Tag Archives: customer service articles

A Simple Solution to Enhance the Insurance Call Center Customer Experience



By Mark Nathan

In the last decade or so we’ve seen dramatic improvements in customer service call center performance across a wide swath of industries. As a consumer, it’s far easier to troubleshoot your cable service, clear up confusion about your cell-phone bill, or change your flight today than it used to be.

But try calling your health insurance company, even for something simple like updating your address, and you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back to 1999. Long hold times and endless apologies from customer reps, who can’t find the information you need, remain the norm in health insurance call centers.

Saddled with Old Technology

This is largely because those call-center workers use antiquated technology. More specifically, they’re juggling an array of databases, each of which needs a separate login, and many of which require separate terminals. Those long hold times and frustrating delays are a direct result of the time reps spend jumping between screens, logging in and out of different databases, and, in some cases, walking across the room to find what they need.Insurers should focus on implementing technology that integrates the data in their disparate systems into a single view that every customer rep can access. Click To Tweet

A customer rep might have to log into one system to find a doctor’s account information, another to look up specific policy details, and a third to understand the insurer’s arrangement with the hospital system the doctor works for. Tougher questions about procedures that need special authorization or involve complex agreements with large health systems might send the rep spelunking into unfamiliar systems they only access every few months.

This doesn’t happen in most industries, which over the last decade have upgraded to automated systems. Natural-language chat bots and other virtual solutions today handle many basic customer requests, which reduce call center traffic. And when customers do call, reps typically access integrated databases through a single screen. This is true even in industries like cable and utilities, which not long ago battled the same issues that plague health insurers today.

The Challenge of Upgrading Technology

For insurers, upgrading call center technology and systems has proved challenging and costly. The challenge lies in the way insurers’ databases have been assembled over the years. Many were brought together through acquisitions or built by various outside companies in response to a specific need or regulatory requirement. This hodgepodge has left insurers dealing with outdated physical directories. The result is that simple updates, like changing an address, must sometimes be done on paper. The systems can’t be electronically integrated, and the cost of replacing them is prohibitive.

But the status quo has its own costs. Often insurers pay exorbitant licensing fees that haven’t been renegotiated for years. Training customer reps to use multiple systems, some of which are anything but intuitive, is also expensive. And there’s another expense associated with those creaky systems: the fines assessed against health insurers when they give their members inaccurate information.

Antiquated customer service at health insurers also creates systemic costs. When you can’t figure out what exactly your policy covers you might just go to the emergency room when you’re sick. That’s a drain on the hospital’s resources and the insurance company’s bottom line.

And beyond that, insurers are missing a prime opportunity to help their members save money by staying healthier. Insurers know when we’re due for an annual physical and when our prescriptions need refilling. They can tell us where the nearest urgent-care clinic is, so we go there instead of the ER. Better customer service would not only be reactive—answering our questions when we go online or call—but also proactive, providing us with prompts and reminders to take actions to keep us healthy and save us (and them) money.

Pursue a Single-Screen View, Single-Login Solution

This is entirely possible, and it doesn’t require ripping out all the legacy systems and databases that plague health-insurance call centers today. Instead, insurers should focus on implementing technology that integrates the data in their disparate systems into a single view that every customer rep can access. That would give them a single login and a single interface to work through when seeking information about a customer.

Moving to a single-screen view, with all the databases connected on the back end, would end the time wasted logging into and out of different systems, switching screens and running around the call center trying to find accurate information. It can be done through an application programming interface (API)—software that connects to all the existing systems—without building new or different databases.

This would result in dramatically shorter hold times, fewer fines for misinforming customers, and happier, healthier members. It would also lay the groundwork for more advanced customer communications, like chat bots and artificial intelligence. So, before you can finish typing “find a doctor” in the chat box, the software suggests a cardiologist near you, because it knows you have high-blood pressure based on your prescription records.

All this is possible if we start by putting a single screen in front of every customer rep in the call center. It’s an elegant solution to a complex problem—and that’s exactly what technology should do.

 

Mark Nathan is founder and CEO of Zipari, a consumer experience software company for health insurance. He’s worked in insurance for the last twelve years, and prior to that worked at consumer-oriented companies including Apple and Disney, after serving as a robotics engineer for NASA.

Shift from Transactions to Amazing First Experiences



Richard D. Stier, MBA

The consumer has spoken. Patient experience is now healthcare’s core differentiator. In a recent study of 2,000 participants across five countries in four continents, six out of ten consumers identified patient experience as extremely important to them as they defined it. [Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D. Patient Experience Journal, Volume 5, issue 1, 2018]

Extraordinary first experiences delivered through your organization’s contact center and across initial touchpoints can strengthen relationships and build trust. First patient experiences influence hospital preference [SHSMD, 2012], and impact subsequent patient volume and corresponding revenue.

A strategic opportunity is to navigate the shift from transactions to deliver amazing, differentiating first patient experiences. Four insights can enable that shift.

1. Discover Your First Experience Differentiator

Exactly what is it that makes your organization’s brand of first experiences truly distinctive from the perspective of those you serve? That is, what separates you from all others in your market?

