Tag Archives: Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Vital Signs

Six Keys to Produce a Happy and Effective Workforce

Address These Critical Items to Better Retain Staff and Serve Callers

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Operating a successful call center in the healthcare industry is hard. There is a never-ending tension to balance the expectations of patients and callers with the needs of operational staff, all the while remaining fiscally viable.

Here are six tips to help you produce a happy and effective workforce to keep your operation running smoothly and efficiently.

1. Compensation Package

I’ve never talked with anyone who thinks they’re overpaid. And only a few people ever think they receive appropriate pay. Most think they deserve more.

Ask any call center employee what’s most important to them in their work, and they’ll likely say their compensation. They work to earn money so they can cover their needs and wants. Though their actual paycheck is a big part of their compensation package, they’re also looking for other benefits such as healthcare coverage and provisions for time off, including vacation, sick days, and personal time.

Though you could bust your budget trying to provide the compensation package your employees think they deserve and expect you to provide, you don’t need to do so if you address other, less tangible workplace-related items.

Providing a competitive compensation package, along with covering the next five items, will help you produce a happy and effective workforce.

2. Managerial Support

Employees want to feel the support of their supervisors and managers. This starts with listening to what they say and showing them you care.

Let them know you understand what it’s like to answer phone calls all day long. You do know this, right? When they see you periodically sit down and take calls like the rest of them, it will do much to garner their attention and gain their respect.

3. Appreciation

Most managers say they appreciate their staff. But how often do they take the time to actually tell their employees? How often do they do things to show it?

This doesn’t need to be anything expensive or spectacular. I once had a boss who each payday would look me in the eye, hand me my paycheck, and say, “Thank you.” He did this for every employee. I was often frustrated with him in other areas, but I had no doubt he appreciated me and my work. Though this might be hard to implement if your call center operates 24/7, look for creative ways to produce the same results. And if your staff receives their pay and documentation electronically, look for other opportunities to make eye contact and sincerely say, “Thank you.”

4. Scheduling

Appropriately staffing a call center is a tricky issue. You need to have the right number of people working to efficiently handle the calls and other communications that come in. If you don’t have enough people present, those who are there will end their shift exhausted, frazzled, and frustrated. Yet if you have too many people working, your labor costs will escalate, and you’ll be over budget. Seek to find a scheduling balance that doesn’t overwork your staff or tax your budget.

When developing a schedule, be considerate of the needs of your employees. If they rely on public transportation to get to work, don’t schedule them on days or times when they’ll have trouble getting to work or making it home. If they go to school, be sure to work around their schedule.

5. Workload

Call center employees who move continuously from one call to the next throughout their entire shift are less likely—and less able—to give their best to every caller every time. They’ll soon grow immune to the number of calls in queue and plod through their day from one call to the next. However, if they have too much idle time between calls, they’ll become bored, and their focus will wane. This doesn’t provide for good customer service either.

Instead, strive to develop a schedule that will give your call center staff a balanced workload that is just right—neither too busy nor too slow. It will make their shift go by quicker and produce better results.

6. Shared Vision

This final item is by no means the least important. In fact, when you and your call center staff share a compelling vision about what you’re doing and what you want to accomplish, the first five points on this list become less important. This doesn’t mean you can ignore those items, but when you have a shared vision with your staff, they may be a bit more open to overlooking shortcomings in other areas.

Conclusion

Though it takes work to produce a happy and effective workforce for your call center, it can happen. Follow these six tips to move you closer to achieving that goal.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

Call Center Stakeholder Integration

Connect with Critical Groups Who Often Go Overlooked

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

As we wrap up our five-part series, Integrate Your Call Center, our fourth consideration is stakeholder integration. (If you want to review, the other three are Integrate Your Call Center Staff, Integrate Your Call Center Tools, and Integrate with Your Organization.)

When we integrate our call center with our stakeholders, this means a better information flow between you and other groups that are ancillary to the call center but also integral to success. Here are some items to consider when it comes to integrating with your stakeholders.

