By Mark Dwyer
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines efficiency as the effective operation measured by comparing production with cost (energy, time, and money). Never has call center efficiency been as critical as today with the limited number of available telehealth nurses and trained call center agents, the high costs of hiring and retaining qualified staff, increased call volumes, and the growing costs of technology, hardware, and space for running a call center.
So, how can you increase your call center’s productivity, whether you use it for nurse telehealth triage, marketing, referral, or any number of functions? Let us review several opportunities.
Start with Information
Data is king when evaluating how efficiently your call center staff handles calls and how successful it is in satisfying customers/patients. There are numerous standard reports in most call center solutions that provide the data needed to calculate your call center’s efficiency. If valid, you can use this data to project basic staffing needs.
There are several free and fee-based staffing tools available. Two such tools include the Erlang Calculator for Call Center Staffing and a staffing tool developed by Bright Pattern. Remember to consider values such as attrition rate, shrinkage, abandoned calls, and multi-skilled agents in your calculations. You can use these formulas to determine both non-clinical and clinical call center staffing needs, provided you use values that accurately represent your call center.
Regardless of the tool you use, be sure to generate graphical trend reports as they more clearly present times when your staff either under or over-performs against your target metrics. If you’re new to call center staffing, I recommend the YouTube video by Call Center Management titled “Calculate the # of agents you need.”
Integration Increases Efficiency
Efficiency strategies include many things. For example, some systems can preload the caller’s name and several other demographics by using caller ID before the nurse or agent receives the call.
At institutions with centers of excellence that maintain their own focused call centers, use your phone system to direct calls using skills-based routing. For example, the system can direct cardiac calls to the heart center, oncology calls to the cancer center, etc.
When integration with your phone system is unavailable, many sites use front-enders to gather initial demographics before handing the call off to a nurse. Some organizations go even further using the front-enders to identify callers needing urgent attention to hand off immediately to a nurse versus those they can safely add to the nurse follow-up call queue.
Once in the call queue, ongoing attention to the queue is paramount to make sure calls with the greatest need for care receive priority. Many busy sites dedicate a nurse or nurse manager to perform this task during peak call times.
Consider Chat and Automation
Chat is also becoming a vital tool in off-loading both inbound and outbound calls from the queue. Today’s healthcare users often prefer to chat rather than talk on a phone.
By using chat and AI-generated chatbots, sophisticated systems can ask preliminary questions before transferring the caller to a live nurse or agent for a further chat or live phone interaction. Chat reduces staffing and provides the techno-savvy generation with their preferred communication methodology. Automation can further increase efficiency by redirecting general requests for information to the hospital website’s Q&A section.
Optimize Call Flow
Remember, as I stated, data is king. From the data gathered by the software as staff process calls, managers can simplify call flow to streamline the process. In addition, as your users learn the system, you can remove specific prompts, call guides, and fields, eliminating unneeded keystrokes.
Some software also provides hot-keys (such as Alt-S) to access additional software functions supporting full-on keyboarding. Others offer systems that are more mouse-click friendly. The best offers both options to enable your different types of users to process calls most efficiently.
When talking about call flow, I would be remiss not to mention the strategic value provided by software that is customizable to meet your needs. A solution that claims to fit all clients does not fit any. To be truly efficient, you need to work with vendors that partner with you to design a system that serves your unique needs.
The ideal solution should also include reports to track the fields used and not used, enabling you to hide the unused fields. Can your team hide the fields, or does it require vendor support? Remember, vendor support means additional costs.
Another commonly used efficiency tool is the video visit. Video visit is especially valuable if your call center also provides care management or disease management services. In addition, videos are of value when triaging certain situations. A good example is when a mom calls about a lethargic child. Seeing a video of the child facilitates more accurate, quicker triage.
For sites not equipped for video, even the ability to accept static photos increases efficiency by allowing the nurse to see the severity of a rash, laceration, or other condition.
Another feature that goes a long way to improving call center efficiency is a solution that provides a command center dashboard. This real-time data enables the call center to switch directions as needed, reallocating staff and staffing based on real-time data.
Quality review auditing tools also enhance productivity by identifying improper call handling or triaging early in a call center agent’s or nurse’s career, enabling fast remediation before bad, efficiency-zapping habits become habitual. Managers must conduct ongoing reviews of call center staff to identify potential areas for improvement. Of great value here are resources provided by your software vendor, including new hire training, refresher courses, training documentation, and no-cost webinars to keep your staff using the software at its peak efficiency.
Benchmark Your Performance
Finally, be cautious not to become overly impressed with your call center’s performance until you compare it to the industry’s standards and, more importantly, to other call centers using the same software solution. For example, your site’s call times may beat national averages. However, do they stand up against the call times of other hospitals using your same software?
Be sure to look for a vendor that can anonymously collect non-PHI call data from its clients to generate individual call center-specific numbers and multi-site aggregate results. This will enable you to evaluate your data against that of the aggregate. By comparing apples to apples, you can more accurately identify if you’re being as efficient as possible.
Time is money, and saving time saves money. The best way to accomplish this is by using your call center solution as effectively as possible.
Mark Dwyer is LVM Systems’ chief operations officer. He has more than a quarter century of experience in the healthcare call center industry.