step in the communication process, healthcare providers can insert helpful content and links into messages, allowing recipients to access more information, connect with an agent, reschedule appointments, and so forth. This provides patients with easy access to additional resources and positively improves consumer perception of the brand as a whole.

3) Provide Meaningful Interactions: Beyond just moving consumers from one channel to another, it’s important that healthcare providers understand the entire patient journey, including each touch point a patient has with a provider. This can help define the journey that best supports the consumer’s needs and create a roadmap for the technology needed to support the experience.

Technology can lay the foundation for a seamless journey. It moves the patient through the customer service function while maintaining and passing along the context of the patient’s request across channels. A data feed is used to gather customer information from each touch point. Once gathered, the information is organized into a customer interaction repository, creating a singular access point for all relevant data.

Being able to track and view the consumer journey is key in anticipating the next request. This enables healthcare providers to send notifications patients will find beneficial, as well as suggest links to additional resources they may be interested in.

Having this information readily available empowers agents with contextual information before a live interaction with a patient occurs. With this information, agents can dive directly into the issue, resolving it quickly. It also reduces the number of calls that come into the contact center without reducing the service quality.

For patients, this results in more interactions that are meaningful and helps them feel in control of their healthcare decisions.

Create a Memorable Experience: A great customer experience gives healthcare providers the chance to deliver a positive, lasting impression. But one bad interaction gives consumers the opportunity to share that experience and damage a brand’s reputation. By understanding the customer’s journey, anticipating the communication process, and leveraging new technologies, providers can give customers peace of mind and create memorable experiences that drive customer loyalty, customer and agent satisfaction, and a positive view of the brand.

Wes Hayden is CEO of Virtual Hold Technology.

[From AnswerStat October/November 2015]

Four Elements for Better Patient Experience

By Clark Ridge

Customer satisfaction has long been synonymous with great customer service. Yet when a customer is a patient, his or her needs are drastically different from a customer you might find at a local coffee shop. Patients under physical and emotional stress depend on medical staff and hospitals to provide efficient services and answer difficult questions about health or insurance.

To gauge the effectiveness of care and improve patient satisfaction measurement, medical facilities rely heavily on the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Services (HCAHPS). While some hospitals and medical facilities have previously used their own internal reporting tools, HCAHPS is the first national standard for collecting and publicly reporting information about patient care and experience. It can help hospitals improve in some areas, but many have questioned whether it’s a good indicator of a positive experience.

In order to score high on the HCAHPS assessment, a provider may feel the incentive to over-treat or over-prescribe for their patients. Not only does this translate into additional cost, it suggests that a “more is better” approach to patient care is necessary for satisfaction. While the survey aims to empower hospitals by reducing errors and improving patient outcomes, it does not guarantee that patients get the best individualized care. It also places a heavy burden on nurses and other medical staff who must fill in as clerical assistants in addition to providing care.

Improving the patient experience is possible despite the challenges in modern healthcare systems. It starts with an honest look at the factors contributing to inefficiencies or low HCAHPS scores. From there medical facilities can determine the best course of action regarding the tools and services that will improve patient outcome by asking:

  • How will we measure whether this new service or offering improves the patient experience?
  • How will it specifically alleviate the burden on medical staff?
  • Is this offering proven to work in environments similar to ours?
  • Is this solution scalable?
  • How will we measure the return on our investment for this solution?
  • How does it tie back to improving the overall patient experience?

After close examination of what is or is not working, medical facilities should focus on fine-tuning these four key components to ensure patient satisfaction:

1) Automation: Automating administrative tasks, such as appointment booking, alleviates medical professionals from hours of clerical work. Staff are often called to provide directions to a medical office, discuss appointments and hours of operations, or conduct follow-up unnecessarily. Automate the time-intensive administrative work to shift your facility’s resources back to the patient, where individualized medical attention will make all the difference in satisfaction and experience.

2) Specialization: Specialization plays an important role in the healthcare ecosystem. Doctors and nurses can provide a more positive and engaging experience by using their skills and training within their area of expertise. It’s not uncommon for a nurse to conduct patient discharge follow-up after a shift. This type of activity requires an abrupt change of activity and the ability to anticipate patients’ needs. Discharged patients are often suffering from confusion, worry, or stress, and they may need someone without incentive to complete the call quickly.

