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 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 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 or visit

[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

[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

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

The Fast-Food Factor: Does Your Call Center Have a Fast-Food Hiring Mentality?

By Peter DeHaan, Ph.D.

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of AnswerStatI’ve never met anyone who felt they were overpaid. Occasionally someone will admit to being adequately compensated, but most people say their pay doesn’t reflect their work or value to the organization. This is especially true of call center agents. I’ve seen this both in running call centers and as a consultant. It matters not what the pay rate is, the universal belief is that the pay is too low.

Compensation is the single greatest expense for call centers. It accounts for anywhere from 40 percent to 85 percent of total expenses, depending on call center size. Pay too little, and turnover shoots up, training costs increase, and morale decreases. Pay too much, and the outflow of money exceeds the inflow of cash. No organization can stay in business if it loses money every month.

But what is an appropriate pay rate? Fortunately, the answer is close to home. I call it the “fast-food factor.”

Quite simply, if you hire call center agents at a fast-food wage, you’ll get a fast-food mentality and a fast-food performance. Yes, you will find the occasional star employee, but how long do you expect to retain him or her? Generally, you’ll find people with little work experience. They’ll view the job as temporary, not understand customer service, and fail to comprehend the necessity of being at work on time (much less giving two weeks’ notice before quitting). With the average agent training time exceeding the average fast-food employee tenure, you can’t afford to hire agents who might quit before they finish training. Yet when you compete with fast-food restaurants for entry-level employees, this is the likely outcome.

To succeed, call centers must pay more than fast-food restaurants, but how much more? Even fifty cents an hour can make a difference. A dollar more will have a much greater effect – if you do it right. What you must avoid when raising your starting wage is merely making it easier to find the same caliber of people; you must raise your standards, too. When you pay more, you can expect more.

As a consultant, one client’s staff kept complaining, “People working in fast food make more than we do.” After hearing five such complaints, I visited the seven fast-food restaurants within walking distance of the center. The staff’s perception was wrong, but the misinformation had gone unchallenged and been repeated enough that the lie was seen as truth.

Another client’s agents enjoyed a much higher starting wage, but they, too, complained of being under-compensated. Again, I surveyed the pay at nearby fast-food restaurants and discovered the call center’s starting wage was three dollars higher than the local fast-food benchmark. Fortunately, accompanying this higher starting wage were tighter pre-employment screening and higher performance expectations. The caliber of the staff was noticeably greater. No adjustment to their compensation was needed.

To determine the appropriate hourly rate for your call center agents, you have four options:

  1. Continue what you are doing (which probably isn’t working).
  2. Pay someone thousands of dollars to do a wage study.
  3. Refer to local wage surveys (which seldom list data for call center agents).
  4. Visit local fast-food restaurants, and then distinguish your hourly rate – and agent expectations – from theirs.

Applying the “fast-food factor” has never let me down and, I suspect, it won’t let you down either.

Peter DeHaan is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from

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

Severe Weather Doesn’t Have to Be Disastrous for Business

By Scott Kinka

Though signs of summer are apparent, it’s tough to forget that winter 2013–2014 was one of the coldest on record in parts of the country, according to the government’s official monthly climate report released recently. The cold and snow had a direct impact on the bottom line of many businesses as offices across the U.S. shut down for days, resulting in business disruptions and revenue loss – especially if employees were not to work from home. Now with hurricane season upon us, businesses should take a lesson from this past winter’s experiences to minimize potential further disruption to come.

While some industries cannot avoid losses due to severe weather, it is possible for many organizations to be productive and profitable even when workers can’t get to the office. Companies that implement cloud-based technology in some capacity are seeing far less business disruption associated with inclement weather or extreme weather-related disasters.

The John M. Glover Agency and Hurricane Sandy: The IT and executive teams at a national insurance company, The John M. Glover Agency, know firsthand how valuable a redundant cloud platform can be during a natural disaster. In 2012, as Hurricane Sandy raged off the mid-Atlantic coast, the organization was able to access all of its key systems and data to proactively service customers. As the storm bore down, associates at the firm were able to take advantage of virtualization services to stay safe and productive from home. With a cloud-based platform in addition to glitch-free unified communications systems, Glover employees had no problem connecting to applications like Office, QuickBooks, ACT, and proprietary databases, helping them stay in constant communication with customers and prospects.