Vendors

First up for stakeholder integration is your vendors and suppliers. They are critical to your call center success, so it’s critical to have a good relationship with them. I’ve been on both sides of adversarial vendor-call center relationships, and the results are never good. For this reason, I always strive for mutually supportive, win-win interactions.

When you lift your vendors up, they’ll lift you up. And if you tear your vendors down, your operation is apt to suffer as a result. Seek interactions and solutions that are in your mutual self-interest. Your positivity will be rewarded.

And when difficulties arise—which they invariably will—seek to work with your vendors to find a solution rather than harass or threaten them. Remember, patience goes both ways.

Investors

Whether you’re part of a for-profit or nonprofit organization, someone has invested money in your operation, and they expect a return on that investment (ROI). If the call center fails to provide the return they expect, they’ll close it down and outsource the work. In a worst-case scenario, the organization will go out of business and close their doors. Either way, all those calls center jobs will be lost.

Yes, it’s the owners of your operation that control the purse strings. They are the ones who can say no to your funding requests. But they are not your enemy, so it’s important to have a good working relationship with them.

Call center investors and owners are the second source of stakeholder integration.

Staff

We’ve already talked about the importance of cross training when it comes to integrating your staff, yet call center employees are also stakeholders. They can be appreciative of their employers or hostile towards them. While this is a choice they decide, management plays a critical role in how well they’re integrated into the mission of the organization.

Key elements include their compensation package, managerial support, and how appreciated they feel for the work they do. Other areas are scheduling, workload, and a sense of a shared vision.

If they’re unhappy they’ll vent their frustrations with their coworkers, their family and friends, and potentially everyone who calls. Since they talk to a lot of people every day, a disgruntled telephone agent can harm your brand and hamper your objectives in quick order.

Thankfully, the opposite is also true. When they’re treated right, they’re much more apt to be happy and satisfied with their work. Then they’ll likewise let other people know, and their work will show it.

Conclusion

When it comes to making your call center the best it can be, be sure to include your stakeholders and integrate them into your operation. Though these groups often go overlooked, they are critical to your success. Don’t overlook stakeholder integration.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

Read more of his articles or his book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.

Integrate with Your Organization

Don’t Stay in Your Silo or Function in Isolation

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

I once needed to call a company in the healthcare sector. With their call center I encountered long wait times, surly representatives, and little help in resolving my dilemma. I made many unsuccessful phone calls. At last, one rep transferred me to a different department. My experience with that call center was the opposite of the first one.

The employee answered quickly, was cheerful, and offered help. In one phone call, lasting but a couple of minutes, she resolved my concern. I thanked her for her helpful resolution and remarked how difficult it was to get to her department. Her response took me aback.

“No one knows we exist,” she laughed. “We’re our company’s best kept secret.”

It seems she worked in a silo within her organization. Her silo functioned wonderfully, in contrast to the organization’s primary call center. What made the difference? I assume it was management, but that’s a topic for another time.

Today’s discussion is about integrating your call center with the rest of your organization.

It’s Us Instead of Them

When you integrate with your organization you move away from the mindset of us referring to the call center and them referring to the rest of the organization.

Instead, everyone in the company becomes us.

Making this mental switch is key. Without it, any plans to integrate with your organization will not succeed. Embracing a holistic us mentality is the first step to successfully integrate with your organization.

It’s Focusing on Others Instead of Self

As you make this mindset shift, you also shift your focus. By redefining us to include the entire organization, you encompass a greater set of employees who can band together to serve patients and callers. Isn’t that why your organization exists? To help patients and callers? To best accomplish this the focus must be on callers and what you can do—with your whole company behind you—to best address their concerns or needs.

It’s a Team Approach

This reformed focus embraces a team approach to problem solving. The goal isn’t to make yourself look good or even your whole department. The goal is to work as a team to make your organization look good. When you do this you and your company win, and—more importantly —so do your patients and callers.

Implementation

This grand vision to integrate with your organization is easier to visualize than to realize.

Though you can start it from within your call center, it will take time to permeate through your entire organization. It’s easier when the initiative comes from the C-suite. And, of course, some managers will resist this change. But this reveals their selfishness. They’re more concerned about maintaining the status quo than about what’s best for the organization and your customers.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

Read more of his articles or his book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.

