Tag Archives: operations management articles

Three Tactics for Transforming a Call Center into a Care Center

TeamHealth Medical Call Center

By Gina Tabone

Healthcare strategists must lead the campaign to transform call center agents into caregivers and move from a call center mentality to a care center functioning as the doorway to an organization. Medical call centers have evolved over the past decade from a call center, to a contact center, to the current title of centralized access center. The goal for the patient is a seamless connection to a call center agent equipped to resolve any need presented within the confines of the first call.

Agent positions are often entry level, which they historically abandon once they are eligible to bid on a higher paying, more prestigious role within the organization. What a shame that front-line call center employees do not realize the immense value they play in the continuum of care and the potential they have to impact an exceptional patient experience.

Change, as usual, must happen. Here are three easy-to-implement tactics to begin transforming the mindset of call center agents from telephone operator to a caregiver that is acknowledged as a vital contributor in the continuum of care.There is nothing more motivating than realizing that the work one does is meaningful and makes a difference. Click To Tweet

1) Communication

Healthcare chatter and verbiage flood nightly news reports, political rhetoric, and patient newsletters. It is hard enough for industry leaders to comprehend what is being said and expected, let alone the people on the front line doing the work.

There is nothing more motivating than realizing that the work one does is meaningful and makes a difference. This is most true in the delivery of healthcare. No matter what the role, everyone interacting with a patient can contribute to a positive experience. Here’s how:

  • The messages must be clearly stated from the top-level leadership involved in the call center transformation. Be honest and frank. Leadership is supportive but must be mindful of the ever-present business impact of every department.
  • “You are very important to our organizations and your contribution to the organization are unique and essential.”
  • Think of the call center as the front door to the organization. You are the ones answering the knock at the door.
  • You have the power to either communicate: “Hello, welcome, we are expecting you,” or slam the door in their face by being robotic, irritated, and impatient.

2) Collaboration

Caregivers working in a centralized communication center do not actually have a panel or group of patients specifically assigned to them. Rather, they are there to provide a plethora of services to the patients from a variety of locations, specialties, practices, providers, or payers. The role they play augments the meaningful care provided in an office or clinic setting. Efforts must focus on viewing the call center caregivers as a vital component of the outpatient team.

  • They are the first point of contact for new patients. They can convey compassion and trust in the initial interaction as a precursor of what to expect in a face-to-face visit with a clinician.
  • First point of contact caregivers set the tone for what to expect from the organization. Hopefully they demonstrate a flawless, coordinated experience with a knowledgeable person who has the skills and resources to satisfy their current need.
  • It is valuable for call center employees to spend a day with the clinic team and for the clinic staff to spend a day shadowing the call center caregiver. Bonds forge, and there is an appreciation for the work each group performs.

3) Circulate

Call center leadership is not a stationary job. Every level of management is most effective when present and visible to those working on the phones. The environment is dynamic and requires constant supervision and direction.

  • Seeing team leads, managers, and higher ups walking around and interacting with staff builds confidence and is a sign that they are available when needs arise.
  • Wireless headsets allow for designated support staff to move about, mingle with agents, and overhear calls that may benefit from a higher level of intervention. It is a defensive method for avoiding a potential problem, or even worse, a discontented patient.
  • Call center leaders who take live calls for a portion of their work week can lead by example.
  • Circulating staff are there to advocate for the best possible patient experience, while at the same time nurturing and engaging the caregivers.

There is a need to develop a platform of soft skills training that teaches call center caregivers how to convey interest, concern, and competency to callers. The tactics discussed in this essay are fantastic ways begin the transformation of a call center team.

Gina Tabone, MSN, RNC-TNP, is the vice president of strategic clinical solutions at TeamHealth Medical Call Center. Prior to joining TeamHealth, she served as the administrator of Cleveland Clinic’s Nurse on Call 24/7 nurse triage program.

How to Make Your Telemedicine Services Successful


By Dr. Ravi Rajeha

A new study has found hospitals, specialty clinics, and other healthcare organizations are no longer leery of telemedicine and are in fact expanding to provide quality services and generate revenue. With this growth and success, there are many telemedicine options available for each organization. It is important to be aware of the factors providers must consider for telemedicine to be successful for their patients, practice, or organization.

Telemedicine Adoption: According to the 2017 Foley Telemedicine and Digital Health Survey, more than three-quarters of those surveyed are either currently using or plan to provide telemedicine services to their patients. These results are impressive when compared to their survey just three years ago where 87 percent of respondents did not expect most of their patients to be using telemedicine services by 2017. This survey is comprised of more than 100 senior executives at hospitals, specialty clinics, ancillary services, and related organizations.

Telemedicine ROI: The Foley survey illustrates that telemedicine provides a great opportunity for practices and medical organizations to see a financial return. Over 70 percent of respondents realized cost savings or ROI from their telemedicine services. Nearly a third saw a savings of more than 20 percent.

Although many companies are seeing a positive ROI, it is important to choose the right telemedicine service to be successful. There are a variety of options and selecting the right telemedicine service or software will determine the level of success.