Consider these related questions:

  • Do your team members or associates feel personally supported and cared for? Are they eager to support and care for those they serve?
  • What level of trust have you earned with providers? Are they strong advocates for your organization with their patients?
  • Are callers to your contact center enjoying remarkable first connections? Are they so delighted that they become personal champions for your hospital or health network?
  • What do patients say about their experiences at your organization when they’re talking with friends across social media?
  • What is different about the first experiences you deliver? What’s better? What’s not so great?
  • Are the first experiences you deliver consistent at all first touchpoints across your enterprise? Where are they best? Where do they need help?

Stakeholders move through an integration or an assimilation process as they experience healthcare organizations. For many, hospitals are scary places. People die in hospitals. Initial emotions can easily include fear and distrust.Put Patient Experience First

Intention and focused effort are required to move many stakeholders beyond negative emotions and over the tipping point into positive responses such as safety, trust, and finally, to advocacy.

A foundation of trust with team members or associates, enables them, in turn, to express confidence in the organization when they interact with providers, callers, and patients. Each individual stakeholder is at a differing level of negative or positive response based on their own personal experiences.

Identify a baseline measurement of how each key stakeholder group perceives your organization. Understand which behaviors move that group from negative to positive responses. Listen deeply and in-person to the concerns of members of each stakeholder group to clarify how to differentiate your organization for them.

2. Audit First Experiences Across Initial Touchpoints

Once each stakeholder group’s requirements to earn trust are understood (vertical alignment), it is time to achieve consistent first patient experiences across initial touchpoints (horizontal alignment).

Perhaps your organization provides the initial touchpoints. Audit first patient experiences from the perspective of stakeholders who utilize each of these first touchpoints.Patient experience beats transactions

Partner with the team members or associates in each of these patient experience one (PX1) touchpoint areas to eliminate barriers to extraordinary first experiences. Outline desired themes for first conversations, not word-for-word scripts, which become mechanical, but conversation guides that are responsive to each individual and relevant to their needs.

Role-play initial conversations. Each team member should experience the role of the “patient.” Then they can share how the experience felt and suggest ways to enhance it. Include these role-plays as a permanent and recurring component of team member education.

3. Earn High Trust

Trust must be earned. It is evidenced by deep, focused listening, which seeks to serve each unique stakeholder. Every interaction is an opportunity for a memorable decisive moment.

Once established, elevate trust—even catapult it—by delivering unexpected “wows.” A wow is a surprising, proactive response to a stakeholder’s need.

Here are several examples of first experience wows suggested by Inspire Digital Solutions’ National Advisory Council:

  • Deep, active listening to providers, callers, and patients by team associates
  • First experience ambassadors who make personal visits to hospitalized frequent callers
  • Personalized greeting and wayfinding by first experience ambassadors
  • First experience ambassadors in the ER to align ER patients with in-network PCPs
  • First experience ambassadors in the contact center calling an elderly patient’s caregiver, who might be a friend, neighbor, or relative to arrange transportation to follow-up appointments
  • A dedicated triage phone line for team members and associates

4. Multiply Extreme Service to Accelerate Results

Addition is one associate earning trust with one stakeholder at a time. Multiplication is a team of equipped first experience leaders who train and empower their first experience ambassadors at each initial touchpoint across the enterprise.Patient experienceContact Center: The first contact with your hospital or health network is usually with the contact center. That first connection may be on the phone or online.

Establish behavior standards for that initial contact. As discussed above, outline key themes to guide the ideal first interaction. Listen deeply to acknowledge and validate both needs and feelings and to understand what the individual desires most—regardless if that desire is verbalized. Ask clarifying questions. Listen deeply.

Reduce or eliminate transferred calls. Make the contact center a single-stop solution. Once the initial request is addressed—whether online or on the phone—ask, “What can I do now to elevate your experience?”

First Touch Points: Establish behavior standards for delivering unexpected value. Work with first experience ambassadors to develop a unique list of wows at each initial touchpoint.

For example, first experience ambassadors for concierge, info desk, or wayfinding might include volunteer parking lot greeters who welcome patients with a smile, provide free parking vouchers, and escort them to their destination.

First experience ambassadors in the emergency department might carry a tablet loaded with contact center software, greet patients with kindness, and offer those without a primary care physician an immediate referral to an in-network provider for follow-on care.

First experience ambassadors in the contact center can reach out to a discharged elderly patient’s caregiver—such as a friend, relative, or neighbor—to arrange transportation to follow-up primary provider visits. This unexpected value reduces stress for the patient, increases kept appointment rates, and reduces avoidable readmissions.

A dedicated triage line in the contact center with a specific phone number expressly for team members or associates can speak volumes about the organization’s priority for caring for its own caregivers.

Hospital and Enterprise Integration: Preparation for service recovery should enable team members to seek first to understand, identify problem causes, discuss possible solutions, and suggest problem resolution.

First patient experience follow-up and follow-through should identify delays or roadblocks to appointments for needed services. Document complaints and compliments to enable both process improvement and recognition for excellence.

As extraordinary first experiences ripple across the enterprise, performance appraisals of all first experience ambassadors should include a review of their fluency with extreme service standards and provide financial incentives to recognize stellar performers. If your commitment is to set a standard of excellence in quality care, then more is required. Click To Tweet

Conclusion for Patient Experience

What is the monetary value of consistently delivered first patient experiences that positively distinguish your organization? Consider delighted patients who share their enthusiasm with friends across social platforms, higher satisfaction scores, and fewer avoidable readmissions. Also look at increased revenue and expanded market share. Is it one million dollars a year, ten million dollars a year, or more?

