By Anna Convery
Healthcare companies are transitioning from a “let’s wait and see what happens” mindset to the definitive reality of and associated preparations for the new healthcare system brought forth by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Organizations are evaluating and assimilating these changes as new laws come into effect. There is an enormous amount of complexity surrounding the ACA from all perspectives – government, business, and citizens.
With all of the confusion and misinformation surrounding the ACA, the contact center is taking on an increasingly important role as the primary knowledge resource for many healthcare organizations. There are millions of people being added to the system, many of them previously uninsured with little to no knowledge of how the system works.
Pharmaceutical, hospital, health insurance, and medical services companies that span this massive industry are relying on the contact center to serve as the front line for the many questions related to the ACA, its many complexities, and its evolving policies and laws. While a number of these companies have been able to set up self-service channels such as Web and online portals to handle the tremendous influx of inquiries, the number of calls into many contact centers has skyrocketed. In response, healthcare organizations are rapidly increasing staffing levels to handle the high volume of calls to their service centers.
As healthcare companies add significant numbers of new contact center agents, it is critical that they have a strategic plan for fast-tracking these new employees so they are trained in the most efficient and effective way possible. Though this is not easily done, here are four ideas to consider for fast-tracking agents so that they have the training and tools available to deliver a gold-standard service experience.
1) Optimize the Desktop: Even before the ACA emerged, healthcare organizations struggled with agent onboarding. Much of this was attributed to desktop complexity. Most healthcare contact center agents are required to work in multiple disparate applications and systems to perform basic functions, like locating policy information, state regulations, or other mission-critical data. From a training perspective, requiring agents to learn numerous different back-end systems that are disconnected and non-intuitive drives up training time. As a result, the agent spends more time in training on each system and is not on the floor answering calls.
How can you simplify the desktop and make the interaction between the agent and member a more pleasant and efficient experience? Consider an agile desktop solution that aggregates all of the key policy information into a single view. This allows you to continue to use your legacy systems, while simplifying the user interface and information presented to the agent. Agents can spend less time navigating systems and more time answering callers’ questions. Eliminating system complexity and simplifying worker processes enables agents to work smarter, engage more effectively, and have the right information at the right time, transforming the customer interaction and transaction at the desktop.
2) Use Intelligent Cross-Training: Everyone has to start somewhere, and most agents start by handling the most basic types of inquiries. However, there are often opportunities to expand the skill set of these tier-one agents by implementing process automations that intelligently guide newer agents through more complex processes. The alternative is to have tier-one agents handle only the most basic of inquiries and then transfer everything else to an escalated, tier-two group or a back office. This common practice increases transaction volumes and significantly increases the elapsed time for transactions. Instead, cross-train tier-one agents and use intelligent guidance to usher them step-by-step through the more complex processes.
One related point is that as new ACA regulations are mandated, contact centers must be compliant to these standards. Intelligent guidance can be used to help healthcare insurance contact centers maintain compliance with new ACA regulations by enforcing adherence to new processes immediately after they are introduced.
3) Be Agile When Change Occurs: Regardless of the amount of planning and preparation, there are still many uncertainties related to the ACA that force companies to be alert for change at all times. With each new regulation, contact centers must be prepared adapt their systems to provide agents with the tools they need to either communicate or capture accurate information. The key to success is providing agents with the resources and information needed to accurately and quickly respond to inquiries. Using intelligent taskbars that integrate to back-end systems to capture contact information or automating copy-and-paste tasks from system to system make agents more efficient during the call, as well as automating post-call notes to eliminate time-consuming wrap-up.
When changes need to be made to the back-end systems, the intelligent taskbar can still maintain its familiar look and feel for the agent. In this manner, new regulations and procedures can be easily assimilated without requiring wholesale changes to existing technology infrastructure or additional agent retraining.
4) Stop, Collaborate, and Listen: Onboarding new agents is time-consuming and costly, so once you have trained them, you want to keep them. Unfortunately, most contact centers generally run at a 35 percent per annum attrition rate. The key to minimizing attrition is to focus on agent satisfaction and engagement; therefore, it is important to establish a collaborative culture at the start of onboarding so agents know their feedback is important.
Of course, this means that there really must be a collaborative culture in the first place, and agent engagement must be a critical part of your service strategy. Consider these questions:
- Is the agent empowered to act on behalf of the company to solve the caller’s issue?
- Does the agent have the tools necessary to perform all of the work activities required?
- Are these tools optimized for maximum performance?
- Does the company ask for agent feedback on a regular basis?
- Is there a system for communicating the success of new programs and publicly praising the employees that suggested them?
These are all critical questions when considering agent engagement as part of an overall contact center strategy.
Studies show that as agent engagement increases, so does service quality. Therefore, establishing and encouraging a strong dialogue with contact center agents should be an important part of the training and onboarding experience.
As the fog lifts and the ACA becomes clearer, organizations will have to adjust and adapt as policies and laws evolve in this new system of healthcare. While this evolution plays out, healthcare contact centers must continue to strive for operational and service level excellence. Creating strategic agent training and onboarding programs to successfully ramp up agents to staff these contact centers is a mission-critical corporate initiative.
By implementing these four aspects of the onboarding experience, healthcare contact center agents can spend less time navigating complex systems, paperwork, and bureaucracy; this will allow them to spend more time helping callers and giving excellent service. The companies that embrace these changes and figure out how to manage all of these new customers – while lowering overhead costs and maintaining high levels of service and satisfaction – are going to be the clear market winners.
As EVP, strategy, Anna Convery oversees global market development and strategic initiatives for OpenSpan, a provider of desktop automation and desktop analytics solutions that improve performance, drive revenue, and increase efficiencies in contact center, back office, and retail storefront environments. An industry expert in customer service technologies and solutions, Anna has been named a “Woman of the Year in Technology” by WIT and has received numerous awards and recognition for her business leadership and vision.
[From the April/May 2014 issue of AnswerStat magazine]