Sharpen Your Contact Centers’ Reflexes to Better Respond to the Unexpected

By Matt McConnell

The modern healthcare industry is a tough place for contact centers to thrive. There are more patients, specialty providers, technology systems, and constituents, as well as more competition for services than ever before.

Customer interactions are more complex, and agents must be highly skilled to handle all kinds of inquiries, from appointment scheduling and pre-certification and authorization of services to billing, insurance questions, and even patient complaints – all while remaining transparent and maintaining the highest possible level of customer service.

This level of agent knowledge and competency requires consistent, ongoing training and coaching. At the same time, no matter how efficient your center – or how much time you spend planning to ensure staff levels meet customer demand – you still have agents sitting idle every day.

In fact, the average contact center agent spends forty-nine minutes of the day in an available state, waiting for the next call. To compound the problem, these forty-nine minutes come in small chunks of just a few unproductive minutes at a time.

This presents a major challenge for workforce managers who are charged with ensuring staff levels meet customer demand. At the same time, they must find enough available time to train and develop agents, schedule mandatory off-phone activities, staff against unplanned absences, and deal with a variety of unforeseen events that quickly turn a workforce manager’s day into a nightmare.

Sometimes, managers plan for this by either operating at the status quo for occupancy or overstaffing to reduce wait times and handle more calls. Plus, training is scheduled and rescheduled based on call volume, which is both expensive and ineffective. Fortunately, there is a better way.

Intraday Management Technology: With intraday management technology, contact center managers are able to respond to unexpected events and spikes in call volume while keeping agents productive and without compromising overall service levels. The technology works with a center’s ACD to identify small pockets of idle time between customer interactions across the entire agent population that can be aggregated into larger blocks of productive time for a smaller group of agents.

Managers create an activity queue for each agent that prioritizes off-phone activities based on the agent’s individual strengths and weaknesses. When a block of time becomes available, these activities – which can include coaching, training, back office work, communications, or other off-phone activities – are delivered directly to the agent to complete.

Idle time is transformed into active wait time, and agents can complete meaningful activities that continuously improve their performance and make them better at their jobs. When call volume unexpectedly spikes or predetermined service levels dip, agents are directed to log off and return to answering calls. Managers can also use this technology to send automated offers of overtime and voluntary time off to help better manage staffing levels or to send important alerts and notifications.

Business Impact: One leading healthcare sales and account manager provider was able to use intraday management technology to dramatically improve call quality and first call resolution (FCR). The company – with more than 7,000 employees, including 2,750 claim processors and 3,250 customer service representatives – used intraday management technology to address call quality issues and focus the company around customer loyalty.

Using a proven call model, the company’s training staff created a library of short “learning breaks” and delivered them to agents based on individual performance gaps as identified by quality monitoring systems, performance systems, and supervisor feedback. The training was delivered during downtimes in call volume, and agents were provided with a scorecard to help them track their progress in the areas of quality, productivity, and average handle time.

The results were impressive. After the first year, the company was servicing one million new members, but with 10.7 percent fewer full-time employees. Average speed of answer (ASA) improved by more than twenty-seven percent, and there was a 1.5 percent improvement in quality results.

Other areas of business improved as well. Claim rework improved by 61.3 percent. The percentage of claims processed within ten business days improved by 5.1 percent, and the percentage of claims processed beyond twenty business days was reduced by 88.2 percent. The overall accuracy of claims processing improved from 96.2 percent to 97.1 percent.

Get Control of the Unexpected: In the contact center, the one thing you can expect is the unexpected. Unscheduled events will occur, and call volume will continue to be impossible to accurately predict. But intraday management technology gives you the power to respond to the unexpected in real-time, while finding more time for agents to improve their performance.

Not only do managers gain more control, but agents also become more proficient at their jobs. And, most importantly, customers receive a better overall experience.

Matt McConnell is CEO of Intradiem, formerly Knowlagent, a provider of intraday management solutions for contact centers. For more information call 888-566-9457.

[From the April/May 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]