Features to Consider: When looking for a telemedicine service provider, factor these items into your deliberations:

  • Integrated: The telemedicine software should be able to integrate seamlessly with current workflows. To ensure work is not being doubled by adding a new technology to the mix, the telemedicine software needs to be cohesive and allow data to be easily transferred.
  • Support: As with any technology, issues may arise. A successful telemedicine service should have training and support available to troubleshoot any concerns.
  • Adaptive: The only thing that is constant is change, and the medical field is the best example of this. The healthcare industry is always evolving and transforming. Whether it is regulation, new discoveries or inventions, or patient expectations, the only way to be successful is to adapt, and the telemedicine service and software should do the same. Look for a company that listens to their clients and makes upgrades to what they need.
  • Measure Success: The best way to determine the ROI of a telemedicine service is to establish a way to measure its success. Choose a platform that includes different portals for clients to look at data and analyze it.

The telemedicine field has exploded in recent years and doesn’t seem to be stopping. These are only a few factors to consider when implementing or expanding telemedicine services. It is important to do the research to find which solution will be best for your organization.

TriageLogicDr. Ravi Raheja, is the medical director at TriageLogic, which is a leader in telehealth technology and services. The company’s goal is to improve access to healthcare and reduce cost by developing technology for providers and patients, backed by high quality nurses and doctors. Today, the TriageLogic group serves over 9,000 physicians and covers over 18 million lives nationwide. Visit www.triagelogic.com and www.continuwell.com  for more information.

Hospital Call Centers

The Vital Ingredient in Clinical Communication

By Kevin Mahoney

 A robust and effective communication system is essential in any hospital, as it forms the backbone of the provision of exceptional patient care. The adaptation and growth of evidence-based medicine have led to growth in multidisciplinary approaches in patient care and increase in research among healthcare professionals.

Multidisciplinary approaches and evidence-based practice, therefore, have necessitated constant and efficient communication among health professionals, especially at the hospital level. The sensitivity of patient care and the fast growth of technology, both clinical and non-clinical, further necessitate a need for balance and maximizing of the right forms of technology for effective clinical communication.

The hospital call center serves as a vital platform in the cog of hospital communications. Often it serves as the patient’s first contact with the hospital. In general, the call center is tasked with providing patients and staff with information pertaining to emergencies, appointments, health monitoring, and the provision of specialist information. It is also a source of patient data and interdepartmental communication. This hospital call center platform, therefore, is multifaceted in its communication functionality. The facets of communications that are related to the hospital call center are patient-to-hospital communications, internal communications, and hospital-to-patient communications.

Patient to Hospital Communications: Call centers at healthcare facilities allow the communication of the patient with the hospital and provide treatment access and patient support. The hospital call center has evolved to be a key primary contact area in the healthcare system.

Treatment access begins with proper scheduling services that taps clinical assessment and triage. This is done to allow the patient to access the right specialized care specific to the individual. For instance, it considers previous admissions, patients’ insurance information, and urgent and emergent situations and classifies patient procedures as either inpatient or outpatient. Hospital call centers play a significant role in any hospital’s clinical communications. Click To Tweet

Patient support goes far beyond initial contact and the initial care received at the hospital. The medical call center has evolved to incorporate preventive and rehabilitative features into the platform. Moreover, call centers now use disease management programs to increase awareness of certain preventable diseases. Furthermore, they help the patient schedule appointments and remind them of screening programs.

The medical call center also helps patients access hotlines suited to their ailments, such as giving patients information about suicide prevention resources. Consequently, these platforms have improved communication features by integrating holistic curative, preventive, and rehabilitative features. This patient communication is an essential part of providing health services by a hospital.

Internal Communications: Additionally, the hospital call center supports clinical communication within the hospital staff. This is evident in environments where there is a centralized web directory. In such instances, the call center acts as the medium for vital information within the hospital. This essential information includes work schedules, contact information, and information about the employees on call. It is a critical component of providing well-coordinated care within the hospital system.

Furthermore, such call centers are tailored to communicate emergency codes and deliver critical messages to clinicians. These critical messages are essential, as they allow patient access to clinicians and contact among clinicians themselves.

A hospital call system, therefore, must be well-coordinated, time sensitive, reliable, and suited to the hospital devices available to the healthcare professionals. Hospital call centers and systems are further being improved upon to allow the tracking and escalation of messages provided to clinicians. This is essential in urgent and emergent service delivery in hospital environments.

Medicine is adopting a multidisciplinary approach to allow more holistic care and treatment to the patient. This requires constant and effective communication among medical professionals. Therefore, the hospital call center is essential, as it acts as a referral point among specialists and a resource for specialists to get access to a client base from the hospital.

Hospital to Patient Communications: Last, call centers allow the communication of the hospital and the patient who is the primary customer of the healthcare facility. The hospital marketing department benefits from the communications between the patient and the call center. The hospital call center is a point of increased patient satisfaction and improved marketing information. Patient satisfaction must be the most important goal and a practice ingrained within the organizational culture.

The hospital, therefore, should aim at optimizing the call experience for the patient. This can be done by cutting down the call waiting time, coordinating points of services, and improving patient registration and billing.

