Delivering Healthcare Customer Service Excellence

By Tim Kleffman

The delivery of excellent customer service is the hallmark of any good business, but in the healthcare industry, quality of customer service is more than good business – it’s often a matter of survival. Unfortunately, few sectors have seen as much upheaval as healthcare. While discussions around universal healthcare seem to take much of the national spotlight, for those working in healthcare customer care on a daily basis, the conversations are more technology-centric.

What technology investments should be made today to create a better customer experience that will transition into the future? Are social and mobile trends here to stay? How important are they to healthcare? What about the cloud – does it really make a difference? What is the future of healthcare customer service?

In recent years, customer service in the healthcare industry has struggled to keep pace with rapid growth and changes in the sector. Medical technology advances and aging baby boomers have contributed to an overflow of patients in hospitals and clinics. At the same time, we live in a world where mobile devices connect us instantly to information and where questions on care are just as likely to be posted on a social networking site as they are to be raised during a medical appointment.

You could say that the patience of patients is at an all-time low when it comes to waiting for responses from healthcare providers.

The Benefits of Telemedicine: These challenges are particularly acute for emerging healthcare service providers in the area of telemedicine, which is the delivery of medical care and services from a distance. The concept itself is one of the oldest areas of applied technology in medicine – coming into the spotlight in the 1960s when NASA used telemetry to monitor the health of astronauts during space missions. Telemedicine is expected to become part of mainstream healthcare because of its potential to provide care that is more efficient and manage an increasing population with chronic disease. It is also expected to become a competitive differentiator among healthcare providers. With consumer-driven healthcare, patients are willing to participate in their health decisions and incorporate practices that offer the quality and convenience that telemedicine offers.

With the introduction of mobile devices and social networks, patients are able to communicate with companies through more communication channels than ever, including email, chat, text, voice, and social media. The big question for most healthcare organizations is how to quickly, accurately, and safely deliver information in this multi-channel, customer interaction world. For some healthcare providers, a multi-channel delivery of information is what they’ve built their business on. Consumers, physicians, and mental health counselors can use telemedicine services to engage in real-time, interactive consultations, providing convenience and affordable healthcare services. Using the latest technologies in Web communications and VoIP telephony, the company extends traditional healthcare to the home or office.

Cloud-Based Contact Center: For healthcare organizations, both traditional and telemedicine, the contact center is the primary means of ongoing interaction. With this in mind, it is important to have a flexible contact center that can adapt to both its own changing needs and the changing needs of the patients.

Using a cloud-based platform, healthcare providers are able to have multiple, physical contact center locations, as well as home-based agents who are available 24/7 to assist patients. The cloud platform allows providers to scale the contact center based on needs. For instance, during the flu season when patients are more likely to seek the service’s advice, the contact center can adjust by increasing the number of available agents to address the amplified need. This flexibility gives each patient the attention he or she deserves.

Implementing a cloud infrastructure has also allowed healthcare providers to find new ways to apply best practices in customer care to further enhance the customer experience. “Patients are seeking ways to communicate with their healthcare provider on their preferred channels of choice,” said Shana Duthie, vice president of marketing and customer experience, at MDLive, a telemedicine services company. “As patients continue to take responsibility for their own healthcare choices, the contact center has become an accessible place for patients to have an ongoing dialogue with their healthcare providers.”

Duthie, a marketing and customer experience expert, understands the value of customer service and marketing working together in this social and mobile era. “As a marketer, social channels and mobile devices are great tools for reaching out to our customers. Many have grown very accustomed to using smartphones and tablets to interact with each other and with companies, including their healthcare service providers. When we went looking for a customer service technology provider, it was critical that social and mobile channels were right there next to all of the other channels we use for inbound and outbound communications in both marketing and customer service.”

Multi-channel Expectations: Through the cloud platform, healthcare providers are able to interact with patients on a variety of channels, including email, Web chat, voice, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter. A cloud contact center with multi-channel integration is critical due to the patient’s need to be able to interact with a healthcare provider on social media channels. The ability to pivot patients from a public channel (such as Twitter) to a more private channel (such as Web chat) in order to protect their sensitive information is also critical.

Privacy: Hosting a contact center in the cloud also allows encryption of the patient’s sensitive information to further protect his or her private health details. With the ability to encrypt the data, the company keeps within privacy regulations and HIPAA compliancy. “We ensure our information is protected by encrypting the sensitive information in the cloud and, going one step further, having secure servers which house the data,” said Duthie.

Conclusion: With the multi-channel cloud contact center infrastructure, medically trained agents have patient information readily available, whether working from within the contact center or working from home. Agents can see when a patient last communicated with the organization and on what channel. This vital information not only tracks ongoing health concerns but also personalizes the experience for the patient.

For healthcare organizations, delivering a unified, multi-channel customer experience is mandatory. Customers are demanding communications on their terms. The future of healthcare customer service integrates the customer experience on all channels, including email, Web chat, text, voice, and social media. Customers want better quality of service from their provider, as well as a choice of services that meet their specific needs. A cloud contact center is central to meeting those needs.

“The multi-channel cloud contact center is not only the future of healthcare contact centers, it’s the now of healthcare customer service centers,” concluded Duthie.

Tim Kleffman has managed customer service and customer experience teams for more than ten years across a variety of industry segments, including healthcare and pharma.

[From Connection Magazine Mar/Apr 2014]

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