Tag Archives: customer service articles

Seven Tips to Minimize Risk and Improve the Patient Experience


Pulsar360: strategic partners with the TAS industry


By Bronson Tang

According to Statista, the percentage of businesses worldwide using a call center in the Americas is 66 percent. However, according to the Global Contact Center satisfaction index, the level of caller satisfaction dropped five points from 2010 to 2018. Medical call centers are now looking for ways to improve patient experience, while minimizing risk. The goal of a call center typically includes:

  • Increase patient satisfaction
  • Reduce readmission
  • Improve patient safety
  • Reduce missed appointments
  • Increase patient retention
  • Increase patient referrals
  • Resolve complaints and disputes
  • Increase patient lifetime value

In general, the medical call center should be tailored to increasing the satisfaction of the individual patient and not just the efficiency of the call. In addition to patient satisfaction, there is an overall feeling that many call centers focus too much on efficiency when they need to focus on effectiveness.

Here are seven ways you can minimize risk in a medical call center.The medical call center should be tailored to increasing the satisfaction of the individual patient and not just the efficiency of the call. Click To Tweet

1. Call Center Etiquette Matters: The need for proper etiquette is essential. This includes how calls are answered, how the patient is treated during the call, and how well issues and questions are addressed.

2. Hire the Right People: Hiring experienced call center agents is critical to the success of any medical call center, as this will significantly reduce the likelihood for agent turnover as well as the costs incurred in training. When you hire the right people, the agent will be able to achieve first call resolution, resolve disputes quickly and effectively, assure quality and security on every call, and reduce wait times.

3. Use the Right Technology: The technology that both your agents and patients use is important. From an agent perspective, having the right technology includes agent desktops, call monitoring, queue callback, intelligent dialers, and CRM integration with screen pops. From the patient perspective, having the right technology includes various ways the patient can easily interact such as emails, SMSs, video chats, tweets, and Facebook posts.

4. Measure Success with Call Center Metrics: Measuring quantitative performance such as call quality, first call resolution, patient satisfaction, average speed of answer, abandonment rate, and wait time are some of the ways medical call centers can have a visible eye on the success of their operation.

5. Reward and Motivate Agents: How agents deal with patients is in direct proportion to how well they are dealt with in their own company. Rewarding and motivating agents can go a long way toward producing a pleasant experience for the caller. This also includes empowering agents so they feel confident in their ability to do the job.

6. Ensure Agents Adhere to Regulations: Every organization has their own regulations, and medical call centers are no different. It’s vitally important that agents are well informed and follow the rules outlined by the call center. The medical call center needs to put in place proper measures to ensure those expectations have been communicated and understood by the agents. Proper training is the key.

7. Evaluate Agents: A method for evaluating agents is important to any medical call center, as it keeps the organization up to date with what is actually going on with each employee. Depending on the organization, having daily meetings with agents can help reduce potential risks that can take place on live calls.

Conclusion: The medical call center is a crucial component within healthcare to improve the patient experience, while reducing risks. Ultimately the decision is yours as to how you go about minimizing risks in your call center. The key is creating a positive experience for the patient.

Pulsar360: strategic partners with the TAS industryBronson Tang is the marketing manager at Pulsar360, Inc. He has ten years of experience in digital marketing and has worked in the Telecommunications sector for four years. He’s the author of the book, The Tao of Business.

What Does an Optimal Customer Experience with a Call Center Look Like?



By Daymon Smith

 As the healthcare landscape shifts toward a value-based care model, consumers and patients are taking more responsibility for their individual health. The combination of higher premiums, copays, and deductibles mean consumers hold the care they receive to a higher standard. They research competitive pricing, treatment quality, and customer service to make informed decisions.

This shift in focus within the healthcare sector has increased the importance of offering consumers and patients value that goes beyond quality care and treatment options. More specifically, healthcare marketers prioritize personalized engagement on an individual level. They match consumers with the resources, providers, and treatment options that offer the best overall health outcomes and highest customer experience.

In this effort, hospitals and organizations have started to optimize the role call centers play, adopting a variety of capabilities to merge disparate points of contact into one centralized, proactive call center. Also known as an engagement center, these modernized call centers, which work in conjunction with health care risk management (HCRM), enable healthcare providers to deliver the level of customer experience and personalization consumers expect.

The ideal customer experience that a consumer should receive when engaging with a call center is key. Healthcare providers should strive to deliver this level of customer service through technology and training.

