By Richard D. Stier, MBA
“There are two ways to look at today’s healthcare contact centers,” said Mary Alice Worrell, director of call center services at Ascension Health Michigan Ministries. “You can be nervous because the market is changing. Alternatively, you can choose to grow with the industry and understand that this is a season of great opportunity. Because primary care physicians are the drivers of value-based payments, the call center is now front and center. This is our time.”
Yes! Our time is now.
Healthcare contact centers are now more relevant than ever. They are moving from a siloed support function to a critical role as a communication hub at the center of the healthcare continuum. As mentioned at the 25th Annual Conference of Healthcare Call Centers, “The contact center is the nerve center at the heart of the new structure.”
As we take advantage of this resurgent opportunity for healthcare call centers, a key dilemma demands consideration: Should we install contact center software, or should we subscribe to a cloud solution where an Internet connection is all the infrastructure we need? Here are nine questions that can help you arrive at the right answer for your organization. Your peace of mind may depend on it.
1) Does your contact center have limited access to internal IT support? Baking brownies for the IT team is still appreciated. Unfortunately, sweet treats may no longer secure the expertise of over-stretched IT professionals. Your request is one of many at a time when they are overcommitted, scrambling to support multiple mission-critical priorities. If you find yourself jockeying to schedule the high-demand time of an IT expert – perhaps to help you acquire and install hardware and software or to support software updates – then you understand the challenge.
The cloud may provide welcome relief. Leading cloud providers deliver their software with no internal IT support required. That’s none – zero. In addition, your IT team may appreciate the freedom to focus on other initiatives such as enterprise-wide EMR. Pass the brownies.
2) Is capital funding restricted or difficult to obtain? Instead of paying for software, paying for the hardware to support it and the IT professionals to manage it, cloud solutions enable clients to simply purchase an annual subscription. That means lower up-front costs. For many organizations, that also removes the need for capital funding. Avoiding the capital budget process, while still securing the functionality you need, may be an attractive option.
3) Does the proposed cloud solution manage updates and upgrades for you? Installed solutions require regular updates to remain current. Leading suppliers of healthcare contact center cloud software manage all upgrades. There are no patches for clients to download and install. There are no worries about system maintenance, operating system upgrades, database optimization, or proactive monitoring to detect issues before they become problems. Additionally, there is no need for clients to add hardware, software, or bandwidth as the user base grows. Take a breath.
4) Confirmed security: is the proposed cloud solution SSAE 16-certified? How secure is your installed solution data? SSAE 16-certification is beneficial to cloud data centers that provide services to a large client base. It is a trusted third-party attestation of meeting a level of proficiency. SSAE 16-certification applies to data centers that provide colocation and have customers who require security and comprehensive data protection. If you’re serious about a cloud solution, be serious about security. Look for a cloud solution from a provider who has earned SSAE-16 certification
5) Is the proposed cloud solution scalable to your specific environment and level of complexity? What is the solution’s historical percentage of uptime? Your contact center solution should adapt with you as your needs change and your organization becomes more complex. Whether installed or cloud-based, require a solution that can easily grow from supporting a one-person call center to an integrated contact center servicing scores of hospitals and thousands of providers. Ideally, your contact center software should integrate with key existing systems.
Uptime is a baseline requirement. If the proposed cloud provider does not have a record of delivering 99.9 percent uptime or better, keep looking.
6) Is implementation faster with the installed contact center software solution or the cloud solution? Does a proposed cloud solution provide a faster implementation than provided by the corresponding installed solution? Leading contact center cloud solution providers have refined and honed cloud implementations. For example, one cloud contact center solution offers implementation time that is 60 percent faster than with the equivalent installed solution.
7) Which clients are more current on their supplier’s software? Find out if installed or cloud clients use more current software. Often cloud clients are on more recent versions than installed software. Using the most current software allows for the newest features.
8) Does the proposed cloud solution assure untethered access to call center data? A call center connects by phone, while a contact center can utilize multiple communication modalities including telephone, Web chat, email, and text messaging. For a contact center, an application-programming interface, or API, is a vital tool. Think of an API as a machine-to-machine interface rather than a user interface. An API provides a set of programming instructions and standards for accessing a Web-based software application, whether installed or in the cloud.
An API allows programmers to automate the flow of data by developing applications that communicate with existing software applications. A key benefit is a significant decrease in internal costs by eliminating the need to reenter data that is already captured by an existing application.
APIs also make it easy to efficiently share data and processes, allowing developers to access the functionality of other software through well-defined data structures. This can assure that you have complete, accurate contact center data.
Leading contact center cloud applications include an API. Don’t consider a cloud contact center solution without this essential functionality.
9) Are value-added features available exclusively for cloud clients? Find out about cloud-specific resources and value-added services that may not be available or may be extra-cost options with the equivalent installed software. One contact center cloud solution includes concierge services. This client-specific competitive advantage includes a professional who works with clients to design, create, and support both process improvement and report generation and automation, exactly what many clients seek.
Here’s an all-too-common experience by one cloud contact center client: The call center data administrator left the organization, and suddenly no one knew how to produce key reports. Reports that had been previously automated were now produced manually. In some cases mission critical reports were not prepared at all. They needed help, and they needed it quickly. Can you relate?
Yes, this is our time. Contact centers are profoundly relevant to today’s healthcare challenges. Your decision about whether to select an installed or a cloud-based contact center software solution can be either an intentional accelerator or an unfortunate limiter of your success. Choose wisely.
Rick Stier has a thirty-year record of results as a healthcare marketing executive and consultant. He is vice president of marketing at HealthLine Systems, Inc., a provider of software and consulting solutions to over a thousand healthcare organizations across North America.
[From the June/July 2014 issue of AnswerStat magazine]