Patients want high-quality information quickly, and they also want someone to take ownership of their next steps. Focus on specialization training or shift this type of work to specialized employees. Doing so will elevate patients’ experiences long after they’ve left the hospital and build trust between patient and physician.

3) Technology: Adoption rates for cloud contact centers and digital customer service channels are growing, but not all technologies are equal. Be sure to invest in tools and services that are agile, easy to deploy, and scalable. Often medical centers mistakenly choose the cheapest or fastest offerings only to wind up with bigger headaches and lower patient satisfaction.

4) Outsourcing: Outsourcing services may get a bad reputation in some industries, but the right choice will pay back in higher survey scores and increased patient and physician well-being. The majority of patients prefer to speak to someone over the phone even if digital, self-service channels are available.

Medical centers can outsource this type of service to ensure that patients’ needs are met quickly and effectively. Insurance companies have reaped the benefits of outsourcing services for years, and so can medical centers. Select an outsourcing service with a well-designed framework and proven effectiveness for the biggest success on patient outcome.

It’s safe to say that budget constraints, limited resources, and surveys are here to stay, but it doesn’t have to negatively impact patients’ well-being or experiences. Patients respond well to attentive staff and efficient processes. Investing in the right tools, technologies, and services will ensure the strongest impact on ROI and patient outcomes. It will also prevent burnout among staff members and keep employees focused on providing the best medical care possible.

Clark Ridge is the VP Healthcare Solutions at Alorica.

[From AnswerStat June/July 2015]

Is Mobile Enough? How to Create New Opportunities for Customer Engagement

By Jay Reilly

A recent Yankee Group survey found that, during 2010–2014, preferences for traditional channels such as home telephone, email, and desktop Web have declined significantly compared to newer mobile channels such as text messaging, mobile self-service apps, mobile chat, mobile websites, and using mobile phones to speak to a customer service agent directly. The use of the home telephone is down 34 percent; email is down 25 percent; mobile Web browsing and mobile text are both up 10 percent. Mobile self-service, with the highest growth, is up 12 percent. The conclusion? Ignore mobile at your peril.

Driving Forces: Yankee Group identified four top forces driving further investment in improving customer engagement:

  • New Consumers: Yankee Group found that 64 percent of consumers said they needed to be connected to the Internet at all times, a number that is rapidly increasing as more devices are appearing. Customers are now in the driver’s seat, and their use of Web and social media tools creates lots of information for businesses to use to increase engagement.
  • New Experiences: Yankee Group estimated that 60 percent of interactions across the customer journey are interrelated. That means personalized, cross-channel interactions are key to a quality customer experience. Interactions must be relevant to customers in order to gain their trust and encourage them to opt in to conversations.
  • New Opportunities: Sixty-three percent of businesses are making mobile a priority in order to create a relevant customer dialogue that nurtures loyalty and increases sales.
  • New Technologies: New technologies are enabling businesses to deliver a hugely personalized service throughout the customer journey. This includes using mobile for everything from reminders and surveys to notifications of discounts and service delivery problems. This helps a business develop customer engagement and loyalty.

It is crucial to the customer experience to move beyond reactive customer response to more proactive customer engagement. By using data held in customer service departments, organizations can deliver a better, more intelligent communications strategy and start to build relevant, cross-channel personal relationships with customers and prospects based on individual behaviors and preferences.

Customer Focus: Yankee Group identifies four key ways in which businesses can create customer opportunities and enhance relationships:

  • Acquire: Mobile marketing is a great way to acquire customers. A massive 91 percent of respondents to Yankee Group’s survey showed an interest in mobile coupons.
  • Serve: Once customers have been acquired, businesses can engage them by communicating via preferred channels to strengthen relationships and increase loyalty.
  • Nurture: Today’s consumer belongs to a number of loyalty programs, so businesses need to differentiate theirs. It is useless to send standard offers via text that customers can just opt-out from. Make sure you are sending personalized, context-relevant offers your customers will want.
  • Grow: In order to grow, you need to stand out. Personalized, timely offers can increase purchase frequency, grow basket size, and help to differentiate your company from your competitors.

Emerging Opportunities: As mobile communications grow, the dilemma for businesses is how to deliver effective mobile marketing initiatives that provide proactive and personalized communications. New advancements in cloud delivery models have made incorporating mobile customer engagement strategies easier because they are now less expensive and easier to use. Organizations can now design more intelligent, relevant, and targeted proactive communications strategies using advancements in analytics that can be delivered simply and quickly through the cloud to ensure that future initiatives are relevant and personalized.