Integrate Your Call Center Tools

Make Sure Each Piece of Contact Center Technology Works as a Seamless System

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

In continuing our series on call center integration, we move to the topic of technology, specifically the need to integrate your call center tools. Today’s vendors offer a wide array of technology options to enhance the contact center operation. Yet if these tools don’t integrate with each other, we lose—or even negate—their promised productivity pronouncements.

Technology tools that won’t talk with one another is almost as detrimental as not having the tools in the first place. Therefore, it’s essential that we integrate our contact centers’ tools and technology. That’s why you need to integrate your call center tools.

Interoperability

We’ve all called places and given basic information in step one of the contact, only to have to repeat it in step two. This happens too often, and it infuriates callers, setting the stage for ineffective communications from the onset of a contact. I’ve also had cases where I had to repeat the same information a second time. Another company made me reconfirm my identity each time they transferred my call.

Today’s consumers—your healthcare systems’ patients and customers—deserve better. And they expect more. Complete integration passes on all collected information through each step of the call. This includes transfers, switching channels, and moving between systems.

Databases

Today’s healthcare providers amass a plethora of information. This data ends up in a database. But not just one. Multiple databases. Too often inter-database integration is nonexistent. Even a basic interface is missing.

This requires contact center agents and healthcare professionals to re-enter information, transferring it from one database to another. Sometimes this requires rekeying, which is time consuming and error prone. Even copy-and-paste functionality fails to provide the desired ease of information transfer.

Then with the same information existing in two places, a nonintegrated environment means that updates must also occur in two—or more—places. This seldom happens and points to the need to better integrate your call center tools.

I know. In the past week I’ve had two organizations try to call me on a number I haven’t had in eight years. Though I let them know of the change when I moved, not everyone’s records received the update. Hence needless frustration on their part and mine.

Apps

Similar to databases are apps and software. Though on a basic level this is addressed with interoperability initiatives and database integration, more work still needs to be done.

Many times I’ve had reps tell me they were writing down the information I gave them so they wouldn’t have to have me repeat it as they moved from one program to another. I’ve also had instances where they didn’t write down what I gave them, but they tried to remember it. And they remembered it wrong. This meant I had to give them the same information again.

Does your message taking app integrate with your appointment setting app? Does your answering service software integrate with your telephone triage software? Does your class scheduling program interface with your literature request program?

Conclusion

To provide a holistic and satisfying solution to your patients and customers, you need to fully integrate your call center tools to optimize your operation. When you do so you will enhance outcomes, increase agent workflows, and improve customer satisfaction.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

Read more of his articles or his book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.

Integrate Call Center Staff

Pursue Agent Cross Training to Produce Better Outcomes and Improve Efficacy

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

In my article “Integrate Your Call Center” I discussed various integration strategies to pursue. Now I’ll dive into each one of them with more intentionality. First up is to integrate call center staff.

The key requirement to staffing integration is cross training. Cross training will improve efficiency, increase employee skills, and better serve callers. Cross training also moves your operation closer to FCR (first call resolution), which produces both caller-centric benefits and improved operational outcomes.

Here are some ways cross training can take place:

Channel Cross Training

Many people use the phrase call center, and we all understand what it means. A better label, however, is contact center. This reflects that we no longer process just calls, but contacts. These various forms of contact come to us on different communication channels.

The most common communication channel is voice, as in the telephone. It is ubiquitous and will continue to serve a vital role in our contact center.

Text chat emerges as another critical channel with increasing acceptance and use. Many customers persist in texting even when reverting to a phone call would more effectively meet their objective, both in terms of accuracy and timeliness.

Email communication is another channel. Some rely on it completely and expect contact centers to provide that option.

Social media is a fourth channel that is the default for some, even though it’s not always ideal for healthcare scenarios. And there are other possible channels.

The goal of channel-cross training is to have all operators adept at all channels. Though some may specialize, they need to know how all channels work and be able to function efficiently on each one. This allows you to integrate call center staff and have them move between channels as needed, either according to schedule or on demand.

