The Remote Call Center

By Mark Dwyer

A growing trend in hospital-based call centers is to employ remote staff. This strategy was originally a means to address staffing shortages. Today, because of ever tightening budgets, remote staff is quickly becoming a fiscal necessity. Many organizations are employing remote nurses to provide telephone triage services for one to two-hour shifts, while others are completely decentralizing their call centers, in an effort to reduce their overall staffing expense. Also, with space within hospitals (and at many other call centers as well) at a premium, anytime staff can be moved off-site, the organization nets tremendous cost and space savings.

Solving the technical challenges: Decentralizing the call center can yield big savings, but it brings with it an array of technical and risk management issues that must be considered. Fortunately, current technology can address these issues. Functionality ranging from call recording systems to centralized call queuing is now available from a number of leading companies.

Now organizations no longer need to outsource their off-peak hours coverage. Instead, by using remote staff, all calls can be handled by the organization’s own nurses using the same software and guidelines. With all nurses on the same software, aggregate reporting is more meaningful.

Managing the risk: Risk management has long been one of the main obstacles to allowing staff to work from home. Today, through use of call recording systems and other technological advances, the risk of being sued on a false claim of a nurse inappropriately handling a triage call can be mitigated. In addition, more advanced programs which not only record the voice interaction but also capture each key stroke performed by the nurse during the call are now available. This latter feature moves beyond simple risk management to provide a comprehensive staff assessment and remedial training tool.

Even in the decentralized model, a core group of administrative staff, usually housed on-site, is needed to perform on-going database housekeeping and to generate monthly reports. What’s more, centralized administrative personnel are vital to conducting the aforementioned staff assessments and needed remedial training services.

Making the technology work: So how does an integrated call recording program work? The program establishes links between the call transaction stored within the call center system and the call recording audio file. This allows the triage nurse to remain working with his or her familiar call center software, yet, with the simple click of the mouse, retrieve and playback the audio record.

Beyond call recording, technology companies offer another significant benefit for call centers by cutting critical seconds off each call’s time through screen-pop technology. Based on the calls DNIS (Dialed Number Identification Service, which identifies the number the caller dialed) or a unique ID number (such as callers’ Social Security number) provided in response to an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) prompt, the nurse can be presented with the caller’s information as he or she initially receives the call. Nurses no longer need to take valuable time to search the database for the caller’s demographic data.

CTI Revisited? But isn’t this all just a rehash of the promises offered by CTI some 10 years ago? Unlike Computer Telephony Integration (CTI), which posed significant implementation challenges and came with associated high costs, today’s solutions using Internet Protocol (IP) technology can more easily and cost effectively link multiple remote offices and home-based triage nurses. This is now achievable due to recent advances in bringing high-speed Internet connections to the home.

IP technology is ideal for organizing multiple call centers (or remote staff) into one effectively managed whole. It provides simplified converged voice and data network integration and brings tools such as advanced IVR, skills-based routing, multi-site networking, and screen pop transfers into the realm of reality for healthcare call centers.

What’s more, IP promises the ability to reduce the operating costs of the call center through its scalability and the elimination of expensive hardware components (such as replacing desk sets with softphones). As a result of these features, IP is beginning to be used by call centers to merge data and voice networks, enhance recordings, assist in workforce management, improve agent retention, and heighten quality assurance.

Conclusion: Remote staff is becoming more popular as call centers strive to meet staffing challenges while reducing costs. As call centers strive to effectively establish remote nurses, they will be challenged to select the technology solution best suited to meet their needs. IP systems can cost effectively link multiple remote offices and nurses, regardless of location. In doing so, they provide each user with full access to all shared voice applications.

Additionally, IP technologies positively impact Return on Investment (ROI). Through use of IP interfaces, ROI will come from indirect benefits in caller satisfaction; centralizing call center functions, including more use of home nurses and remote staff , and selectively replacing staff-dependent functions with automated self-service functions.

So, whether the call center chooses to establish remote staff to cover limited shifts, to provide off-hours coverage, or to completely decentralize the call center, today’s technology can make it possible. The key to success is to select a call center vendor with the strategic relationships to take advantage of these powerful new technologies.

Mark Dwyer is the Vice President of Business Development for LVM Systems, Inc. He can be reached at 490-633-8200 x2745 or mark@lvmsystems.com

[From the April/May 2005 issue of AnswerStat magazine]