Customer Service Expectations in Healthcare

Today’s consumer expects quality customer service across their health journey, from first point of contact to post-care engagement. Often the first point of communication between a customer and the healthcare organization, call centers are faced with the responsibility of living up to the expectations of modern healthcare consumers. In fact, they handle around 68 percent of all customer communications, further emphasizing why consumers hold the call center customer service they receive to a higher standard.

Consumers expect:

Personalized service: When patients and consumers interact with the healthcare call center, they expect insights, resources, and interactions personalized to their unique health journey. Therefore, call center agents must understand each patient’s issues and provide solutions proactively.

Single call resolutionIt’s crucial call center agents tap caller data to provide actionable and individualized recommendations, connect them with doctors and physicians, provide useful and relevant resources, and proactively anticipate consumer needs.

Cross-channel capabilities: Traditional call center operations are siloed, resulting in a fragmented customer experience. With an HCRM-enabled engagement center, health systems deliver the seamless and personalized experiences customers want across communication channels, including the call center, patient portal, and email.

Agents move callers forward along the patient journey: Quality customer service within the healthcare sector extends far beyond one phone call. Patients expect guidance and assistance from healthcare organizations throughout their care experience. This includes communication, connecting the consumer with necessary resources and solutions, and ensuring the experience is as convenient as possible.

Here’s an example: At the start of the patient journey, a consumer submits a website form submission requesting information on shoulder pain. After receiving the requested information in an email, the customer is placed in an outbound calling queue for follow-up.

The call center agent provides additional information and offers to connect the customer with a specialist. The call center agent connects them with an orthopedic physician near their home and sends timely reminders before the appointments.

During the appointment the physician recommends physical therapy. The patient receives a call the same day from the call center to match them with a physical therapist and schedule their first appointment. The patient receives an SMS reminder forty-eight hours before the appointment.

Each interaction with the organization is recorded in the healthcare CRM to ensure continuity and enable personalization throughout the patient journey.

Technology for Optimized Healthcare Customer Service

The customer service consumers expect from healthcare organizations forces call centers to evolve into comprehensive engagement centers. With the goal of serving as a strategic tool for engagement, revenue growth, and greater visibility into return on investment, these call centers combine technology with call center agent training for optimized customer service.

For call centers looking to shift toward becoming an engagement center, a healthcare CRM program can serve as the foundation for successful engagement. With an HCRM in place, call centers can provide consistent, unified communications with patients and consumers while connecting disparate points of contact throughout the health system. Additionally, an HCRM provides call center agents with a 360-degree view into the customer data needed to facilitate personalized, efficient consumer interactions.

More specifically, call center agents can take advantage of unique customer profiles—a collection of demographic data, prior interactions with the organization, contact preferences, and appointments and medical history—to ensure they’re utilizing the best method of communication (phone, email, or chat) and delivering relevant health information.

An engagement center should also incorporate marketing automation to send reminders and resources throughout the patient journey. Marketing automation tools help call centers maintain long-term engagement to promotes patient acquisition and strengthens patient retention.Healthcare organizations need to incorporate modern marketing technology and comprehensive into their strategies Click To Tweet

Call Center Training for Optimized Customer Service

Like any job, the better the training—the greater the impact. For healthcare call center agents, training is a significant facilitator to outstanding patient and customer service. One of the most important aspects of call center training revolves around the proper use of call center scripts.

By developing scripts to guide agent conversations, healthcare organizations ensure the call center customer experience aligns with marketing efforts. Additionally, scripts can help call center agents focus on guiding customers toward a pleasant and timely resolution of their queries.

As a good practice, call centers should equip agents with at least one script for each campaign that can be tailored to the individual customer while reflecting their location within the patient journey.

Another important element to call center training is ensuring agents can handle any non-clinical queries. Given the high volume of customer interactions call center agents handle each day, it’s crucial they have a clear understanding of the healthcare organization ecosystem, as well as the capability to handle queries on the fly.

Final Thoughts

Consumers today expect more value from their care providers. Optimizing the traditional healthcare call center into a modern engagement center helps provide the efficiency, personalization, and capabilities that have become synonymous with superior customer service.

To best leverage the potential of call centers and optimize the customer experience within them, healthcare organizations need to incorporate modern marketing technology and comprehensive training into their strategies.

Daymon Smith is the vice president, engagement center practice leader at Evariant. He focuses on leading health systems in their move to a proactive call center model that improves the overall patient experience and generates revenue for the system.

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]