According to a Dun & Bradstreet report, the devastation of Hurricane Sandy potentially affected some 1.5 million businesses located across nineteen counties in the tri-state region. These businesses employ 9.3 million individuals across 1,000 different industries, all who were vulnerable to the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

Cloud Computing Survey: Glover is just one example of a company seeing the tangible benefits of using a cloud-based infrastructure. A recent survey asked 1,000 executives and IT professionals in mid-market organization about cloud adoption. The survey found that nine out of ten agree: The future model of IT is definitely cloud computing. In accordance with that number, Forrester Research expects the global market for cloud to reach $118 billion in 2014. More simply put, the cloud delivers tangible benefits, and IT pros and executives know it.

In the survey, “disaster avoidance/recovery/business continuity” was the highest ranked expected benefit of moving to the cloud, as cited by 72 percent of respondents. Regardless of the specific plan, it is safe to say that in the wake of significant weather emergencies and unforeseen events, businesses are more concerned today than ever before about operational continuity and disaster recovery.

Most businesses have a simple disaster recovery plan that involves sending backups to an off-site facility or using an online service to back up data. However, those plans often do not detail exactly how that data and applications will be recovered, how quickly they can be recovered, or how they will be used in the event that the server or infrastructure on which it was originally located is lost or destroyed. Nor do most organizations’ disaster recovery plans account for how users will continue to communicate with the server, applications, each other, customers, and vendors if a location is unreachable. While there is a perception that implementing a comprehensive disaster recovery plan could be complex, cloud-based technologies enable businesses to remain productive even in the height of a weather emergency.

The Cloud Keeps Productivity at Peak Levels: The cloud can help organizations rise above natural disasters, a realization that became clear to executives at Apria Healthcare following Hurricane Katrina. As the devastating hurricane hit New Orleans and storm waters knocked out telephone service, Apria, a national deliverer of home healthcare services, could not take calls from customers, many of whom had made hurried departures from the area and were now in need of extra oxygen tanks and other supplies. Following Katrina, executives at Apria sought a new communication solution that would provide cost savings, simplification, and a good customer experience, as well as a disaster recovery and business continuity capability.

With more than 550 offices nationwide, Apria selected a geographically redundant, active-active cloud solution for placing calls, routing, and data. Through this deployment, phone systems could be accessible from any branch at any time and calls could be shared without geographical constraints. Moreover, if a branch was compromised due to a local issue, such as a power outage, Apria could redirect calls for that branch to a location that had not been compromised.

Sure enough, the new infrastructure was tested shortly after implementation, as twenty of Apria’s offices were directly in Sandy’s path. The company was able to change their call routing to forward calls from sites impacted by Sandy to other locations that could serve those customers. As a result, the company avoided downtime, even though both phone and data connectivity were lost due to the storm.

Cloud hosting affords businesses access to resources, servers, and software, virtually eliminating any concern that a disaster – or even a simple outage – will affect productivity. Moving applications and infrastructure to a cloud – be it private, public, or hybrid – ensures that applications are available from any location regardless of what’s happening at the physical site.

Summary: In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina became the seventh most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Atlantic coast, affecting eight million people and causing billions of dollars in damage. The primary concern during a severe weather event is, undoubtedly, the safety and well-being of the people and communities that are hit. Secondarily, businesses must think about the potential impact on business operations, revenue, and the bottom line. A solid IT shift toward cloud computing might have saved some of the companies affected by these hurricanes from the devastating lack of business continuity and revenue loss. The cloud is a proven strategy to circumvent many of the problems inherent to surviving a disaster of any kind.

Scott Kinka is CTO at Evolve IP (, the Cloud Services Company™ that provides center managers with more control and deeper insight into their operations.

