By Gina Tabone
Healthcare strategists must lead the campaign to transform call center agents into caregivers and move from a call center mentality to a care center functioning as the doorway to an organization. Medical call centers have evolved over the past decade from call centers to contact centers to the current title of centralized access center. The goal for the patient is a seamless connection to a call center agent equipped to resolve any need presented within the confines of the first call.
Agent positions are often entry-level, which they historically abandon once they are eligible to bid on a higher-paying, more prestigious role within the organization. What a shame that frontline call center employees do not realize the immense value they play in the continuum of care and their potential impact an exceptional patient experience.
Change, as usual, must happen. Here are three easy-to-implement tactics to begin transforming the mind-set of call center agents from telephone operator to a caregiver acknowledged as a vital contributor in the continuum of care.
Healthcare chatter and verbiage flood nightly news reports, political rhetoric, and patient newsletters. It’s hard enough for industry leaders to comprehend what’s being said and expected, let alone the people on the front line doing the work.
There is nothing more motivating than realizing that the work one does is meaningful and makes a difference. This is most true in the delivery of healthcare. No matter what the role, everyone interacting with a patient can contribute to a positive experience. Here’s how:
- Messages must be clearly stated from the top-level leadership involved in the call center transformation. Be honest and frank. Leadership is supportive but must be mindful of the ever-present business impact of every department.
- Tell agents: “You are very important to our organization, and your contribution to the organization is unique and essential.”
- Think of the call center as the front door to the organization. Agents are the ones answering the knock at the door.
- Agents have the power to communicate either “Hello, welcome; we are expecting you,” or slam the door in a patient’s face by being robotic, irritated, and impatient.
Caregivers working in a centralized communication operation don’t have a group of patients specifically assigned to them. Rather, they are there to provide a plethora of services to the patients from a variety of locations, specialties, practices, providers, or payers. The role they play augments the meaningful care provided in an office or clinic setting. Efforts must focus on viewing the call center caregivers as a vital component of the outpatient team.
- They are the first point of contact for new patients. They can convey compassion and trust in the initial interaction as a precursor of what to expect in a face-to-face visit with a clinician.
- First point-of-contact caregivers set the tone for what to expect from the organization. Hopefully, they demonstrate a flawless, coordinated experience by being a knowledgeable person who has the skills and resources to satisfy their current need.
- It is valuable for call center employees to spend a day with the clinic team and for the clinic staff to spend a day shadowing the call center caregiver. Bonds are forged, and there is an appreciation for the work each group performs.
Call center leadership is not a stationary job. Every level of management is most effective when present and visible to those working on the phones. The environment is dynamic and requires constant supervision and direction.
- Seeing team leads, managers, and higher-ups walking around and interacting with staff builds confidence and is a sign they’re available when needs arise.
- Wireless headsets allow for designated support staff to move about, mingle with agents, and overhear calls that may benefit from a higher level of intervention. It’s a defensive method for avoiding a potential problem—or even worse, a discontented patient.
- Call center leaders who take live calls for a portion of their workweek can lead by example.
- Circulating staff are there to advocate for the best possible patient experience, while at the same time nurturing and engaging the caregivers.
There is a need to develop a platform of soft skills training that teaches call center caregivers how to convey interest, concern, and competency to callers. These tactics are fantastic ways begin the transformation of a call center team into a care center team.
Gina Tabone, MSN, RNC-TNP, is the vice president of strategic clinical solutions at TeamHealth Medical Call Center. Prior to joining TeamHealth, she served as the administrator of Cleveland Clinic’s Nurse on Call 24/7 nurse triage program.
[This article first appeared in AnswerStat, answerstat.com.]