The internet has made it easy to widely disseminate information. A patient can communicate his experiences to a potential customer base. Patient experience, therefore, in the internet age, is an essential form of hospital advertisement. Improving patient experience builds upon the hospital brand and helps set it aside from the competition.

Optimizing patient experience goes beyond a single interaction to anticipate the needs of a patient and tailor services to meet those needs. The increasing need for data within the information age, therefore, cannot be understated. Data from call centers helps the marketing department find effective ways of communicating with the patient.

Each hospital call center must have a means of feedback. This helps identify and document potential issues the client had with the system. There is currently an adaptation of use of proprietary tools such as live metric dashboards and quality assurance and tracking tools. Therefore, most hospitals are collecting data to learn the needs of the patient and tailor their customer care services accordingly. For instance, most call centers now use customized call scripts; this ensures the provider maximizes care support and efficiency.

Optimizing the customer experience has led to call centers evolving as new and exciting forms of hospital income generation. The consequences of effective customer service are based on optimizing the patient experience, which leads to an increase in hospital revenue.

Final Thoughts: Clinical communication is a hugely faceted subject with far reaching consequences that go beyond hospital walls. Hospital call centers play a significant role in any hospital’s clinical communications. This role is expected to continue growing in the coming years as modern technology makes it easier and faster to communicate.

By optimizing communications, a hospital call center can improve patient health outcomes, fill an essential healthcare gap, and serve to improve overall patient care. It is, therefore, imperative that hospitals find effective ways of maximizing call centers, not just as a channel of communication, but also as a huge income-generating department.

1Call, a division of AmtelcoKevin Mahoney is a hospital and healthcare-related account advocate and sales engineer at Amtelco, a manufacturer and supplier of call center solutions. Contact him at kmahoney@amtelco.com.



Change is the Only Constant

TeamHealth Medical Call Center

By Gina Tabone MSN, RNC

In the year 535 BC, Greek philosopher Heraclitus declared, “The only thing that is constant is change.” For many of us working in the healthcare industry, we wholeheartedly agree that these timeless words continue to ring true, year after year. The word change evokes a different response from each of us, but what exactly is change? How is change manifesting itself in today’s healthcare environment, and how can we, as leaders, incorporate the implications of change into our organizational cultures?

Webster’s Merriam Dictionary defines change as: 1. To become different; 2. To make (something or someone) different; 3. To become something else. Change is a modification to the process of doing something. In many cases, the modification is made in hopes of creating a better outcome. Often, the expectation of positive change is put on us without tangible evidence to support a better outcome.

Today’s healthcare leaders rely on innovators and thought leaders who “think outside of the box.” Their role is to introduce variations (that is, changes) to current practices that will ultimately improve patient outcomes, engage their workforce, and contribute to the goals of the organization. Identifying and implementing these variations are vital if we hope to improve outcomes.

For example, without changes within the healthcare industry, there would never have been advancements in immunizations, birth control, and organ transplantation. No change typically means no growth, and no growth is not a sustainable option for any organization.

There are many examples of changes occurring in today’s healthcare environment. The stimuli for most of the modifications are the requisites of the Affordable Healthcare Act. A list must include: healthcare for all, coordination of care, fee for value of care, and accountability for outcomes. Programs such as post-discharge call backs, 24/7 access to clinical care, integrated communication via electronic medical records, and robust patient satisfaction efforts are all outcomes affected by changes that have evolved in an effort to comply with the new regulations. The collateral benefit is quality, efficiency, and exceptional care.

Mention the word change to employees and the reaction is predictable. We have all observed rolling eyes, defensive comments, irritation, anxiety, and resistance. Change represents the unknown, which can be intimidating. Those in charge of healthcare organizations need a long-term change management strategy for their organization and the people affected by it, a strategy that encompasses all aspects of the change, from conception through completion.

A leader who is sincere, humble, and willing to admit to a level of personal angst when going through changes will have more success with overall buy-in efforts from all levels of an organization. Reminders of past organizational achievements often convince employees to give the change a chance. It will hopefully strike a positive chord with front line staff as well, reminding them that they have dealt with change before with positive results. Directly involving those most impacted by the changes is a great way to gain support and alleviate concerns. It is crucial to communicate the fact that the changes occurring are designed to improve patient quality, become more efficient, and enhance both the patient and provider experience.

Change is here to stay; we can count on that. Many of us may not be as open to change, but we can do our best to understand what initiated it and, more importantly, how our role in the process has the potential to influence the accomplishment of organizational goals.

TeamHealth Medical Call CenterIn the famous words of Heraclitus, “The only thing that is constant is change.”

Gina Tabone MSN, RNC is the vice president strategic clinical solutions at TeamHeath Medical Call Center.

Behavioral Analytics

Empower Medical Contact Center Agents to Improve Patient Care

By Joshua Feast

Working in a contact center can be difficult under any circumstances. Medical contact centers in particular require a high level of emotional engagement. Patient calls can often be stressful and emotionally trying experiences. An agent’s ability to display empathy, create rapport, and successfully build an emotional connection with a patient is critical in driving resolution and ensuring long-term satisfaction for both agents and patients.