Call Type Cross Training

The second type of cross training relates to call types. For example, an agent who focuses on taking messages, should also be able to schedule an appointment or take a class registration. Or an agent who functions as a receptionist and spends all day transferring calls, also needs training on other features to better meet caller needs.

Without cross training, patients and callers can easily bounce around from one agent to another based on employee specialty and training particularity. With cross training, however, one agent can address whatever need the caller may have. They could take a message for the doctor’s office, register a patient for a class, and cancel an appointment, all before transferring them to a different department—assuming that’s needed.

Call type cross training allows you to integrate call center staff more fully.

Cross Training Pitfalls

Yet not all cross training is wise. So use common sense when you integrate call center staff. Though you don’t want a highly paid nurse taking a message for billing, there’s no harm in them doing so. Yet you don’t want non-medically trained personnel addressing a patient’s questions about a healthcare concern. This is a disservice to the patient, will likely provide misinformation, and could result in a lawsuit.

Therefore, encourage agents to have a patient-first perspective and seek to help callers in every way possible, while at the same time communicating clearly their limitations.

Conclusion

Embarking on an intentional and robust cross training initiative will help you to fully integrate call center staff. The goal is that, within reason, any employee can help any caller on any request through any channel.

When you do this your patients and callers win, your contact center becomes more efficient, and your agents increase their value to your organization.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

Read more of his articles or his book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.

Integrate Your Call Center

Facilitate Better Communication and Connectivity Within and Outside Your Operation

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

With the staffing challenges that most every healthcare call center faces, it’s more critical now than ever to optimize your operation for greater effectiveness and increased efficiency. One way to do this is to integrate your call center.

Let’s consider some ways for enhanced contact center integration.

Integrate Your Staffing

To integrate your call center staffing is essentially a move from specialists to generalists. This means cross training. It includes both cross training on types of contacts (such as give information, transfer calls, take messages, schedule appointments, and so forth) and channels (such as phone, text, email, and social).

Granted, you may have some areas where cross training doesn’t make sense, but these should be rare exceptions and not the norm.

Cross training improves operational efficiency, increases employee skill level, and better serves patients and callers. Cross training also moves your operation closer to FCR (first call resolution), which produces both caller-centric and center-centric results.

Integrate Your Tools

How often do your employees need to rekey information? Ideally the answer is never. Yet reality falls short of this ideal. Not only is re-entering data time consuming, but it’s also error prone. And although a cut-and-paste transfer helps in both areas, it’s not a solution but more of a shortcut.

Related to this in integrating your auto-attendant with your agent screens. Making an agent ask in person for information the caller has already shared electronically wastes agent time and infuriates callers.

The simple solution is to integrate your call center technology and smartly avoid this needless duplication.

Integrate with Your Organization

Next is to integrate your call center operation with other departments or divisions within your organization. Move from an us-versus-them mentality to a holistic we-and-us team approach. Seek proverbial win-win outcomes as opposed to clinging to a win-lose mindset.

This may be the most challenging integration initiative as it requires a shared perspective to reach a mutually beneficial result. Without having a common goal, the altruistic call center manager can fall victim to the me-first mentality of a predatory counterpart.

Integrate with Your Stakeholders

The final consideration is to integrate your call center with your stakeholders. For the inhouse call center, this means a better information flow between you and other departments, such as marketing. For the outsourcing operation, this means a better data exchange between you and your clients.

Also don’t overlook your staff. Seek to better integrate with them and their needs. Look at schedule development and posting, performance reviews, and handling the compensation aspects of their work. This integration is even more critical now in face of a worker shortage. Although your primary stakeholders are those you serve, without your staff, you’d have no chance to serve them.

Conclusion

Pursue integration initiatives to make your call center operation be more effective and a nicer, saner place to work.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

Multichannel Contact Center Scheduling

Staff Your Operation with Agents with the Right Stills to Work at the Time They’re Most Needed


By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

You run a multichannel contact center for the healthcare industry and have staffed it with well-trained agents. Some specialize in one specific channel, others can handle related channels, and some are cross trained on all channels. This is a great start. Now comes implementation; now comes multichannel contact center scheduling.

