A Call to Outsourcing

By Paul Spiegelman

Today’s consumers have higher than ever expectations concerning customer service. They shop for products more judiciously than ever and they turn to the full range of information technologies at their disposal to aid them in their buying decisions. As a result, industries throughout America are being challenged to become more and more sophisticated in their marketing efforts and in building true customer relationship management programs. One of the industries being challenged the most is healthcare.

While America’s medical technology remains the wonder of the world, these are formidable times for those running hospitals, building customer loyalties, and being accountable for each new marketing endeavor or capital expenditure. It is within this environment, and with increasing prevalence that healthcare organizations are recognizing that a well-run call center can capture marketshare, drive revenue, and provide a much-needed compass towards wise utilization of marketing dollars. Grounded in this realization, an increasing number of hospitals are taking a fresh look at the “build versus outsource” crossroads when contemplating how to handle their organization’s call center needs.

Over recent years, outsourcing has become the road more traveled. Little by little, the proven record of accomplishment of the nation’s leading outsourced call centers is stripping away many of the long-standing emotional and organizational barriers that kept the service 100 percent in-house in the 1980s and 1990s. Managers who once felt that their own survival depended upon doing everything internally, or who followed a company philosophy to “build everything internally,” are recognizing the value of outsourcing and are being rewarded many times over for that shift in thinking.

What these managers have discovered is that in many cases outsourcing their call center can provide demonstrative value to their organization in areas such as staffing, service levels, availability, productivity, accountability, and technological capabilities.

Staffing: Outsourced call centers shield an organization from the headaches and hassles that come with staffing – from recruiting to training to managing a call center staff who historically have a propensity to be short-term employees. Outsourcing also provides an organization the flexibility and “bench strength” to adjust their staffing as needs dictate – not having people sitting around when the calls aren’t there or allocating more representatives when there is a spike in calls triggered, for example, by an aggressive advertising campaign or the launch of a new service line.

Service Levels: Because handling phone calls is the only thing outsourced call centers do, such centers have much higher service levels. Calls are answered more quickly, wait times are reduced, multiple languages are often spoken, and in general, a higher degree of customer satisfaction usually results. For a hospital and its medical staff, this can reap both short-term and long-range rewards.

Availability: While it may seem unusual for someone to be seeking a physician referral at 2 a.m. on a Saturday, illness knows no time. Services such as telephone nurse triage need to provide patients and physicians alike with ’round-the-clock peace of mind. It is imperative for a hospital to capture a potential customer at their moment of interest. Outsourced call centers have the capacity to staff 24/7 much more easily than in-house operations.

Productivity: Outsourcing improves a hospital’s productivity by encouraging them to focus on core competencies and critical business issues. Hospitals and doctors are there to provide patient care and clinical expertise, not to answer phones.

Accountability: For years, healthcare marketing and public relations professionals have been challenged to find a credible method for measuring return on their marketing investments. Fortunately, tools are today available that can conclusively tell what’s working and what’s not, what’s generating revenue and what isn’t, and what makes financial sense and what doesn’t. The key to this process is the intelligent use of call centers that are equipped with software packages focused on revenue reconciliation and marketing return on investment. Outsourced call centers are becoming increasingly focused in these areas and are training their call advisors on how to glean the required information from callers and input it into the database. A call center’s ability to provide this data to its hospital client in an understandable and actionable format is something organizations should demand when selecting a call center partner.

Technology: The technological resources available today have added massive new challenges to the complexity of establishing a state of the art call center, and it’s not just the phone. Smart organizations are understanding that the key to customer service means allowing your customers to interact through whichever medium they feel most comfortable, whether that is the phone, the Internet, fax, etc. That means converting a traditional call center into a true customer interaction center where real time chat, prompt email responses, and other forms of two-way communication become the norm. Hospitals can easily waste thousands, if not millions of dollars, buying inappropriate technology or services that quickly become outdated. By avoiding an investment in non-core business functions, capital funds become available for other purposes such as medical technology or physical plant improvements.

Outsourcing is an important, emotional decision for a healthcare company, particularly when it involves something as mission-critical as managing customer relationships through a call center. But recognizing core competencies and acknowledging what is best performed by others is one of the most important tactical decisions any well-run, winning organization can make.

Paul Spiegelman is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Beryl Companies, which, since 1984, has provided a comprehensive range of outsourced call-center solutions to more than 500 healthcare organizations nationwide. Paul can be reached at 817-799-3700 or paul.spiegelman@beryl.net.

[From the Fall 2003 issue of AnswerStat magazine]