What is that value multiplied across your network? What is that value multiplied over five or ten years?

More fundamentally, what is the non-monetary value of an extraordinary first patient experience? This question goes to your reason for being, to your ethos, and your mission.

If your mission is satisfied by maximizing the bottom line over the immediate fiscal period, let’s be candid. In the near term, accomplishing transactions may be adequate.

However, if your commitment is to set a standard of excellence in quality care, then more is required. If your DNA is to transform the health of those you serve, more is needed.

We must navigate from success to significance. We must shift from processing transactions to deliver consistent, compassionate first experiences that earn trust. This is a hallmark of quality. This is access to optimal health.

Richard D. Stier, MBA is president of Inspire Digital Solutions. He brings three decades of results, improving first experiences as a senior executive, consultant, speaker, and author. He is honored to have led engagements resulting in more than 100 million dollars for clients. Inspire Digital Solutions partners with healthcare leaders to navigate the shift from transactions to deliver amazing first patient experiences.

1Call Integrates with QGenda to Enhance On-Call Scheduling

1Call announced that healthcare customers who manage on-call and physician scheduling with the 1Call and QGenda scheduling platforms, can now deliver calls and messages to the right people, at the right time thanks to an integration initiative between 1Call and QGenda. 1Call’s comprehensive healthcare on-call scheduling and communications suite works seamlessly with QGenda’s physician scheduling software to provide a fully integrated scheduling platform.

The integration ensures that schedule assignments in both platforms are synchronized at all times. The result is a powerful tool that plays a critical role in helping nurses and doctors save lives each day.

“The 1Call on-call scheduling platform is utilized by healthcare organizations for critical communications and secure HIPAA-compliant messaging,” said Tom Curtin, president of Amtelco and the 1Call Healthcare Division. “This integration makes it possible to update on-call schedule shift assignments on a real-time basis in our Intelligent Series software with information originating in the QGenda application.”

1Call, a division of Amtelco1Call systems send roughly 14.5 million messages a day or 5.25 billion messages a year. QGenda provides automated physician scheduling for more than 170,000 providers, covering 20 million monthly shift hours.

When Patient Satisfaction Matters, Consider Contact Center Improvements



By Allison Hart

When Patient Satisfaction Matters, Consider Contact Center ImprovementsThere is no question that hospitals and health systems strive to deliver the best possible clinical care. But today, organizations aren’t just focusing on providing exceptional clinical services; they also invest resources into efforts aimed at driving superior healthcare experiences at every touchpoint. For hospitals, maintaining high patient satisfaction is more important than ever, primarily because the financial impact of patient experiences has increased due to consumerization and value-based payment programs.

As a result, patient experience has become a force behind process improvements and facility upgrades. The push to improve patient experiences exists in cafeteria and dining service improvements, luxury hospital suites, and even redesigned hospital gowns. But what is surprising is that while hospital and health system teams vigorously work to make their facilities more welcoming and comfortable, many organizations are unknowingly greeting patients who call into their contact center in a much less welcoming way.

To deliver more uniformly satisfying patient experiences, hospitals and healthcare systems can take actions to optimize their contact center—the place where many patient experiences initially begin.Hospitals have more control over each caller’s experience when all calls route through one main gateway. Click To Tweet

Calling a healthcare provider or organization shouldn’t be difficult or unpleasant for patients—even if that organization is a large hospital or health system. However, patients frequently run into issues that lead to frustration, when they attempt to connect with their healthcare team because they:

  • Do not know which phone number to call to find the help they need
  • Are transferred or put on hold multiple times
  • Must repeat personal information or reason for their call several times
  • Have trouble navigating automated options
  • Struggle to find the resolution they need in a timely manner
  • Do not feel their call is a priority

At least one in two patient callers will get “lost” in their healthcare provider’s automated phone system when calling into a hospital or large provider organization. That means at least one in two patients will not have a positive experience when they attempt to communicate about their healthcare needs.

Difficult-to-navigate automated phone systems require patients to be on the phone for longer periods of time. But patients say they appreciate efficient communication experiences. West surveyed more than 500 U.S. consumers to better understand communication preferences and how to define high-quality customer experiences.

Survey responses revealed that when customers or patients initiate an interaction, 77 percent of them rate speed to resolution as the best indicator of good service. Multiple transfers, repetitive conversations, and other confusing issues extend call times and hurt patient satisfaction.

Regularly evaluating the functionality, efficiency, and ease of use of automated phone systems is important for creating positive and welcoming communication experiences. But few healthcare organizations prioritize regular contact center testing. In fact, just over half of healthcare organizations occasionally review their automated phone systems to ensure they work correctly and provide value to patients.

Beyond testing the functionality of their automated systems, hospitals and health systems that want to deliver high-quality experiences can work to accomplish the following items.

Ensure Their Contact Center Serves as a Single Entryway for Their Organization

With a single point of entry for all patients, it is easier for organizations to guarantee every patient experiences a consistently branded user experience. It also means less confusion and frustration for callers and staff.

Routing calls through an automated centralized phone system increases efficiency. Overall, hospitals have more control over each caller’s experience when all calls route through one main gateway.

Offer Intelligent Predictive Interactive Voice Response

Interactive voice response (IVR) systems allow hospitals to automate call routing and handle higher volumes of calls. But IVR must be intelligent enough to make navigation easier for patients by detecting what they need.

