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]