Schedule Channel-Specific Agents First

Start with the channel that receives the most interaction, and schedule agents for that channel. By way of example, let’s assume the majority of your contacts are via the telephone. Schedule telephone agents, across your hours of operation, to take a percentage of those calls.

If they can cover 50 percent of those calls overall, don’t schedule them to cover 100 percent on some shifts and ignore other shifts. Instead populate your schedule so that your telephone-only specialists can cover 50 percent of those calls throughout your hours of operation.

Repeat this for your next highest used channel.

Continue this process for each channel that has enough traffic in any given time slot to call for scheduling a specialist to handle it. As you work through this, you’ll find a particular time-of-day or day-of-week that doesn’t have enough traffic to keep one agent busy. Don’t schedule a specialist for those time slots. Instead move them to an area with enough work to fill their scheduled hours.

Schedule Partially Cross-Trained Agents Next

With your single-channel specialists scheduled, next fold in those who are trained on more than one channel. Let’s assume you have an agent trained to handle both text and email contacts. Place them on the schedule where there will be enough activity from one channel or the other to keep them busy.

Depending on the dynamics of your traffic, they could spend their shift bouncing between the two channels or primarily receiving contacts on one channel or the other. This is to be expected, and they need to be aware it could happen. The key is to not schedule them for shifts where there isn’t enough potential traffic in either of the channels they’re trained to handle.

Schedule Fully Cross Trained Agents Last

Once you have your channel-specific agents and partially cross-trained agents on the schedule, fill the remaining open slots with agents who are fully cross trained to handle any channel. This is the last step of multichannel contact center scheduling.

At minimum you should have one fully cross-trained agent on every shift throughout the day. They’ll serve as your buffer, able to pick up traffic from whatever channel has the greatest need.

Assuming you have enough staff, the fully cross trained agents will smooth out your schedule. They’ll pick up the slack on the channel where they’re most needed.

You can use these fully cross-trained agents in two ways. And their personality may align with one approach or the other.

Although able to take contacts on any channel, some agents will want to start on one channel and focus on those interactions until you move them to another channel—or until some preset condition exists, signaling them to make the switch themselves.

Other fully cross-trained agents are completely comfortable bouncing between channels from one contact to the next. They thrive on the moment-to-moment variability, which ideally positions them to pick up the moment-to-moment traffic changes that occur within any multichannel contact center.

Scheduling Tools

Knowing the philosophy of multichannel contact center scheduling forms the foundational understanding of what to do. Now comes the challenge of making it happen. For smaller operations with minimal channels, you can do this with some degree of proficiency on a spreadsheet.

A better solution, however, is scheduling software. But don’t try to use a single-channel scheduling package. Instead look for a solution that can take historical inputs from multiple channels and allow you to match agents according to the projected need.

Having a full-featured, robust scheduling solution will make the task of multichannel contact center scheduling much easier—once you’ve mastered the foundational staffing strategy.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

Read more of his articles or his book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.

Cross Channel Training

Consider the Optimum Strategy for Your Contact Center Staff


By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

At one time healthcare call centers handled calls and nothing else. They had one channel. That was it. Now most call centers handle more than just telephone calls. They’ve become multichannel. Contact center is a better name for them.

Along with phone calls—which is still the predominant channel at many operations—we’re now seeing text chat, web support and assisted browsing, email response, and a multitude of social media platforms to monitor and engage. In addition to these is a possibility of handling two older channels: mail and fax.

Although there may be some overlap, each channel requires a separate set of skills, which means supplying channel-specific training. Do you want to cross train all contact center agents so that any employee can handle any contact, regardless of the channel and when needed? Or do you want specialists that excel in one area? Or is a mixture of both approaches the best strategy for your operation?

Here are some considerations about cross channel training:

Specialists

Contact center specialists, such as telephone agents or text chat representatives, handle communications through one channel and one channel only. Because they specialize in that channel, they excel at it and can serve customers with greater effectiveness, proficiency, and speed. A specialist will be more efficient in their channel than a generalist.

