When You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

By Gina Tabone, MSN, RNC-TNP

As a healthcare leader you cannot afford a failed initiative. When precious dollars are allocated for a strategic project, success is the only acceptable outcome – your job and reputation are on the line.

Consider an organization planning to open its own centralized contact center. There’s no question about the value to the organization: one point of contact, standardization and integration of services, improved efficiencies, and satisfied patients. It seems like a simple task: hire some operators, buy some phones, rent space, and you’re ready to go live, right? Nothing could be more wrong.

To ensure the success of this type of initiative, you must consider the unique knowledge base and expertise required and the people, processes, and technology needed. Leaders are at a disadvantage when they don’t know what they don’t know, so after funding has been approved, it’s best to seek the help of a call center industry expert to ensure that no time, money, or talent is wasted.

The success of a call center hinges on the right mix of talent, logical processes, and intelligent technology. Labor costs are the greatest ongoing expense, so recruitment and hiring efforts must result in a workforce of bright, customer-focused, sustainable employees. Retention is key – not only from a financial perspective but also for growth and succession planning as the call center expands. Managers and directors should have proven track records of exceeding expectations, an understanding of your organizational goals, and the ability and desire to assemble and lead a team. Call center consultants can work with you to create job descriptions that will attract viable candidates and help you interview and hire team members who have a high probability for success.

The “call center process” is a phrase used synonymously with “call flow,” which is the route the caller follows to achieve resolution of an issue. You don’t want callers to feel like they are jumping through hoops, repeating the same information to different people or being transferred into a dark abyss. Experience in process optimization is crucial, so involve an expert to oversee the work of an integrated task force assigned the job of defining your call center’s strategic expectations and what success looks like for your organization. If possible, assign roles and responsibilities to key stakeholders from the C-suite, operations, IT, human resources, compliance, finance, and nursing. A call center consultant should be able to engage the team in mapping the path the caller will follow in various situations.

The goal should always be to have a call handled by the first person the caller speaks with; this “first-call resolution” requires frontline staff to have knowledge and resources to serve the callers’ needs. First-call resolution can be achieved with robust, dynamic, interactive training programs and tools. Enabling call center agents to succeed is your job as the organization’s leader. If you have limited experience in the world of call centers, collaborate with an expert to get it right the first time.

The result will be a center that starts without faltering and with you being credited with the accomplishment. The final component of call center operations is the technology that forms the center’s infrastructure. Today’s market provides hardware, software, and applications that provide vast telephony capabilities, and it’s essential to define your organization’s requirements for the technology purchases that will be made. You need to have answers for questions such as:

  • Does your organization want every call to be recorded? This is a common practice in medical call centers and is valuable from both a risk management perspective and as a quality monitoring tool.
  • What about Interactive Voice Response (IVR)? (For example, “To hear this message in Spanish, press 1,” or “To talk to a nurse, press 2.”) These voice responses support efforts to route the caller to the right person the first time.
  • Do you know what CRM, CTI, AWI, ASA, ABD, UTIL, and AHA stand for? If you’re familiar with those contact-center-specific technology terms, that’s great! If not, it’s never too late to start learning.

Do your homework when choosing vendors and equipment – it can be costly if you don’t make the right choices at the beginning of the process. If you “don’t know what you don’t know,” bring in an expert to educate you and your team. That expert can help you develop, design, and implement your emerging contact center and provide ideas that can mean the difference between success and failure. A good consultant takes the “training the trainer” approach when facilitating the “Go Live” process and will step away after the team has some experience, confidence, and demonstrated successes.

Healthcare is multi-dimensional, and no one knows everything because there are so many specialty areas, so many subject matter experts, so many achievements and accomplishments, and so much to learn and gain. A courageous leader is one who can admit when they don’t know what they need to know. A humble leader is someone who knows enough to solve the problem and get the expected solution-based results by engaging a call center expert. Don’t risk finding out too late that you did not know what you did not know.

Gina Tabone, MSN, RNC-TNP, is director of 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.

[From AnswerStat October/November 2015]