Here are some of the new advancements to consider:

  • Cloud Solutions: Cloud solutions are now cheaper, faster to deploy, and easier to use. Using the cloud means businesses have more powerful resources and more flexible capacity, allowing them to focus on strategic innovation rather than infrastructure and application maintenance. Cloud solutions are also constantly upgraded to the latest technology, ensuring your platform is up-to-date.
  • Preference Management: Dynamic preference management platforms include both stated and observed preferences. Organizations can now design more intelligent, relevant, and targeted proactive customer communications strategies that optimize business results by centralizing customer tracking. Observing customer behavior can provide great insight into the best communication strategy; combining stated and implied preferences will lead to deeper customer engagement and improved response rates.
  • Analytics: Insight is essential to ensure communication intelligence and measure results. Relevant analytics provide a more accurate measurement of a customer engagement strategy and ensure that communication initiatives are relevant and personalized. Organizations should use a combination of insight and technology to interact with every customer on a personal level; monitoring and storing customer interaction outcomes enhances communications intelligence over time. The only way to do this is by eliminating manual processes and using intelligent automation.

Make It Seamless: Proactive customer engagement is quickly gaining power and becoming a necessity for delivering a good customer experience. But it is important to remember that the customer experience consists of multiple channels and multiple voices; any one channel or voice that is not aligned will negatively affect all others in the customer journey. It is essential that all channels work together effectively.

Make sure you build a cohesive communications strategy across the entire customer journey, and don’t shy away from new or different forms of communication.

Jay Reilly is managing director and VP of international at Genesys.

[From the October/November 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

What You Need to Know About Social Media Etiquette

By Margaret Page

Like children with a shiny new toy, adults introduced to social media jumped in and started playing – posting personal photos to Facebook, accepting “friend” requests from long-lost high school pals, and checking into everywhere from the coffee shop to their favorite local eatery. What fun! Suddenly we were getting an inside look into the lives of people we hadn’t connected with in years!

But, unlike a new toy, social media didn’t come with any real instructions. We unwrapped it, signed up, and off we went, sharing our world with…the world. As more and more people glommed onto this new way of communicating, the seeds of chaos were planted.

Rules of Engagement: Without guidelines on how to use social media, disaster is just a tweet away. Many organizations have found this out the hard way. Embarrassing gaffs, impulsive rants, and misguided comments have ensued.

What you post on social media sites is out there forever. The Internet never forgets. A selfie posted after a night on the town or a tweet about a colleague can cause more damage than you think. It’s dangerous to assume that privacy settings protect you. Even if you’ve locked down your Facebook page, once something is posted to the Web, you can guarantee someone who is not directly connected to you will find it. All it takes is for one of your friends to share it with their friends.

And what you say can and will be held against you! Your future boss, clients, partners, and vendors are watching.

A good rule of thumb, whether you are engaging on social media for personal or business, is this: If you wouldn’t say it loudly, in front of your boss (or mother), you shouldn’t post it online anywhere!

With so many organizations involved in social media, it’s more important than ever to have a clear social media policy in place for employees, especially contact center agents. Your employees are representatives of your brand, and in business, perception is everything. To protect yourself from the embarrassment of a social media faux pas, create a policy that clearly states what you expect from your employees when it comes to social media use. Set clear boundaries, especially for those who are part of your brand-building process.

Do I Know You? In this world of connectivity, how connected are we really? Has the word connected lost its meaning? With our ability to connect to anyone, anytime, anywhere through social media, the term connected has been watered down. Think about how many of the generic “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” invitations you receive each month. Few of them are from people you have truly connected with outside of social media. It feels like the person with the most fans and followers wins. But do they really?