This is ideal for some operations, and its ideal for some agents. These employees relish consistency and find comfort in knowing what they will do at work each day, each week, and each month. For them, they counter the repetition of their work by embracing the unexpected variety from one call to the next or one text to the next.

For agents who like a variety of tasks, specializing in one channel is a horrific prospect. If you don’t offer a way to counter their boredom, they’ll leave as soon as a more suitable job becomes available.

Generalists

Contact center generalists receive instruction on how to handle communication on each channel your operation offers. This means that every employee receives cross channel training. They relish the opportunity to learn and master each channel. They have a flexible mindset and see benefits of enjoying a varied workday.

Having a contact center staffed with generalists provides the most responsive configuration, with any agent able to handle any channel at any time. This is ideal for time-critical communications that don’t tolerate interaction delays, such as the telephone, text chat, and web support. (Having a delayed response with email, social media, mail, and fax isn’t an issue, providing they’re handled in a reasonable time.)

Selective Cross Training

The discussion between contact center specialists and generalists, however, isn’t an exclusive one. You can have a mixture of both. You can even have partial cross channel training where an agent receives training on some channels but not all.

For agents who want to handle the same type of communication, let them specialize. Don’t force them away from something they like into something they don’t want to do by cross channel training them. All that will do is taking a successful agent who happily serves you well in one channel and turning them into a disillusioned employee who seeks a different job.

Other agents, however, will clamor for the opportunity to receive training on and handle every communication channel you offer. And they’ll be the first in line to explore opportunities with new channels.

There’s a middle ground, however, where agents may want to and benefit from receiving cross channel training on specific channels with similar skill sets. One example might be the text chat and email channels, which both need quick and accurate typing skills. But they may shudder at the idea of talking on the phone. Conversely a phone agent may also enjoy text chat, as both have back-and-forth interaction with the contact.

In these cases, let agents select which channels they want to receive training on. Be sure, however, that cross channel training is optional and not expected. Embrace those employees who want to remain one-channel experts.

Cross Channel Implementation

Regardless of the degree of cross channel training in your contact center, there are two implementation strategies for your cross-trained agents.

One possibility is with agents assigned to a particular channel for the day, with the understanding that you may reassign them to another channel as traffic warrants. This switch may be for an hour or two or for the rest of the day. Regardless, staff always begins the day on a scheduled channel.

The other approach is a universal distribution of contacts, with any customer communication going to any agent regardless of the channel. This makes scheduling the easiest and offers the most responsiveness to customers, but it may come at the cost of optimum efficiency.

Conclusion

If your healthcare call center handles other communication channels, or is thinking about it, consider how you want to approach it. You can adopt a specialist mindset, pursue a generalist tactic, or embrace a mixture of the two.

The point is to consider the cross channel training strategy that’s ideal for your operation, your customers, and your staff. Balance their needs to provide the best outcome for all stakeholders.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

Read more of his articles or his book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.

Channel Specialization versus Multichannel Proficiency

Effectively Handle Communication Channels in a Medical Contact Center

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

In the last issue of AnswerStat we looked at the need for multichannel integration in your healthcare contact center to better serve patients and produce superior outcomes. We considered this from a systems standpoint. Now let’s look at multichannel from an agent and operational perspective, specifically channel specialization versus multichannel proficiency.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Ideally you want every agent trained and fully proficient to handle communication on any channel option that comes in, be it voice, text, email, video, social media, and so forth. Some agents relish being proficient on all channels, while others prefer to specialize. A contact center needs both types of agents.

Channel Specialization

An agent that specializes in one channel, for instance telephone calls, will develop a higher level of effectiveness by focusing on that one channel. Through repetition they’ll gain an enhanced level of skill through their specialization.

This will enable them to move from one call to another with greater speed and increased efficacy. In short, they’ll get more done faster.

But they must also be cross trained on other channels. There are two reasons for this.

One is in the event of a telephone call that needs to switch channels, such as to move to video or email to better facilitate effective communication. In this instance you don’t want an agent with a telephone channel specialization handing the call off to a video or email specialist. Instead, you want the original agent to move with the patient or caller to the new channel.