Ideally, when a patient calls a hospital, the IVR system will authenticate the patient, identify possible reasons for their call, and connect them to the appropriate destination. The right IVR technology will not only make communications more efficient but also more patient centered.

Implement Automatic Data Pass with Every Transferred Call

Healthcare staff can better and more quickly assist callers if background information transfers with each incoming call. Without automatic data pass there is typically a lot of duplication during communication. Staff may end up asking patients for information they provided already to another representative during the same call.

Rather than having staff repeat work by asking questions about information already collected, teams can rely on technology to automatically provide necessary data. This helps patients feel as though they are heard and that the individuals they speak with are knowledgeable and focused on helping them.

Conclusion: A call to a hospital’s contact center is sometimes a patient’s first contact with the organization. Investing in contact center optimization is a must for creating a welcoming and satisfactory first impression. Even for patients who are not new to an organization, a hassle-free experience is appreciated. Giving patients positive communication experiences is not difficult; it simply requires that hospitals and health systems dedicate a bit more attention to call center functionality and optimization.

Allison Hart is an advocate for utilizing technology-enabled communications to engage and activate patients beyond the clinical setting. She leads thought leadership efforts for West’s TeleVox Solutions, promoting the idea that engaging with patients between healthcare appointments in meaningful ways will encourage and inspire them to follow and embrace treatment plans—and that activating these positive behaviors ultimately leads to better outcomes for both healthcare organizations and patients. Hart currently serves as vice president of marketing for TeleVox Solutions at West, where the healthcare mission is to help organizations harness communications to expand the boundaries of where, when, and how healthcare is delivered.

Three Ways to Exceed the Expectations of the New Healthcare Consumer

By Wes Hayden

Even consumers not directly impacted by the Affordable Care Act are seeing a big shift in healthcare. Instead of simply accepting the care and services available, consumers are proactively seeking information and reaching out to healthcare providers. And with more healthcare choices available, consumers are now making care decisions based on accessibility, customer service, cost, and collaboration.

Traditionally the path to a physician was straight to his or her door. Now consumers often self-diagnose, search online for local providers, or check provider websites and ratings. Although some patients immediately reach for the phone to call the appointment line, many start this journey online: through the provider’s appointment engine, the patient’s own online medical portal, or even via a mobile app.

According to a 2015 Gartner study, Business Drivers of Technology Decisions for Healthcare Providers, healthcare service organizations will need to raise their performance standards for today’s varied points of patient engagement, using tools such as mobile, text, and email. But for an industry that hasn’t exactly been on the cutting edge of customer support trends, how will healthcare providers bridge this gap?

The key is to take our cues from patient behavior. Many healthcare providers have gone with an “educate and empower” strategy, providing significant amounts of information on websites in an effort to educate the consumer and push us toward self-service options. But this has only been partially successful. For consumers who simply don’t understand how the healthcare systems works – which seems to be the majority of people with healthcare access – this glut of information only makes it more confusing to quickly focus in on the right providers and services.

Instead consumers, even tech savvy ones, are now bypassing overloaded online resources and turning directly to customer service for quick advice and scheduling. However, healthcare providers who were busy “educating and empowering” didn’t take into account how they would manage large volumes of customer service requests that fell outside of the self-service silo.

By evaluating these consumer behaviors, we know there are three basic customer service features consumers prefer. By working to implement this approach – and complement and extend existing customer service strategies – healthcare providers can work toward a better balance of self-service and assisted service:

1) One Consistent Experience Across All Customer Service Channels: Dealing with healthcare concerns is bad enough. But when every customer support channel offers a different experience, it makes consumers question the professionalism and service of the brand; it increases frustration and damages loyalty.

Despite more consumers starting with online channels today, many patients end up moving to a different channel to complete their interaction. Often the experience of channel hopping leads to more complexity and disappointment. In fact, according to a 2013 research study by Accenture Global Customer Pulse, 72 percent of customers get frustrated with the inconsistent service they receive across different contact channels within the same company. The top two frustrations noted are being asked to repeat information and not being able to get a human on the phone. These inconsistencies are generally caused by a strategy that allows different channels to be owned and managed by different groups within a business.

This silo approach leads to gaps in the communication process that are directly felt by consumers and are costing healthcare providers more than they realize. By using an omni-channel customer service strategy, healthcare providers can integrate multiple channels to decrease the silos and improve communication consistency. To do this, start by consolidating all interactions through one portal. Software like omni-channel callback can integrate non-voice interactions with existing intelligent call routing and VoIP and CTI systems so patients that start an interaction online or with chat can quickly and easily move to a live agent who will know the context of why they are calling.

2) Proactive Notifications and Engagement With Patients: Automated notifications or touch points are an ideal way for healthcare providers to connect with consumers on their channel of choice – email, SMS, Web, text, or voice. Notifications can confirm scheduled appointments, file deadlines, provide status updates on requests, or offer information a consumer would be interested in – all before a patient requests it.

But let’s not stop there. Before each notification, healthcare providers need to anticipate the response to the notification. Will patients have additional questions? Will they want to reschedule that appointment? Maybe they’ll want to connect with a live agent.

By anticipating this next step in the communication process, healthcare providers can insert helpful content and links into messages, allowing recipients to access more information, connect with an agent, reschedule appointments, and so forth. This provides patients with easy access to additional resources and positively improves consumer perception of the brand as a whole.