Before there was LinkedIn, you wouldn’t dream of asking a new acquaintance to buy something from you just minutes after you met. And, you certainly wouldn’t show up at a networking event in yesterday’s outfit. Just like offline networking, building relationships online follows the same basic etiquette rules. Here are a few to keep in mind:

  • Be professional. On Twitter, don’t be the egg; post a professional photo of yourself on your profile. This holds true on all social media sites. A business colleague should recognize you from your online picture. Include information about yourself. Your social media profile is the equivalent of your business card, so be sure you keep it updated as your professional information changes. Always keep your basic contact information current and linked to your other professional profiles.
  • Introduce yourself. Want people to get a sense of who you are? Post interesting, value-added content on your social media accounts to showcase your professional expertise. This is especially true with LinkedIn; when you update your status with useful information, you’re building trust among your network and opening doors for introductions to new connections.
  • Be authentic. Just like in real life, no one wants to connect with “that guy.” You know the one: the guy in the sleazy suit who spends his time schmoozing. One of the biggest mistakes people make when connecting on LinkedIn or Facebook is not personalizing the message in the invitation. Swap out the default message with something like “George, I really enjoyed your post at xblog.com. The leadership content you share is so valuable. I’d like to add you to my professional network and get to know more about your business.” This will let the recipient know how you found them and why you want to connect. In turn, they will know that you aren’t connecting for the sake of just adding to your numbers.
  • Listen. Building connections through social media isn’t just about pushing out content. If you’re not taking time to listen and engage with influential people (the ones you are hoping to connect with), you’re missing an opportunity. Choose a handful of key people you want to build a business relationship with, read what they are posting, and when there is an opportunity for you to add value, jump in!

Whether you are connecting with people in the online world or at a dinner party, knowing how to present yourself in a positive way is the same. “Think before you speak” translates to “think before you tweet.”

Margaret Page is a recognized etiquette expert, speaker, and coach who helps people and organizations be more professional. She is the author of The Power of Polite, Blueprint for Success and an illustrated card set, Cognito: Wisdom for Dining and Social Etiquette. She is the founder and CEO of Etiquette Page Enterprises, a leading Western Canadian training organization. To learn more about Margaret, follow her on Twitter and Facebook or sign up for her Etiquette blog or Etiquette Edge newsletter. To contact Margaret, please visit her website at etiquettepage.com or call 604-880-8002.

[From the Aug/Sep 2014 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Consolidating Call Center Activities in the ACA Environment

By Marlene Grasser

Healthcare call centers are again taking center stage due to recent changes in healthcare delivery. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is creating an environment in which networking is necessary to provide the best possible care at the best available price as part of your population management strategies. Today’s consolidated call centers are in the best position to provide this service. Since their inception, healthcare call centers have connected community members to hospital services. Now, more than ever, it is important for a consolidated healthcare call center to connect an organization’s internal services to one another as well as to its affiliated member facilities.

Improve Access to Care: Operating from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. no longer allows a healthcare call center to realize its full potential. Instead, to build a valuable brand that reflects the call center’s value as the hub of information, professional staff availability 24/7 is key. That way, when consumers encounter symptoms or have questions, they automatically know who to call for help. The call center triage nurse who takes symptom calls, especially after hours, has the ability to provide assessment and a recommendation of care, with both acuity level and time frame. Why is this so important?

Swedish Hospital in Seattle, Washington, answers this question by working with a community clinic run by Country Doctor near its busy emergency room to take evening and weekend patients who have lower acuity health needs. In a 2014 Kaiser Health News article, Carol M. Ostrom quotes Swedish Hospital administrative director Howard Springer as saying, “We are not all things to all people. We are illness-care providers, with a heavy emphasis on specialty care and inpatient care.”

Ostrom goes on to say, “The ACA, by bringing insurance to more, makes the deal affordable for Country Doctor. And by signaling that doctors’ and hospitals’ future livelihood will be linked to value, not volume, the ACA has led Swedish to seek such a partner.”

Due to federal regulations, patients cannot be redirected from the emergency room, but certainly they can be educated to know when to seek care in the clinic versus the emergency room. Healthcare call center triage nurses are the perfect fit for this role, ensuring efficient and cost-effective care at any time of day or night.

Maximize Efficiency of Healthcare Delivery: In addition to triage, nurses can also provide care management, post-discharge assessment with coaching, and critical lab calls. Staffing the healthcare call center with cross-trained individuals allows for additional services such as clinic scheduling, event registration, and even relatively new services like cost transparency.

Health2con.com notes, “There is increasing pressure for hospitals to be more transparent about their pricing. The Affordable Care Act now requires that all hospitals publish their prices for the most frequently performed services beginning in 2014.”

The same health coaches who help with scheduling and registration in the call center are positioned especially well to provide pricing information in a sensitive, professional, and accurate way.

There is also an opportunity for feedback via complaint, suggestion intake, and follow up. And since the call center is a centralized hub of information, ongoing and frequent updates to the health content can be made to assure the most accurate information delivery.