Contact center agents have a tough job. They take medical leave at a rate three times greater than that of employees in other fields (Integrated Benefits Institute). They encounter, on average, ten hostile callers per day (Dr. Guy Winch/Psychology Today). The repetition, stress, and job difficulty takes its toll; the average career span for a contact center worker is just three years.

Agents who successfully develop rapport with patients not only provide better care, they are better able to cope with the emotional labor their job requires, which results in higher job satisfaction. Positive energy is contagious. An agent who develops an emotional connection with a patient on one call feels better about his or her work and carries a sense of optimism into the next call.

Extract Actionable Insights from Subconscious Behavior: Behavioral analytics solutions provide agents with the real-time guidance they need to develop positive emotional connections with patients. These solutions provide insight into agent and patient speaking behavior. They comprehensively measure patient experience and provide deeper awareness into the emotional connection between patient and agent. According to research pioneered by Dr. Alex “Sandy” Pentland at MIT, humans communicate in large part by using “honest signals.” Honest signals are a kind of involuntary language involving vocal expressions, among other gestures, which communicate what’s on our mind more honestly and powerfully than the spoken word can.

Behavioral analytics solutions perform vocal analysis – focusing on pitch, tone, silence, and turn taking – to pick up on these honest signals. They convert speech into signal data, process that data in real time through behavioral models and present guidance to agents as well as a summary of agent performance to contact center managers. For the first time, contact center leaders have the analytics they need to measure and improve emotional connections with patients. Through these novel analytics, medical contact centers can discover whether agents are displaying the conversational skills that ultimately lead to more satisfied patients and more engaged agents.

Behavioral analytics solutions are already affecting healthcare delivery. The US Department of Veterans Affairs, for example, is leveraging behavioral analytics in an attempt to better detect when veterans are at risk for suicide. Mass General Hospital (through MoodNetwork.org) is using this technology to better identify behavioral patterns that can help patients manage depression or bipolar disorder.

Behavioral Analytics Facilitate Continuous Care for Patients: Behavioral analytics solutions empower phone agents to communicate more effectively with patients. This ensures more productive conversations and better call outcomes. The solutions can also be put directly in the hands of patients via a mobile application, making them more aware of their own condition and helping them to seek medical support proactively.

The mobile application can sense patterns in patient behavior to detect potential medical need: Are patients remaining socially connected? Are they active? Are they experiencing large variations in mood? If a patient in need calls in for support, the agent has more context regarding the patient’s medical state and can use that information to take the best actions for the patient’s health.

Behavioral analytics has the potential to help transition care from expensive, episodic, reactive support to continuous proactive care. They provide contextual information for agents and clinicians, ensuring a more comprehensive assessment of health and a better understanding of treatment success.

Emotional Connections Drive Healthy Outcomes: Working in medical contact centers presents a unique challenge. Agents must build rapport with patients who are often making complex inquiries in a fragile emotional state. Behavioral analytics solutions extract insights from voice analysis and digital trace data and convert those insights into real-time, actionable guidance.

Ultimately, behavioral analytics enable agents to build trust with patients, making the experience more positive for both parties. Agents, fueled by successful patient interactions, build confidence, reduce stress, and derive more satisfaction from their jobs. Patients become more engaged in their own care, leading them to live happier, healthier lives. The power of behavioral analytics can transform the medical contact center into an environment rich with empathy, rapport, and positive emotional connections for both agents and patients.

Joshua Feast is CEO and co-founder of Cogito Corp. His focuses are on enabling Cogito’s customers to achieve the next level of enterprise responsiveness and on expanding Cogito’s contribution to the field of human behavior understanding. He has over a decade of delivery to human services, government, and financial services organizations. Joshua holds an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management, where he was the Platinum-Triangle Fulbright Scholar in Entrepreneurship, and a Bachelor of Technology from Massey University in New Zealand.

Finding the Right Medical Call Center Consultant

By Gina Tabone, MSN, RNC-TNP

In terms of delivering high quality, cost-effective healthcare, most people would agree that this year is going to be very complicated, and many organizations are going to rely on consultants to help them be successful. Every day dozens of potential solutions are offered for overcoming healthcare delivery challenges, and one solution repeatedly suggested is that of a medical call center. Many organizations do not possess the internal expertise to effectively implement and operate this type of access to care.

A successfully operated medical call center can meet the need to provide access, continuity of care, optimal resource utilization, and better outcomes for more patients. Many healthcare organizations have already established their own call centers, others outsource to nationally recognized organizations, and some are still exploring the best options for their patients and organizations. Often the expertise of a medical call center consultant is engaged to define the best goals to work toward and to map out strategies for achieving those goals.

If you’re considering working with a medical call center consultant, you should be happy that your organization acknowledges the value of a medical call center and is willing to seek out and pay for industry expertise. As a responsible leader, you want to select a call center consultant who can meet your needs, direct your efforts, and ensure success for your call center, your organization, and yourself. Remember, your reputation is on the line.