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

Three Reasons Your Emergency Plan Will Fail

By Lucien Canton

When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound in 1989, it was one of those extremely rare occurrences where the conditions of the crisis almost exactly matched the planning assumptions in the company’s emergency plan. This included the weather conditions and the size of the spill. It was as if the plan had been tailor-made for this specific event.

Nevertheless, the response was characterized by confusion and delays, and it soon became obvious that the plan was a failure. The planners had created what sociologist Lee Clarke calls a “fantasy document” – a plan that ignores potential consequences and the capacity of the organization to implement it.

Unfortunately, the Exxon Valdez is not an isolated case. Your organization – and your call center – may convince itself that the mere fact that you have a plan is sufficient to keep you from harm in a crisis. However, without addressing three critical elements, your plan will fail.

1) Misunderstanding the True Cost of Crisis: It is surprising how many organizations fail to understand that the true cost of a crisis can be both tangible and intangible and can occur on both a micro and macro level. Most focus on the obvious tangible costs: damage to property, lost productivity, etc. But, failing to fulfill commitments may also carry reputational costs that can affect future business.

Your ability to continue to meet their needs will be a primary consideration to your customers. The way you communicate with your customers, staff, and public can affect future business. How you deal with employee issues at the time may affect your employee’s willingness to return to work.

There are also macro effects. Large crises can generate dramatic population shifts that may eliminate the need for your product or services or change the demographics of your labor pool. Conversely, you may also see an increased demand for your product or services or the emergence of potential new lines of business. You may or may not be able to anticipate these macro changes, but your plan should allow you to recognize when they are occurring and the flexibility to react to them.

2) Treating Your Plan as External to Your Business: To many organizations, a plan is little more than a fire extinguisher, a necessary expense that no one ever really expects to use. But, treating your plan as external to your business means that there is no connection between how you deal with day-to-day problems and what you will do in a crisis.

Ideally, your plan should be scalable. It should be integrated with your business and allow you to ramp up as situations become more complex. The same people you turn to for help on a daily basis will most likely be the core members of your crisis management team, and they will default to their normal roles and responsibilities. The closer your emergency plan aligns with these established roles, the easier it will be to implement.

Plans that are not aligned with your business will fail. Disaster researchers have found that even in the best run organizations, few people consult their plans at the time of crisis. If your planning process does not provide a close integration between day-to-day problem solving and crisis management, your staff will either forget that a plan exists or completely ignore it and default to the roles they fulfill on a daily basis.

3) Failing to Consider the Human Factor: A common failure in planning is to use a template or sample plan without considering the effect of your corporate culture on your plan. Factors such as risk tolerance, decision-making strategies, and team cohesiveness will affect the implementation of any plan. For example, organizations where decisions are made by consensus don’t always do well with plans that enforce a rigid hierarchy. Similarly, companies with strong hierarchies don’t do well with plans that rely on decentralization.

Taking this further, you need to consider how your workforce will react in a crisis. People respond differently to certain types of crises based on their culture and experience with past disasters. For example, survivors of the Mexico City earthquake who had immigrated to Los Angeles were reluctant to return to their homes after the Northridge earthquake because of their memories of that event. Parents may want to leave to take care of their families.

The one thing people will not do is panic. There are only limited situations where this occurs. Instead, people are resilient and extremely creative in solving problems. This is a resource that can reap dividends at the time of crisis if your plan takes into consideration the needs and strengths of your staff.

Conclusion: The military has a maxim; “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” This is true of emergency planning as well. Ultimately the success or failure of your plan does not depend on how well it is written or how well it conforms to an external standard. It depends on your understanding of the nature of crisis and the level to which you have integrated your plan with your business processes and corporate culture. Only by considering these basic factors can your plan be truly realistic.

Lucien G. Canton, CEM, is a consultant specializing in preparing managers to lead better in crisis by understanding the human factors often overlooked in crisis planning. A popular speaker and lecturer, he is the author of the best-selling book Emergency Management: Concepts and Strategies for Effective Programs. For more information, please visit or email

[From the June/July 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]