Set Bar High for Customer Service: Successful healthcare call centers have a reputation for providing excellent customer service. As the first point of contact for an organization, this is critical to gain and maintain consumer loyalty. Therefore, utilizing this framework to consolidate disparate “mini-call centers” located throughout the organization into a single, centralized center makes sense.

Other groups, like scheduling, have to split their attention between answering the phone and attending to the person physically in front of them. Consolidated call center staff members, unlike staff in other areas of the healthcare delivery system, are able to focus on the next phone call or Web hit, enabling them to provide the best possible front line for remote consumers.

Summary: With the consolidated healthcare call center’s unique ability to improve access to care, maximize efficiency of care provided, and set the bar high for customer service, the healthcare call center increasingly offers a significant benefit to a coordinated care delivery network.

Marlene Grasser is the regional vice president, sales at LVM Systems.

[From the June/July 2014 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Using Cutting-Edge Tools to Support the Health Coach in Post-Discharge Point of Care

By Marlene Grasser

Key to an effective healthcare experience is caring for patients during the entire continuum, including the transition out of the acute hospital setting into their own homes. Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a Harvard professor of Medicine and Investigative Medicine and Public Health, calls this transition the “post-hospital syndrome,” during which patients are in a period of “generalized risk.” It is precisely this portion of the continuum of care where healthcare call centers can demonstrate their human and technological value.

For decades healthcare call centers have been the source of reliable information for day and night calls, ranging from concerned parents who need help with a sick child to injured “weekend warriors.” Nurses answer questions and provide guidance utilizing software that includes evidence-based triage guidelines and health information, with the ability to document the call encounter. The call center also provides specialists with referrals, utilizing a fair and equitable rotation, and helps attract and build physician relationships with the hospital. This technology also provides the ability to electronically notify a health coach within the call center that a discharge from the hospital is planned and action is required to ensure the safety of the patient affected.

Timing, follow-up, education, and access are critical for success in a post-discharge program. The ideal software application provides the structure and tools needed to address each of these fundamental pieces. It’s essential to be able to interface with the hospital’s information system and use applicable triggers to load patients into the health coach’s queue for follow-up in person or by phone. Initial assessment within hours by the coach can reveal stressors and potential dangers beyond the acute illness, which, if unaddressed, could lead to a worsening health condition, re-admission, or even death.

After assessment and identification of risk factors, medication reconciliation (comparing drugs previously taken at home versus new prescriptions from the hospital event) must be performed to assure that the proper medications are obtained and taken as ordered. Medication adherence as a follow-up to reconciliation ensures that any issues – such as side effects, cost, or access to prescriptions – are addressed. The health coach needs a system to track these activities to help prevent unnecessary complications that can occur from medication mistakes.

Through a post-discharge solution, health coaches contact the patient’s primary care provider (PCP) to either confirm or schedule a follow-up appointment. The health coach can assist the patient in preparing for the appointment by listing questions or concerns. Then, an automatic reminder call that has been set up in the software, along with a text of directions or a map to the PCP’s office, provides additional support to help the patient keep the appointment. Any difficulties with transportation can be handled with a service referral.

When additional education and support is needed for specific disease states such as heart failure or diabetes, extensive care plan blueprints need to be available to help guide health coaches. This is especially important when the care extends beyond thirty days post discharge. Scheduled follow-up calls with high-risk patients every two to four weeks can help prevent an exacerbation of health issues and a subsequent re-admission.

Extensive assessment and management tools are needed to support and document the health coach’s activities with each patient and provide a road map from which constant process improvement can occur. Outcome- and trend-reporting provides a review of clinical indicators of individual (as well as aggregate) mental and physical well-being to determine the success of certain interventions and highlight the need for others.

Recognizing that healthcare call centers are crucial to addressing this high-risk period on the healthcare continuum is just the beginning. Ongoing advances in today’s technology provide the ability for the call center to support multifaceted care. From triage to referral, and from post-discharge follow-up to care- and case-management, reporting on successes and challenges insure that patients are cared for well beyond their hospital stay.

Marlene Grasser, RN-C, BSN, is the western region vice president of sales for LVM Systems. For more information about LVM Systems’ re-admission management solutions, please call 480-633-8200 x620.