Your best interests are served by selecting a consulting group with established roots in providing telehealth. When you’re looking for advice about a specific subject, there’s an inherent intelligence that only comes with someone who has experience in that subject. Hands-on medical call center expertise is invaluable when you’re hiring a consultant for help with a start-up or making your existing operation more efficient.

Empathy is the icing on the cake. Look for a consultant who can identify with you and understand the emotional roller coaster that a leader of a 24/7 call center faces. An empathetic consultant understands what motivates you and what keeps you up at night and can see the current situation from your perspective. Consultants with a history of successful call center leadership can focus on experiences similar to yours, respect the uniqueness of your organization, and customize proven strategies to ensure that your call center meets and overcomes the challenges that healthcare may face in the months ahead.

Gina Tabone, MSN, RNC-TNP, is director of clinical solutions at TeamHealth Medical Call Center. Prior to joining TeamHealth, she served as the administrator of Cleveland Clinic’s NURSE on CALL 24/7 nurse triage program. Under her direction, ED utilization declined, continuous care coordination improved, performance metric targets dropped from 33 percent ABD to less than 5 percent, URAC accreditation was achieved, and the call center grew from covering 350 physicians to the integration of more than 1,500 employed and affiliated providers.

Three to Thrive: Answer Three Questions or Close Your Contact Center

By Richard D. Stier

The call center can be a health system’s first and most valuable point of contact for building trust and retaining patients – or not. Three foundational questions define the difference.

1) Is your contact center aligned with your organization’s power core? Decisions are made through the lens of a healthcare organization’s core purpose, or power core. And the document that most accurately reveals an organization’s core values is neither the mission statement nor the strategic plan; it’s the budget.

In your organization, what is the predominant filter – your power core – that determines what is budgeted? Be candid. “Frequently it is the strongest skill set in the company or the most comfortable to senior executives,” according to author Jeanne Bliss in Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action.

Your healthcare organization’s power core could be clinical quality, with a focus on quality outcome indicators, emerging technologies, world-class clinicians, and sub-specialty depth. Clinical expertise is the product. Or perhaps your power core is information technology, where IT largely influences the priorities of the organization – far beyond hardware and software. Possibly your power core is passion for the customer, and your organization makes decisions based on the goal of distinguishing the customer experience. Maybe your organization’s power core is operations, driven by processes that deliver excellent execution. Perhaps your power core is finance, with every choice filtered by the unspoken question: “Will this decision strengthen our bottom line?”

Make sure to align the contact center with your organization’s power core. Rather than it being layered on top of the “real work,” make the contact center a central component of the work itself.

For example, if the power core is clinical quality, redeploy your contact center as a care connection hub, which intentionally facilitates the continuity of care. If the power core is information technology, then have your contact center become a trusted source of truth for provider data that replaces or integrates information from perhaps dozens of redundant systems.

The key is to understand your organization’s power core and purposefully align the contact center to support it. This must be more than messaging and positioning. Refocus both contact center activities and contact center metrics to tangibly support the power core.

2) Is your contact center an investment or an expense? Remember that expenses are cut, while investments are funded. Call centers that do not validate outcomes that support the core purpose are vulnerable expenses. In contrast, contact centers whose metrics document their contribution to the power core are valued investments.

For example, contact center metrics for a power core of clinical quality might include:

  • Quality scores of nurse navigators
  • Percent of ED visits redirected by nurse triage to less costly, clinically appropriate care
  • Kept appointment rate for post-discharge physician visits
  • Percent of PCPs whose patients schedule follow up appointments within seven days of discharge
  • Decline in rate of avoidable re-admissions
  • Documented non-accommodation to identify roadblocks to appointments for needed services

Metrics for a customer power core might include:

  • Scores and trending for awareness, familiarity, preference, and advocacy
  • Caller satisfaction scores
  • Satisfaction scores for participating physicians and their practice managers
  • Increased HCAHPS response rates when completion is encouraged by contact center
  • Documented complaints and compliments
  • Caller loyalty score identifying how willing callers are to refer only to your organization

Metrics for a finance power core might include:

  • Number of new appointments for in-network medical home and/or ACO primary care physicians
  • Number of patients referred to participating practices
  • Non-compensated community benefit provided by the contact center
  • Contribution margin from new patients referred through the contact center
  • ROI: financial return per each dollar invested

3) Does your contact center deliver intentional experiences?

The healthcare contact center is frequently where a patient’s first experience with your organization occurs. That experience is your organization’s early opportunity to deliver on its brand promise. “The first three seconds must be intentionally effective,” said Colleen Sweeney at the 2012 Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development Annual Conference. “That initial interaction is a strong driver of patient preference.”

Many times that opportunity is squandered. Healthcare observer Paul Roemer comments: “They hire more call center agents, and they throw technology at the problem, technology like scheduling applications – applications that do nothing for the other 80 percent of calls. Applications that, without an understanding of the business problems, without a strategy and a plan, will get in the way of creating a great caller experience across the enterprise.”