3) Provide Meaningful Interactions: Beyond just moving consumers from one channel to another, it’s important that healthcare providers understand the entire patient journey, including each touch point a patient has with a provider. This can help define the journey that best supports the consumer’s needs and create a roadmap for the technology needed to support the experience.

Technology can lay the foundation for a seamless journey. It moves the patient through the customer service function while maintaining and passing along the context of the patient’s request across channels. A data feed is used to gather customer information from each touch point. Once gathered, the information is organized into a customer interaction repository, creating a singular access point for all relevant data.

Being able to track and view the consumer journey is key in anticipating the next request. This enables healthcare providers to send notifications patients will find beneficial, as well as suggest links to additional resources they may be interested in.

Having this information readily available empowers agents with contextual information before a live interaction with a patient occurs. With this information, agents can dive directly into the issue, resolving it quickly. It also reduces the number of calls that come into the contact center without reducing the service quality.

For patients, this results in more interactions that are meaningful and helps them feel in control of their healthcare decisions.

Create a Memorable Experience: A great customer experience gives healthcare providers the chance to deliver a positive, lasting impression. But one bad interaction gives consumers the opportunity to share that experience and damage a brand’s reputation. By understanding the customer’s journey, anticipating the communication process, and leveraging new technologies, providers can give customers peace of mind and create memorable experiences that drive customer loyalty, customer and agent satisfaction, and a positive view of the brand.

Wes Hayden is CEO of Virtual Hold Technology.

[From AnswerStat October/November 2015]

Four Elements for Better Patient Experience

By Clark Ridge

Customer satisfaction has long been synonymous with great customer service. Yet when a customer is a patient, his or her needs are drastically different from a customer you might find at a local coffee shop. Patients under physical and emotional stress depend on medical staff and hospitals to provide efficient services and answer difficult questions about health or insurance.

To gauge the effectiveness of care and improve patient satisfaction measurement, medical facilities rely heavily on the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Services (HCAHPS). While some hospitals and medical facilities have previously used their own internal reporting tools, HCAHPS is the first national standard for collecting and publicly reporting information about patient care and experience. It can help hospitals improve in some areas, but many have questioned whether it’s a good indicator of a positive experience.

In order to score high on the HCAHPS assessment, a provider may feel the incentive to over-treat or over-prescribe for their patients. Not only does this translate into additional cost, it suggests that a “more is better” approach to patient care is necessary for satisfaction. While the survey aims to empower hospitals by reducing errors and improving patient outcomes, it does not guarantee that patients get the best individualized care. It also places a heavy burden on nurses and other medical staff who must fill in as clerical assistants in addition to providing care.

Improving the patient experience is possible despite the challenges in modern healthcare systems. It starts with an honest look at the factors contributing to inefficiencies or low HCAHPS scores. From there medical facilities can determine the best course of action regarding the tools and services that will improve patient outcome by asking:

  • How will we measure whether this new service or offering improves the patient experience?
  • How will it specifically alleviate the burden on medical staff?
  • Is this offering proven to work in environments similar to ours?
  • Is this solution scalable?
  • How will we measure the return on our investment for this solution?
  • How does it tie back to improving the overall patient experience?

After close examination of what is or is not working, medical facilities should focus on fine-tuning these four key components to ensure patient satisfaction:

1) Automation: Automating administrative tasks, such as appointment booking, alleviates medical professionals from hours of clerical work. Staff are often called to provide directions to a medical office, discuss appointments and hours of operations, or conduct follow-up unnecessarily. Automate the time-intensive administrative work to shift your facility’s resources back to the patient, where individualized medical attention will make all the difference in satisfaction and experience.

2) Specialization: Specialization plays an important role in the healthcare ecosystem. Doctors and nurses can provide a more positive and engaging experience by using their skills and training within their area of expertise. It’s not uncommon for a nurse to conduct patient discharge follow-up after a shift. This type of activity requires an abrupt change of activity and the ability to anticipate patients’ needs. Discharged patients are often suffering from confusion, worry, or stress, and they may need someone without incentive to complete the call quickly.

Patients want high-quality information quickly, and they also want someone to take ownership of their next steps. Focus on specialization training or shift this type of work to specialized employees. Doing so will elevate patients’ experiences long after they’ve left the hospital and build trust between patient and physician.

3) Technology: Adoption rates for cloud contact centers and digital customer service channels are growing, but not all technologies are equal. Be sure to invest in tools and services that are agile, easy to deploy, and scalable. Often medical centers mistakenly choose the cheapest or fastest offerings only to wind up with bigger headaches and lower patient satisfaction.

4) Outsourcing: Outsourcing services may get a bad reputation in some industries, but the right choice will pay back in higher survey scores and increased patient and physician well-being. The majority of patients prefer to speak to someone over the phone even if digital, self-service channels are available.

Medical centers can outsource this type of service to ensure that patients’ needs are met quickly and effectively. Insurance companies have reaped the benefits of outsourcing services for years, and so can medical centers. Select an outsourcing service with a well-designed framework and proven effectiveness for the biggest success on patient outcome.

It’s safe to say that budget constraints, limited resources, and surveys are here to stay, but it doesn’t have to negatively impact patients’ well-being or experiences. Patients respond well to attentive staff and efficient processes. Investing in the right tools, technologies, and services will ensure the strongest impact on ROI and patient outcomes. It will also prevent burnout among staff members and keep employees focused on providing the best medical care possible.