[From the April/May 2014 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

The Evolution of Self-Service and Its Effect on the Medical Call Center

An Interview with David Lloyd, CEO of IntelliResponse, by Peter DeHaan, Ph.D.

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of AnswerStatThe medical call center has seen many changes in the last few years, especially in the evolving digital and social economy. New technologies have changed the way hospitals and healthcare organizations are marketing and connecting with their main constituents. Some have been reluctant to change, while others have accepted the digital revolution head-on. A major area medical organizations have seen changes is in customer service. The release of the Affordable Care Act’s website in the fall showed that many customers are looking for answers online – and fast. The digital revolution has created a consumer culture of easy access to information and high expectations for efficient customer service.

David Lloyd, CEO of IntelliResponse and expert in customer service technology, comments on the growing self-service trend that healthcare organizations are experiencing and provides tips on how to best incorporate new technology into existing medical call centers. Here’s what he had to share in a recent interview with Peter DeHaan of AnswerStat magazine:

Peter DeHaan: With consumers moving toward digital and online channels to get information, how does this trend affect the call center, especially medical centers?

David Lloyd: Consumers are looking for customer service in the channels they use most often. But that doesn’t mean they won’t contact a call center for information. Call centers will see an influx of complex questions that may require personalized answers. Online customer service, such as virtual agents, can take care of simple queries such as doctor office hours or information about prescriptions, which leaves the subjective questions for the call center agents.

For medical call centers, this trend means agents will have more time to focus on larger issues and address the complicated questions from patients. It’s not about deflecting calls; it’s about empowering stakeholders with a variety of effective options for gathering information.

Peter: How can medical call centers appeal to digitally driven consumers, and how can they make sure their service is consistent with online customer service?

David: Medical call center agents should have access to all the information that consumers have online so they can deliver consistent service across all channels. It’s important for call centers to have an easily accessible and user-friendly database in place so agents have access to a wealth of information they can provide to customers.

Having these systems in place helps call center agents work more efficiently because there’s no time lost in searching for the correct answer in multiple places. Agents are able to provide a single right answer to their customers every time. If the customer goes online to answer the same question, the information will be consistent.

Peter: In what ways is self-service different than search?

David: While search may provide a number of potential answers, modern self-service technology uses natural language processing and machine learning to understand the intent behind patient questions and consistently provide a single right answer to commonly asked queries.

Peter: What does the future of the medical call center look like?

David: With an increased need for improvement of Web self-service, the future of the medical call center allows every agent to be as good as the best agent. Since everyone has access to the same data in the same place, young agents are automatically more productive and can focus on learning how to deal with complicated questions and unhappy patients, decreasing the time needed to ramp up their skills. In an age where consumers seek answers quickly, help centers have to be ready to perform at all levels: Web, mobile, social, and the agent’s desktop. Technology has already been put in place to help solve this problem and will only continue to grow and develop over the next several years. For the time being, it’s all about figuring out what the customer prefers and how call centers can adapt to their needs.

Peter: What kinds of things can medical call centers do to improve the overall customer experience?

David: Improving the customer experience requires call centers look at what works and what doesn’t. Data is crucial to understanding how to improve the experience. For example, a medical center might notice they have been receiving a lot of incoming questions across their self-service channels about the flu going around and what patients should do to prevent catching it. This alerts the call center to be prepared for these types of questions, and it also informs healthcare professionals of a problem they need to address. In this case, they could prep customers by sending out an email blast or posting on their Facebook page a list of tips on how to stay healthy. Doctors would also be more prepared to handle patients with the flu through knowing this information. The data medical call centers receive from patients is invaluable across the entire organization.

Big data will continue to influence how companies interact with their customers. The advent of having pools of customer data is the opportunity to improve services and more fully understand what customers want. The key is communication that caters to the needs of today’s evolving consumer, no matter what that might be. More efficient customer service creates happy customers and a more productive call center overall.

As CEO of IntelliResponse, David Lloyd is responsible for setting the company’s strategic direction, overseeing operations, and driving new growth. Before assuming this role, David was CTO and VP Client Services for IntelliResponse.

Peter DeHaan is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from peterdehaan.com.

[From the April/May 2014 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Fourteen Web Chat Tips for 2014

By Richard McCrossan

This year will be the year that we see Web chat really starting to take hold in the contact center – and not just for the younger generation. These fourteen tips will help call centers implement a successful Web chat policy.