If your goal is to improve transactions by acquiring more agents, more technology, more training – more anything – you’ve already lost. You might as well close the call center. Call center transactions are a commodity. Transformative experiences differentiate. Make the equivalent shift from coffee as commodity on the grocery shelf to coffee as an experience at Starbucks.

To design your organization’s intentional first experience, imagine a visual image of the ideal caller experience from the perspective of the caller. Jot down the key thoughts you would communicate to create that experience with a first-time caller. Make several pilot calls to internal team members to role-play the call. Ask for their feedback. Based on their responses, make a list of key themes to communicate during that call to create the ideal caller experience. Use those themes to role-play trust-building caller interactions with new staff members before they take their first call and again after particularly challenging calls.

Thriving call centers become conduits of trust. Trust is nurtured by extreme service behaviors:

  • Visualize the outcome of the desired caller experience before every call.
  • Smile into a mirror as you answer the call.
  • Actively listen to understand what each individual caller wants most.
  • Acknowledge and validate callers’ feelings; communicate with empathy.
  • Summarize call resolution and any instructions; check for caller understanding.
  • Ask: “Is there anything else I can do now to support your positive healthcare experience?”
  • Deliver on every promise to every caller every time.

A healthcare contact center can be an unsurpassed asset for building preference and repeat business – or it can be an anemic expense. Perhaps it’s time to take a hard look at these three questions – answering them can refocus your contact center as a thriving secret weapon for your organization.

Richard D StierRichard D. Stier, MBA, serves as vice president, marketing for Echo, A HealthStream Company, a leading provider of contact center and software and consulting solutions serving healthcare organizations across North America. Contact Rick at rick.stier@healthstream.com or 800-733-8737 x7265.

[From the Feb/Mar 2015 issue of AnswerStat magazine]



When Employees Disappoint: How Effective Leaders Respond

By Alesia Latson

Disappointment is inevitable for leaders. At times your people will disappoint you, so the fact that disappointment occurs isn’t the challenge. The real issue is how you respond to the disappointment.

Unfortunately, far too many leaders react to disappointment with anger and punishment. You’ve likely seen the scenario. An employee loses a key client or misses an important deadline, and the leader responds by demoting the employee, removing responsibilities, withholding vacation time, or even firing the employee.

Such consequences are nothing more than an unexamined reaction on the part of the leader – and a missed opportunity for the leader to shine. In reality, how you handle disappointment speaks volumes about your leadership style and your credibility in your organization.

To make the most of a disappointing situation and use it as the coaching opportunity it is, consider the following suggestions:

Manage Yourself Before You Confront the Employee: Before talking with an employee about a disappointing situation, you first have to manage yourself. In other words, you have to be clear on what your intention is for the conversation. Because you’re in a position of authority, what you say during these moments will have a ripple effect. Of course, this isn’t to say you aren’t justified in your anger or disappointment. However, your expression of those feelings has an impact not only on what that employee will do in the future, but also on how others view you. So before initiating the conversation, take some time to step back and get clear about what you want to have happen as a result of the meeting. Are you simply looking to vent your anger? Is the goal finding a solution to rectify the current circumstances? Or do you really want to help the employee learn and grow from the situation?

Assess Your Role in the Disappointment: As part of managing yourself, take some time to reflect on your role in the disappointment. Before you blame the entire situation on your employee, realize that, as a leader, you are ultimately responsible for your people. Ask yourself, “What role did I play?” and “How did I contribute to this disappointment?” Perhaps you didn’t give the employee enough training. Maybe you threw that person into a situation he or she was too “green” to handle. Perhaps you didn’t adequately prepare the employee for the task. Whatever the disappointing outcome was, chances are you had some role in it, even if only a small one. Acknowledge that prior to your conversation.

Assume Good Intent: When you take the stance that the employee didn’t intentionally cause the disappointment, it naturally takes the edge off your approach and any anger you may feel. In the majority of cases, that stance is accurate: The employee didn’t set out to cause harm. He or she simply made a mistake or a bad judgment call, which resulted in a less than ideal situation. Additionally, assume that the employee knows he or she messed up, feels badly, and is apprehensive about speaking with you. Therefore, any anger you display will be mild in comparison to the anger and disappointment your employee has experienced already.

Of course, if there’s been an intentional violation of an important principle, value, or standard that compromises the integrity of the organization, your anger is understandable. However, true anger should be reserved for egregious acts.

Maintain Focus: When talking to the employee, address the situation in terms of the outcome, not the person. Successful schoolteachers know that, when disciplining a student, it’s important to focus on the behavior, not the child. The same is true for business leaders. Even if the situation occurred because the employee was negligent in some way, you need to separate what happened from the employee personally.

State your disappointment in terms of the outcome, and then explore with the employee the cause in an inquisitive and coaching way rather than a punitive way. Why? Because when employees feel like the boss is scolding them, they become fearful, which decreases creativity and innovation on the job – the exact things a leader often needs to rectify a disappointing situation.

