By Gina Tabone
Healthcare strategists must lead the campaign to transform call center agents into caregivers and move from a call center mentality to a care center functioning as the doorway to an organization. Medical call centers have evolved over the past decade from a call center, to a contact center, to the current title of centralized access center. The goal for the patient is a seamless connection to a call center agent equipped to resolve any need presented within the confines of the first call.
Agent positions are often entry level, which they historically abandon once they are eligible to bid on a higher paying, more prestigious role within the organization. What a shame that front-line call center employees do not realize the immense value they play in the continuum of care and the potential they have to impact an exceptional patient experience.
Change, as usual, must happen. Here are three easy-to-implement tactics to begin transforming the mindset of call center agents from telephone operator to a caregiver that is acknowledged as a vital contributor in the continuum of care.
Healthcare chatter and verbiage flood nightly news reports, political rhetoric, and patient newsletters. It is hard enough for industry leaders to comprehend what is being said and expected, let alone the people on the front line doing the work.
There is nothing more motivating than realizing that the work one does is meaningful and makes a difference. This is most true in the delivery of healthcare. No matter what the role, everyone interacting with a patient can contribute to a positive experience. Here’s how:
- The messages must be clearly stated from the top-level leadership involved in the call center transformation. Be honest and frank. Leadership is supportive but must be mindful of the ever-present business impact of every department.
- “You are very important to our organizations and your contribution to the organization are unique and essential.”
- Think of the call center as the front door to the organization. You are the ones answering the knock at the door.
- You have the power to either communicate: “Hello, welcome, we are expecting you,” or slam the door in their face by being robotic, irritated, and impatient.
Caregivers working in a centralized communication center do not actually have a panel or group of patients specifically assigned to them. Rather, they are there to provide a plethora of services to the patients from a variety of locations, specialties, practices, providers, or payers. The role they play augments the meaningful care provided in an office or clinic setting. Efforts must focus on viewing the call center caregivers as a vital component of the outpatient team.
- They are the first point of contact for new patients. They can convey compassion and trust in the initial interaction as a precursor of what to expect in a face-to-face visit with a clinician.
- First point of contact caregivers set the tone for what to expect from the organization. Hopefully they demonstrate a flawless, coordinated experience with a knowledgeable person who has the skills and resources to satisfy their current need.
- It is valuable for call center employees to spend a day with the clinic team and for the clinic staff to spend a day shadowing the call center caregiver. Bonds forge, and there is an appreciation for the work each group performs.
Call center leadership is not a stationary job. Every level of management is most effective when present and visible to those working on the phones. The environment is dynamic and requires constant supervision and direction.
- Seeing team leads, managers, and higher ups walking around and interacting with staff builds confidence and is a sign that they are available when needs arise.
- Wireless headsets allow for designated support staff to move about, mingle with agents, and overhear calls that may benefit from a higher level of intervention. It is a defensive method for avoiding a potential problem, or even worse, a discontented patient.
- Call center leaders who take live calls for a portion of their work week can lead by example.
- Circulating staff are there to advocate for the best possible patient experience, while at the same time nurturing and engaging the caregivers.
There is a need to develop a platform of soft skills training that teaches call center caregivers how to convey interest, concern, and competency to callers. The tactics discussed in this essay are fantastic ways begin the transformation of a call center team.
Gina Tabone, MSN, RNC-TNP, is the vice president of strategic clinical solutions at TeamHealth Medical Call Center. Prior to joining TeamHealth, she served as the administrator of Cleveland Clinic’s Nurse on Call 24/7 nurse triage program.