1. Always Promote Web Chat: When promoting Web chat, be careful not to deflect the customer. It is important to understand that some queries are more complex and, therefore, less suitable for Web chat, so make sure the phone is still available as a communication channel.

2. Personalize Chat: No one likes talking to a robot. A personalized customer experience encourages engagement and trust among your customer base, encouraging customers to use Web chat again.

3. Be Professional: While the nature of Web chat means that a less formal language style can be used, it is important that agents “chat” in a professional manner. Bad grammar and spelling reflects badly on an organization.

4. Call the Customer Directly if You Can’t Solve the Query: Advisers can’t always deliver first contact resolution via Web chat, so it must be easy to seamlessly move the conversation from Web chat to a phone call.

5. Have Visible Knowledge Pages: Providing prominent knowledge pages and frequently asked questions (FAQs) on your home page will encourage customers to use self-service and can reduce the volume of phone calls.

6. Use Timed Popups: Avoid prompting customers for Web chat as soon as they enter the page; it causes interruption and frustration. Targeted popups that analyze customer behavior and popup at the precise moment of need are more effective.

7. Have Someone There to Answer: Waiting on hold on the telephone is an annoyance to customers, so don’t make them wait for chat, too. If all of agents are busy, add a capability to grey out the “chat now” button, instead of inviting customers into a long and frustrating queue.

8. Respond Immediately: Web chat queries tend to be less complex, so these queries can be dealt with more quickly and easily than email.

9. Use Short Paragraphs: Unlike a phone call, where people stay on the line, people using Web chat have a habit of drifting off mid-chat. Use short snappy responses to keep the customer’s attention.

10. Control Maximum Chat Sessions per Agent: You should have a maximum of three simultaneous chat sessions per agent. Agents attempting any more than three won’t be able to deliver a great customer experience.

11. Make It Simple and Easy to Use: If you make Web chat too complicated for the customer, there is no point in having it. Complex verifications and instructions will only frustrate the customer further.

12. Don’t Make Customers Repeatedly Confirm Information: If the customer has already logged into your Website, the customer is already authenticated; don’t make them repeat information they’ve already given.

13. Be Aware of Generational Differences: Web chat is typically more popular with the younger generation, so be aware of generational differences. Some customers may not be as used to chat as others; don’t deflect customers to chat who don’t want to use it.

14. Select the Right Advisers for the Job: Not all phone-based service advisers are comfortable handling Web chat. Assess the suitability of agents to handle contacts and provide additional skills training as required.

Richard McCrossan is the strategic business director for digital channels at Genesys.

[From the February/March 2014 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Contact Center Misconceptions About Social Media

By Donna Fluss

Social media is a critical topic today, as few organizations appear to be handling it well. Specifically, contact center leaders see some alarming misconceptions and examples of mishandling. Here are three serious social media issues:

1) Contact center agents do not have enough knowledge or skills to handle social media interactions. Given that a majority of social media interactions for businesses are service or product-related, what department would be more knowledgeable about these matters than contact centers? Not marketers, who are still claiming responsibility for the social media channel, although they generally do not have the company, product, or operational knowledge to handle a large volume of interactions within specific service levels (response times).

While not all agents in contact centers or customer service have the ability to communicate effectively in writing – a skill that is necessary in order to handle social media interactions – these departments are the only ones that have the training, knowledge, and experience to efficiently and effectively handle a large volume of diverse customer inquiries. A reasonable approach is to set up a separate team of service agents to handle social media interactions. If this is done, however, organizations face the risk of having the treatment and information provided to constituents vary based on the channel of contact. This can be a significant and costly challenge for organizations.

2) All social media interactions are required to be funneled to the department or team set up to handle social media. This means that if a friend posts something to an employee’s wall, they are expected not to respond and, instead, pass it on to the “proper” team. As social media is the newest form of conversation, this is akin to asking your employees not to talk to friends or acquaintances about your business or company.

Since employees are the best advocates for businesses, restricting their ability to discuss their company doesn’t make any sense, even if it seems practical. While a centralized servicing team, such as the contact center, should be responsible for handling or overseeing discussions that would typically fall within their purview, employees should be able to “converse” with friends and continue to advocate for their employers, just as they have in the past.

3) Companies are asking their employees to shut down their personal social media accounts. This is offensive and likely illegal (I am not a lawyer, and I’m not issuing a legal opinion on this topic). Not only should companies not have a right to ask employees to disable their personal accounts to avoid the risk of a “friend” asking about their employer, they shouldn’t want them to. Employees are the best and most effective advocates and marketers for a company’s business.