Learn from Disappointments: It’s human nature to lash out during disappointing times, and a leader often does. But remember that how you handle disappointment reflects more on you as a leader than on the person who caused the situation. Additionally, realize that the majority of disappointing moments are actually coaching moments in disguise. Wise leaders recognize this and make the most of these situations. Therefore, if you want to be viewed as a leader with courage, credibility, and reason, use the suggestions presented here the next time you feel the need to punish an employee for a wrongdoing. When you do, you won’t be disappointed in the results.

Alesia Latson is a speaker, trainer, coach, and founder of Latson Leadership Group, a consulting firm specializing in management and leadership development. With more than twenty years of experience, Alesia helps organizations and leaders expand their capacity to produce results while enhancing employee engagement. For more information on Alesia’s speaking and consulting schedule, please contact her at alesia@latsonleadershipgroup.com or visit www.latsonleadershipgroup.com.

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

Talent Versus Determination: The Key to Hiring Right

By Walt Grassl

Bob and Mark are new managers who are having lunch in the company cafeteria. They are discussing their respective hiring strategies for an upcoming job fair. Their conversation turns into a debate on what type of graduate made the best employee.

Mark prefers to hire the 4.0 GPA graduates, regardless of how driven they appear or how well they seem to “play with others.” He figures he can instill the drive and the teamwork.

Bob believes in hiring smart – but not necessarily the smartest (3.0 and above GPAs) – who demonstrate determination and good collaboration skills. He thinks they are smart enough to learn and believes their drive and teamwork will carry the day.

Patricia, a seasoned manager, joins the discussion and shares her thoughts about the importance of hard work and talent in the workforce. She believes that if people don’t have a minimum amount of talent, hard work may not be enough for them to be successful. Conversely, some of the most talented people aren’t successful in their careers because they don’t work hard. The most successful people have talent and work hard.

Patricia is right. Hardworking, talented people make the best employees. Employees must consider what is in their control and what they can influence. Individuals cannot control how much talent they have, but individuals can control how hard they work and how hard they persevere when times get tough.

Here are five character traits for hiring managers to consider.

1) Reaction to Praise: Studies show that when people are praised for their intelligence, they tend to avoid risk when given a choice of their next assignments. Why? If they are less than perfect in the future, they are afraid of not looking as smart. However, when people are praised for their hard work in completing their assignment, they welcome more challenging assignments. If they work hard on a task that their leadership recognizes has a high degree of difficulty and they come up short, they have a history that indicates their hard work will be acknowledged.

2) Ability to Adapt to Change: In the workplace, success often depends upon the ability to change from one process to another. Oftentimes, highly talented people have a set way of doing things that works extremely well for them. They do not like to change what worked in the past and made them successful. Change requires hard work, and while many talented people do well adapting to change, some who feel that they have extraordinary talent are not so flexible.

3) Willingness to Learn: Many talented people feel they do not have anything new to learn in their chosen field. They believe what got them there is enough.

Those who are determined and who work hard often spend a lot of time and effort to maintain their skills and learn new skills. They typically display the most current knowledge of new technology and ideas. Having employees who will improve themselves over and above company-sponsored training is critical to an organization wanting to innovate and improve.

4) Different Expectations: People who are highly talented may believe they are entitled to a certain pay level, promotional opportunities, and respect. They can be the workplace equivalent of rock stars or elite athletes.

Those who succeed based on hard work over talent tend to have expectations that are more realistic. Those who depend on demonstrating their work ethic and their determination to succeed often will find that their hard work pays off in terms of promotions, pay increases, and the level of respect they earn in the workplace. Unlike their more talented co-workers, they tend to avoid resting on their laurels.

Not everyone who is talented depends entirely on his or her talent to find success in the workplace. Many of those with a great deal of talent work hard – often as hard as their less-talented co-workers. However, in some cases, those who are highly talented don’t feel they need to work as hard to get ahead. Nearly anyone who sets their mind to finding success can be successful; however, without hard work, few will ever find the level of success that will pay off for them over time.

5) Goal Setting: People who set goals are usually more successful than those who don’t. The best goals to set are “stretch” goals. Stretch goals are attainable and challenging but realistic. If you set goals that are too easy, you will accomplish them more often but not be as satisfied. Satisfaction comes from pursuing a goal, not from ultimately achieving it.

Successful employees generally focus on one objective at a time, and they always have the next goal in mind. They break more difficult tasks into smaller tasks, with mini goals along the way. They map out several different paths to their target; this allows flexibility if one path becomes blocked. Activity itself generates the impetus for further activity.

Conclusion: Determination and perseverance are important traits in the workplace. Employers want employees who are determined to get things done, make things happen, and constantly look for better ways of doing things. Employees are more likely to continue in the face of adversity if they think talent is only peripheral to their future success. Persistence and purposeful effort are more important than talent.

Studies have observed that when facing difficulties, those who believed their performance was transformable through effort not only persevered but actually improved, whereas those who believed that talent was everything regressed.

Don’t hire based on talent alone. To maximize the chance of hiring success, seek employees who work with determination and perseverance.

Walt Grassl is a speaker, author of Stand Up and Speak Up, and host of the Internet radio show with the same name. Walt’s accomplishments include success in Toastmasters International speech contests and performing standup comedy at the Hollywood Improv and the Flamingo in Las Vegas. For more information, visit waltgrassl.com.