The second reason you want agents cross trained is so they can switch to a different channel if there’s a need to do so. This could occur with an increased amount of traffic in a channel different from the one they specialize in. Without this cross training, you could end up with specialists in one channel sitting idle while specialists in another channel struggle to keep up.

Though you have agents that specialize in one channel and mostly work in that area, they must be ready and willing to jump to another channel when the situation requires it.

Multichannel Proficiency

Other agents would find channel specialization to be quite boring. They relish being proficient on many channels, even on every channel your healthcare contact center handles. They enjoy the variety that comes from interacting with patients on various channels.

These multi-channel agents can handle patient contacts on any channel as needed, whenever needed. This allows them to switch between real-time communication (telephone and video calls) depending on the traffic demands at any moment. Yet at the same time they are equally proficient at processing non-real-time communication (email, text, and social media) as required.

This means they can effectively work in the channel where they’re most needed.

Specialists and Generalists

While channel specialization is good for some agents and multichannel proficiency is ideal for others, this mix of channel focus is also essential for your contact center. Just like with healthcare, a contact center needs both specialists and generalists.

The specialists can concentrate on one channel, reaching a level of effectiveness that a generalist could never achieve. Yet a generalist is effective at quickly and easily migrating from one channel to another.

Though every agent in your contact center should be cross trained to handle any channel, determine which area is the best for each agent, channel specialization or multichannel proficiency. You need both.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

Read more of his articles or his book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.

Multi-Channel Integration

Serve Patients Better and Produce Superior Outcomes


By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Some healthcare call centers only handle telephone calls by design and others do it because that’s what they’ve always done. But most have embraced a contact center mindset, where they’re handling more than telephone calls. This can include email, text messaging, and web chat. They may also incorporate social media monitoring and response.

There is also an opportunity with video. Integrating video communications into the call center has received much theoretical attention for a couple of decades, with proponents predicting it would be only a year or two out. We are, at last, moving from potential to possible.

Over the past two years many people have become more comfortable talking to a camera to communicate with someone far away. Though not everyone embraced this as an acceptable alternative to in-person meetings, they did, however, become more comfortable using it and less resistant to the technology.

This prepares people for the option of video chatting with their healthcare provider, nurse triage operation, or medical call center. These are exciting times for patients and their healthcare call centers.

All these options, however, will inevitably lead to patients using multiple communication channels to accomplish their task, depending on what’s available at the time or what will achieve their goal the fastest.

What could start as a telephone call could switch to video for face-to-face interaction. In the same way, a text message chain could migrate to the telephone or a social media post to email. The only limit to the sequences is our creativity.

Yet regardless of the scenario, one key issue remains paramount. Each channel must integrate with all the others, allowing information to effortlessly pass from one option to another. We must eliminate isolated silos of information that don’t communicate with each other. We need full multi-channel integration.

This usually falls to the platform vendor. If you use a singular system to handle all communication channels, you’re one step closer to making multi-channel integration a reality. Though harder, integration between disparate systems can also occur. It just requires more effort on the part of the respective vendors to pull off.

Here’s what you can do to move things forward to enjoy multi-channel integration.

Educate Staff

Make sure your front-line employees know what they must do to allow for the smoothest information handoff as patients move from one channel to another. If your staff doesn’t do their part correctly, the decree of integration won’t matter.

Test Your System

Make a contact on one channel as a patient would. Then switch channels and see what happens. Is your text messaging exchange accessible by the telephone rep when you switch to voice? Or do you need to start over and re-state the same information?

Test this in each combination of channels possible, regardless of how unlikely it seems to you that anyone would ever make that switch. Know that someone will.

Identify Weaknesses

As you conduct your field test of switching channels, look for three things. Identify what works well, what somewhat works, and what doesn’t work at all. Celebrate the areas of success, seek ways to shore up the areas that have limitations, and note what doesn’t work at all.

Encourage Your Vendor

Armed with this information, approach your vendor, not in a confrontational manner, but with a positive, let’s-work-together attitude to move toward full multi-channel integration.

Conclusion

Multi-channel integration is what your patients expect. It’s what they deserve. Start now to move toward this outcome.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.