Many enterprises are intimidated by social media and have no idea how to handle these interactions. As a result, they are ignoring them and taking no action, which is the biggest mistake of all – because social media is not going away. Like it or not, social media is a new and increasingly common form of “conversation,” often taking the form of an interaction between the initiator and the public. Customers, prospects, and anyone else who feels like writing are using it, and organizations truly do not have any control over what is written about them.

However, organizations can have 100 percent control over how they respond if they decide to take the necessary steps to build an effective social media program. As part of this initiative, employees should be given some straightforward guidelines about how the organization would like to be represented in these public forums.

Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting and the author of The Real-Time Contact Center.

[From the February/March 2014 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Using Remote Interpreting to Enhance Healthcare Call Center Communications

By Liz Elting

Imagine heading to the pharmacy to purchase medicine and not being able to ask an important question about drug interaction because the pharmacist doesn’t speak your language. Or, let’s say you are trying to find critical drug information by calling your health insurance company’s patient support line, and the person who answers your call can’t understand you. How would you feel? Would you feel safe taking the new medication?

These are just a few examples of how remote interpreting has become a critical component of successful global customer service.

Remote Interpreting Improves Customer Service and Communication: If an organization uses a remote interpreting service, the call center can connect the call with a remote interpreter in the caller’s native language at the same moment a call comes in. From there, the call center contact can assist the caller and communicate information about any issues.

Some organizations, such as healthcare vendors and pharmaceuticals, are expanding across international borders. An important aspect of any customer-facing organization is establishing a stellar customer service platform. Factoring different languages and dialects into a company’s global service options complicates this, as customers require assistance in their native language over multiple platforms. Around the world, customers are shifting their expectations from customer service only via the telephone to include other platforms such as video, text messaging, email, and Web-based audio.

Call centers need the ability to interact with multilingual customers on the same level as native language callers. To do so, they often turn to remote interpreting services that allow them to provide customer service in any language, over any platform. This creates a successful interaction and increases the likelihood of future interactions by earning loyalty from callers.

Beyond the benefit of improved customer service, organizations that contract their remote interpreting service have lower costs. The operation doesn’t need to pay employee salaries or benefits as they would if they had a multilingual staff with support for each language. Of course, lowering overhead costs while maintaining service standards is important to everyone.

Interpretation Applications Are Growing Fast: The need for remote interpreting services extends across several industries, including pharmaceutical, healthcare, legal, and government. In North America, demand for remote interpreting is evenly spread and growing across these industries, though for varying uses.

A pharmaceutical company conducting trials around the world needs to be accessible to patients twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, in case of drug interactions or complications. Using remote interpreters, company representatives and trial participants can be connected in moments, no matter what the language needs are.

For hospitals, remote interpreting allows receptionists, nurses, and doctors to correctly diagnose and treat patients with limited English. Remote interpreting companies provide the hospital with a guide on how to determine what language a patient speaks and then connects them with the appropriate interpreter through a call center.

In addition, companies often conduct campaigns for specific markets around the world. These companies can effectively target non-English-speaking markets by dedicating a bilingual interpreter to integrate with their CRM systems for the length of the campaign. These agents follow a scripted call dialogue, and their ability to make outbound calls and accept inbound calls improves the campaign outreach. The interpreters reach out to prospects, follow the script, and input data directly into the CRM system.

Contracting with a remote interpreting provider in this way can present a cost savings opportunity for an organization. Otherwise, the organization would need to hire an adequate number of agents for each target language. Depending on the campaign, this could add a substantial number of employees – all who would require benefits, salary, and office space.

Conclusion: The applications of remote interpreting services are numerous, and any customer-facing organization can expand their market potential by having the ability to communicate with every customer, regardless of language. Also, because consumers’ communication device preferences are changing, call centers need to be equipped to handle inquiries from different platforms, such as video and chat.

Therefore, remote interpreters can often support devices beyond phones. In addition, as language requirements become more complicated and the size of the market segment in the US that does not speak fluent English grows, the need for remote interpreting services will continue to expand.

Liz Elting is co-founder and co-CEO of TransPerfect, a provider of language and business services. Elting oversees the day-to-day operations of the company, headquartered in New York City.

[From the October/November 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]