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

Mindful Compassion in the Workplace: Improving Quality of Life in Your Call Center

By Ruth W. Crocker

If you find yourself listening to co-workers complain at work, you’re not alone. Jane, a registered nurse, often eats her lunch sitting on a curb in the parking lot next to the call center where she works. She’s looking for just a few minutes of peace and quiet from the chaos and complaints that echo off the walls in the employee break room where people wolf down their meals amid a chorus of gripes about work and working conditions.

A recent Harris poll found that 80 percent of workers feel stressed about one or more things in the workplace. Feelings of persistent high stress among workers have been shown to be related to negative outcomes, including personal and professional burnout, absenteeism, lower productivity, and lower job satisfaction. Besides the normal sources of stress – such as employment uncertainty due to globalization and increased job flux – agents and nurses like Jane must deal with meeting the needs of sick patients and coordinating and documenting care across healthcare systems. The sources of stress for workers at all levels and in all settings seem to be growing.

Is there a panacea or some secret potion that can be applied in a variety of work situations? Employers can help by offering wellness programs aimed at boosting mental and physical health. One highly recommended approach is the use of mindfulness training. Mindfulness is a method of learning how, and to what, we pay attention, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgment. It is the process of learning a calm awareness of one’s body, feelings, and thoughts. Basically it demonstrates that we are what we think; it reminds us of the impermanence that everything we think is extremely important. Without becoming more mindful, we can focus continually on the same problems over and over again without resolving them.

Managers who practice mindfulness have discovered that it improves their ability to encourage calm and stability in the workplace. They actually increase productivity when they model “mindful manager” qualities, such as listening before acting and leading people by focusing less on hierarchical relationships. “Do this because I told you to” becomes “Let’s talk about how and why we do things this way.”

Managers report seeing themselves differently when they can introduce workers to a culture of mindfulness, which supports the notion that making occasional mistakes is part of learning; they can ask questions that require people to think about where they are in a work situation and how they got there.

Most people are more familiar with “mindlessness” – feeling forgetful, separate from ourselves, and as if we are living mechanically, like a puppet, controlled by others. Exercises that focus on mindfulness restore a sense of comfort with our decisions and ourselves. We feel whole rather than fragmented.

Formalized programs conducting mindfulness training at worksites have shown that employee stress levels decreased by 35 to 40 percent with an average of one hour of mindfulness practice per week. Exercises include meditation (a form of quiet thought without the goal of thinking), breathing in a focused, mindful way, gentle physical exercises, and conversations with a trained workshop leader. Jon Kabat-Zinn launched one of the original mindfulness-based stress reduction programs at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979. Since then, many companies have used mindfulness-based programs to reduce stress in the workplace.

Here are some benefits of becoming more mindful:

  • Mindfulness practice brings the mind into the present and alleviates the stress of thinking about the past and the future. Relaxation can occur because obsession about problems is at least temporarily paused. Research has linked greater mindfulness with lowering blood pressure, decreasing anxiety, and reducing depression.
  • Mindfulness increases openness to new information and different points of view, thus increasing tolerance and decreasing prejudice.
  • Mindfulness enhances the consideration of ethics and wisdom in decision making.
  • Mindfulness encourages flexibility, productivity, innovation, leadership ability, and satisfaction. It decreases worry: If only three people show up for a job that normally requires four people, a more mindful manager will have greater ability to reassess the job and figure out how to get it done without adding new stress.
  • Mindfulness circumvents fatigue by encouraging people to change the context of a situation before reaching the point where they expect to be tired. Staggering different kinds of paperwork, moving to a different work setting or getting up to take a short walk are mindful ways to tap latent energy and change the mindset leading to exhaustion. Some people describe this as getting a second wind, but it is, in fact, a great example of mindfulness at work. Changing context before reaching exhaustion does prevent fatigue.

The advantage of focusing on becoming more mindful is that it’s a quality we already possess but don’t often use. Mindfulness relates directly to paying attention to whatever is happening in your life presently without blaming or judging. It’s a way of taking charge that enhances a sense of having control over your life rather than feeling like a victim of circumstances. It involves consciously working with your own stress, pain, and illnesses.

Hopefully, Jane has had time enough on the curb outside her call center to empty her mind of the sights and sounds of work, paying attention only to how she breathes and noticing which thoughts occur again and again when she is quietly alone. These are the first steps towards paying full attention to herself and discovering how to survive healthfully in a noisy, busy world with the mindful skills she already possesses. Her coworkers and callers will probably notice when she returns that she is calmer, smiles more, and seems to have discovered a happy secret.

Ruth W. Crocker, PhD, is an author, writing consultant, and expert on recovery from trauma and personal tragedy. Her book, Those Who Remain: Remembrance and Reunion After War, describes her experience following her husband’s death in Vietnam and how she found resources for healing. An excerpt has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2014. She is writer-in-residence at Riverlight Wellness Center in Stonington, Connecticut, where she teaches the art of writing memoir and personal stories. She is available for workshops, readings, and public speaking. Contact her at ruthwcrocker.com.

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