Clark Ridge is the VP Healthcare Solutions at Alorica.

[From AnswerStat June/July 2015]

Is Mobile Enough? How to Create New Opportunities for Customer Engagement

By Jay Reilly

A recent Yankee Group survey found that, during 2010–2014, preferences for traditional channels such as home telephone, email, and desktop Web have declined significantly compared to newer mobile channels such as text messaging, mobile self-service apps, mobile chat, mobile websites, and using mobile phones to speak to a customer service agent directly. The use of the home telephone is down 34 percent; email is down 25 percent; mobile Web browsing and mobile text are both up 10 percent. Mobile self-service, with the highest growth, is up 12 percent. The conclusion? Ignore mobile at your peril.

Driving Forces: Yankee Group identified four top forces driving further investment in improving customer engagement:

  • New Consumers: Yankee Group found that 64 percent of consumers said they needed to be connected to the Internet at all times, a number that is rapidly increasing as more devices are appearing. Customers are now in the driver’s seat, and their use of Web and social media tools creates lots of information for businesses to use to increase engagement.
  • New Experiences: Yankee Group estimated that 60 percent of interactions across the customer journey are interrelated. That means personalized, cross-channel interactions are key to a quality customer experience. Interactions must be relevant to customers in order to gain their trust and encourage them to opt in to conversations.
  • New Opportunities: Sixty-three percent of businesses are making mobile a priority in order to create a relevant customer dialogue that nurtures loyalty and increases sales.
  • New Technologies: New technologies are enabling businesses to deliver a hugely personalized service throughout the customer journey. This includes using mobile for everything from reminders and surveys to notifications of discounts and service delivery problems. This helps a business develop customer engagement and loyalty.

It is crucial to the customer experience to move beyond reactive customer response to more proactive customer engagement. By using data held in customer service departments, organizations can deliver a better, more intelligent communications strategy and start to build relevant, cross-channel personal relationships with customers and prospects based on individual behaviors and preferences.

Customer Focus: Yankee Group identifies four key ways in which businesses can create customer opportunities and enhance relationships:

  • Acquire: Mobile marketing is a great way to acquire customers. A massive 91 percent of respondents to Yankee Group’s survey showed an interest in mobile coupons.
  • Serve: Once customers have been acquired, businesses can engage them by communicating via preferred channels to strengthen relationships and increase loyalty.
  • Nurture: Today’s consumer belongs to a number of loyalty programs, so businesses need to differentiate theirs. It is useless to send standard offers via text that customers can just opt-out from. Make sure you are sending personalized, context-relevant offers your customers will want.
  • Grow: In order to grow, you need to stand out. Personalized, timely offers can increase purchase frequency, grow basket size, and help to differentiate your company from your competitors.

Emerging Opportunities: As mobile communications grow, the dilemma for businesses is how to deliver effective mobile marketing initiatives that provide proactive and personalized communications. New advancements in cloud delivery models have made incorporating mobile customer engagement strategies easier because they are now less expensive and easier to use. Organizations can now design more intelligent, relevant, and targeted proactive communications strategies using advancements in analytics that can be delivered simply and quickly through the cloud to ensure that future initiatives are relevant and personalized.

Here are some of the new advancements to consider:

  • Cloud Solutions: Cloud solutions are now cheaper, faster to deploy, and easier to use. Using the cloud means businesses have more powerful resources and more flexible capacity, allowing them to focus on strategic innovation rather than infrastructure and application maintenance. Cloud solutions are also constantly upgraded to the latest technology, ensuring your platform is up-to-date.
  • Preference Management: Dynamic preference management platforms include both stated and observed preferences. Organizations can now design more intelligent, relevant, and targeted proactive customer communications strategies that optimize business results by centralizing customer tracking. Observing customer behavior can provide great insight into the best communication strategy; combining stated and implied preferences will lead to deeper customer engagement and improved response rates.
  • Analytics: Insight is essential to ensure communication intelligence and measure results. Relevant analytics provide a more accurate measurement of a customer engagement strategy and ensure that communication initiatives are relevant and personalized. Organizations should use a combination of insight and technology to interact with every customer on a personal level; monitoring and storing customer interaction outcomes enhances communications intelligence over time. The only way to do this is by eliminating manual processes and using intelligent automation.

Make It Seamless: Proactive customer engagement is quickly gaining power and becoming a necessity for delivering a good customer experience. But it is important to remember that the customer experience consists of multiple channels and multiple voices; any one channel or voice that is not aligned will negatively affect all others in the customer journey. It is essential that all channels work together effectively.

Make sure you build a cohesive communications strategy across the entire customer journey, and don’t shy away from new or different forms of communication.

Jay Reilly is managing director and VP of international at Genesys.

[From the October/November 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

What You Need to Know About Social Media Etiquette

By Margaret Page

Like children with a shiny new toy, adults introduced to social media jumped in and started playing – posting personal photos to Facebook, accepting “friend” requests from long-lost high school pals, and checking into everywhere from the coffee shop to their favorite local eatery. What fun! Suddenly we were getting an inside look into the lives of people we hadn’t connected with in years!

But, unlike a new toy, social media didn’t come with any real instructions. We unwrapped it, signed up, and off we went, sharing our world with…the world. As more and more people glommed onto this new way of communicating, the seeds of chaos were planted.

Rules of Engagement: Without guidelines on how to use social media, disaster is just a tweet away. Many organizations have found this out the hard way. Embarrassing gaffs, impulsive rants, and misguided comments have ensued.

What you post on social media sites is out there forever. The Internet never forgets. A selfie posted after a night on the town or a tweet about a colleague can cause more damage than you think. It’s dangerous to assume that privacy settings protect you. Even if you’ve locked down your Facebook page, once something is posted to the Web, you can guarantee someone who is not directly connected to you will find it. All it takes is for one of your friends to share it with their friends.

And what you say can and will be held against you! Your future boss, clients, partners, and vendors are watching.

A good rule of thumb, whether you are engaging on social media for personal or business, is this: If you wouldn’t say it loudly, in front of your boss (or mother), you shouldn’t post it online anywhere!

With so many organizations involved in social media, it’s more important than ever to have a clear social media policy in place for employees, especially contact center agents. Your employees are representatives of your brand, and in business, perception is everything. To protect yourself from the embarrassment of a social media faux pas, create a policy that clearly states what you expect from your employees when it comes to social media use. Set clear boundaries, especially for those who are part of your brand-building process.

Do I Know You? In this world of connectivity, how connected are we really? Has the word connected lost its meaning? With our ability to connect to anyone, anytime, anywhere through social media, the term connected has been watered down. Think about how many of the generic “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” invitations you receive each month. Few of them are from people you have truly connected with outside of social media. It feels like the person with the most fans and followers wins. But do they really?

Before there was LinkedIn, you wouldn’t dream of asking a new acquaintance to buy something from you just minutes after you met. And, you certainly wouldn’t show up at a networking event in yesterday’s outfit. Just like offline networking, building relationships online follows the same basic etiquette rules. Here are a few to keep in mind:

  • Be professional. On Twitter, don’t be the egg; post a professional photo of yourself on your profile. This holds true on all social media sites. A business colleague should recognize you from your online picture. Include information about yourself. Your social media profile is the equivalent of your business card, so be sure you keep it updated as your professional information changes. Always keep your basic contact information current and linked to your other professional profiles.
  • Introduce yourself. Want people to get a sense of who you are? Post interesting, value-added content on your social media accounts to showcase your professional expertise. This is especially true with LinkedIn; when you update your status with useful information, you’re building trust among your network and opening doors for introductions to new connections.
  • Be authentic. Just like in real life, no one wants to connect with “that guy.” You know the one: the guy in the sleazy suit who spends his time schmoozing. One of the biggest mistakes people make when connecting on LinkedIn or Facebook is not personalizing the message in the invitation. Swap out the default message with something like “George, I really enjoyed your post at xblog.com. The leadership content you share is so valuable. I’d like to add you to my professional network and get to know more about your business.” This will let the recipient know how you found them and why you want to connect. In turn, they will know that you aren’t connecting for the sake of just adding to your numbers.
  • Listen. Building connections through social media isn’t just about pushing out content. If you’re not taking time to listen and engage with influential people (the ones you are hoping to connect with), you’re missing an opportunity. Choose a handful of key people you want to build a business relationship with, read what they are posting, and when there is an opportunity for you to add value, jump in!

Whether you are connecting with people in the online world or at a dinner party, knowing how to present yourself in a positive way is the same. “Think before you speak” translates to “think before you tweet.”

Margaret Page is a recognized etiquette expert, speaker, and coach who helps people and organizations be more professional. She is the author of The Power of Polite, Blueprint for Success and an illustrated card set, Cognito: Wisdom for Dining and Social Etiquette. She is the founder and CEO of Etiquette Page Enterprises, a leading Western Canadian training organization. To learn more about Margaret, follow her on Twitter and Facebook or sign up for her Etiquette blog or Etiquette Edge newsletter. To contact Margaret, please visit her website at etiquettepage.com or call 604-880-8002.

[From the Aug/Sep 2014 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Consolidating Call Center Activities in the ACA Environment

By Marlene Grasser

Healthcare call centers are again taking center stage due to recent changes in healthcare delivery. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is creating an environment in which networking is necessary to provide the best possible care at the best available price as part of your population management strategies. Today’s consolidated call centers are in the best position to provide this service. Since their inception, healthcare call centers have connected community members to hospital services. Now, more than ever, it is important for a consolidated healthcare call center to connect an organization’s internal services to one another as well as to its affiliated member facilities.

Improve Access to Care: Operating from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. no longer allows a healthcare call center to realize its full potential. Instead, to build a valuable brand that reflects the call center’s value as the hub of information, professional staff availability 24/7 is key. That way, when consumers encounter symptoms or have questions, they automatically know who to call for help. The call center triage nurse who takes symptom calls, especially after hours, has the ability to provide assessment and a recommendation of care, with both acuity level and time frame. Why is this so important?

Swedish Hospital in Seattle, Washington, answers this question by working with a community clinic run by Country Doctor near its busy emergency room to take evening and weekend patients who have lower acuity health needs. In a 2014 Kaiser Health News article, Carol M. Ostrom quotes Swedish Hospital administrative director Howard Springer as saying, “We are not all things to all people. We are illness-care providers, with a heavy emphasis on specialty care and inpatient care.”

Ostrom goes on to say, “The ACA, by bringing insurance to more, makes the deal affordable for Country Doctor. And by signaling that doctors’ and hospitals’ future livelihood will be linked to value, not volume, the ACA has led Swedish to seek such a partner.”

Due to federal regulations, patients cannot be redirected from the emergency room, but certainly they can be educated to know when to seek care in the clinic versus the emergency room. Healthcare call center triage nurses are the perfect fit for this role, ensuring efficient and cost-effective care at any time of day or night.

Maximize Efficiency of Healthcare Delivery: In addition to triage, nurses can also provide care management, post-discharge assessment with coaching, and critical lab calls. Staffing the healthcare call center with cross-trained individuals allows for additional services such as clinic scheduling, event registration, and even relatively new services like cost transparency.

Health2con.com notes, “There is increasing pressure for hospitals to be more transparent about their pricing. The Affordable Care Act now requires that all hospitals publish their prices for the most frequently performed services beginning in 2014.”

The same health coaches who help with scheduling and registration in the call center are positioned especially well to provide pricing information in a sensitive, professional, and accurate way.

There is also an opportunity for feedback via complaint, suggestion intake, and follow up. And since the call center is a centralized hub of information, ongoing and frequent updates to the health content can be made to assure the most accurate information delivery.

Set Bar High for Customer Service: Successful healthcare call centers have a reputation for providing excellent customer service. As the first point of contact for an organization, this is critical to gain and maintain consumer loyalty. Therefore, utilizing this framework to consolidate disparate “mini-call centers” located throughout the organization into a single, centralized center makes sense.

Other groups, like scheduling, have to split their attention between answering the phone and attending to the person physically in front of them. Consolidated call center staff members, unlike staff in other areas of the healthcare delivery system, are able to focus on the next phone call or Web hit, enabling them to provide the best possible front line for remote consumers.

Summary: With the consolidated healthcare call center’s unique ability to improve access to care, maximize efficiency of care provided, and set the bar high for customer service, the healthcare call center increasingly offers a significant benefit to a coordinated care delivery network.

Marlene Grasser is the regional vice president, sales at LVM Systems.

[From the June/July 2014 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Using Cutting-Edge Tools to Support the Health Coach in Post-Discharge Point of Care

By Marlene Grasser

Key to an effective healthcare experience is caring for patients during the entire continuum, including the transition out of the acute hospital setting into their own homes. Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a Harvard professor of Medicine and Investigative Medicine and Public Health, calls this transition the “post-hospital syndrome,” during which patients are in a period of “generalized risk.” It is precisely this portion of the continuum of care where healthcare call centers can demonstrate their human and technological value.

For decades healthcare call centers have been the source of reliable information for day and night calls, ranging from concerned parents who need help with a sick child to injured “weekend warriors.” Nurses answer questions and provide guidance utilizing software that includes evidence-based triage guidelines and health information, with the ability to document the call encounter. The call center also provides specialists with referrals, utilizing a fair and equitable rotation, and helps attract and build physician relationships with the hospital. This technology also provides the ability to electronically notify a health coach within the call center that a discharge from the hospital is planned and action is required to ensure the safety of the patient affected.

Timing, follow-up, education, and access are critical for success in a post-discharge program. The ideal software application provides the structure and tools needed to address each of these fundamental pieces. It’s essential to be able to interface with the hospital’s information system and use applicable triggers to load patients into the health coach’s queue for follow-up in person or by phone. Initial assessment within hours by the coach can reveal stressors and potential dangers beyond the acute illness, which, if unaddressed, could lead to a worsening health condition, re-admission, or even death.

After assessment and identification of risk factors, medication reconciliation (comparing drugs previously taken at home versus new prescriptions from the hospital event) must be performed to assure that the proper medications are obtained and taken as ordered. Medication adherence as a follow-up to reconciliation ensures that any issues – such as side effects, cost, or access to prescriptions – are addressed. The health coach needs a system to track these activities to help prevent unnecessary complications that can occur from medication mistakes.

Through a post-discharge solution, health coaches contact the patient’s primary care provider (PCP) to either confirm or schedule a follow-up appointment. The health coach can assist the patient in preparing for the appointment by listing questions or concerns. Then, an automatic reminder call that has been set up in the software, along with a text of directions or a map to the PCP’s office, provides additional support to help the patient keep the appointment. Any difficulties with transportation can be handled with a service referral.

When additional education and support is needed for specific disease states such as heart failure or diabetes, extensive care plan blueprints need to be available to help guide health coaches. This is especially important when the care extends beyond thirty days post discharge. Scheduled follow-up calls with high-risk patients every two to four weeks can help prevent an exacerbation of health issues and a subsequent re-admission.

Extensive assessment and management tools are needed to support and document the health coach’s activities with each patient and provide a road map from which constant process improvement can occur. Outcome- and trend-reporting provides a review of clinical indicators of individual (as well as aggregate) mental and physical well-being to determine the success of certain interventions and highlight the need for others.

Recognizing that healthcare call centers are crucial to addressing this high-risk period on the healthcare continuum is just the beginning. Ongoing advances in today’s technology provide the ability for the call center to support multifaceted care. From triage to referral, and from post-discharge follow-up to care- and case-management, reporting on successes and challenges insure that patients are cared for well beyond their hospital stay.

Marlene Grasser, RN-C, BSN, is the western region vice president of sales for LVM Systems. For more information about LVM Systems’ re-admission management solutions, please call 480-633-8200 x620.

[From the April/May 2014 issue of AnswerStat magazine]