By Peter DeHaan
[Read our case study about On-call Scheduling Software.]
Virtually all telemessaging operations and many inbound teleservice companies have an outbound component to their work. In the broadest sense this is “information dissemination.” Sometimes this means sending orders and messages to clients via email, fax, wave file, or voice mail. In other instances, timely communications is essential and information is paged or relayed to a cell phone. This is dispatching. It is a frequent activity with clients in the medical field, property management and service sectors, and technical support lines. While one key element of effective dispatching is timeliness, another essential factor is accuracy. In other words, the correct on-call person needs to be contacted in the manner they specify.
Various means are used to effectively record and track on-call schedules:
Paper: The manual paper method can be effective when only one or two agents need to reach a relatively small number of on-call personnel. Methods range from posting the on-call information on a bulletin board in each cubicle to using an on-call book where schedules (or on-call calendars) are organized and inserted. However, as the number of agents or the number of on-call schedules increases, the manual paper method quickly becomes ineffective. The primary limitations to the manual paper method are ensuring that all agents are aware of updates and are using the same information. Add to this the reality that many on-call schedules are faxed to the call center by clients, which results in clarity and readability problems.
Computerized: With today’s computerized call processing systems, it’s easy to enter the details of on-call schedules into the network. The same information for the appropriate client is available to any agent at any time. There is no fear of old information being used or concern that all agents may not have received the updates (which is particularly problematic when agents work from multiple locations). In this approach, the on-call schedule is organized in a free-form text box or window. The agent needs to scan the text box to find out who is on call at that moment. There are benefits to this approach, but there is also the risk of an agent reading the wrong day or selecting the wrong time.
Database: The next level of computerized on-call schedule tracking is to enter the data into a structured database. Again, information is consistently and readily available to all agents, plus it can be presented in a much more controlled format. The database method can also automatically query the schedule by day and time, presenting the schedule to the person who is on call at that point, rather than presenting the entire schedule to the agent to scan. This reduces error and speeds dispatch. Common features of database on-call software programs are that agents can edit the schedule, update contact numbers, and add personnel.
These benefits are confirmed by staffers at call centers using database on-call scheduling software. “With automated on-call scheduling, we can display time and date sensitive on-call information when a call is presented to a coordinator,” said Betty Brashear, call center operations manager at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “Our coordinators can also view schedules by calendar, individual, date, or period profile.”
These on-call databases can be configured to be accessible via the Internet and reside on password-protected or secure websites. In this case, clients can remotely add, delete, and edit personnel, as well as change contact numbers. With these options, clients can enter their on-call schedules themselves. This eliminates any chance for input error on the part of supervisors or data-entry personnel at the call center.
In fact, clients can completely plan their on-call schedule with these Web-based programs and most allow printing of a master schedule and individual schedules. Why would clients want to enter their own on-call schedule? There are several reasons. One is control. When clients enter their own information, they can be assured that it is communicated the way they want it communicated. Second is flexibility. The client can, at any time, update or change his or her on-call schedule and the changes are immediately available to call center agents. The third, and perhaps most compelling, enticement is that when properly presented to the client, the Web interface can become their scheduling software program. This eliminates the need for clients to buy, maintain, troubleshoot, and upgrade their own software; they merely use what the call center provides. A side benefit in this is that the client then enjoys greater value from the call center and may become a more loyal client. This is perhaps the most compelling reason to implement an Internet-accessible on-call scheduling database.
Several companies provide on-call scheduling software. Some offerings are platform specific, some can be interfaced to multiple systems, while others are platform independent:
Almond Hill Enterprises: Turbo-On-Call is a simple and inexpensive way to handle clients’ on-call schedules. It provides monthly, biweekly, weekly, and daily views along with reporting features. It allows real-time access by the call center and clients and integrates fully with TurboSchedule calendars to provide a unified scheduling system. Like TurboSchedule, Turbo-On-Call requires no capital outlay, special hardware, or software to load or maintain. It is Web-based and can work with any Web-enabled or Web-ready call-processing platform. It costs $19.95 per schedule per month or $9.95 per month as an add-on to TurboSchedule.
For more information, contact Almond Hill Enterprises at 800-398-6100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alston Tascom offers two on-call scheduling options. The first is its on-call scheduler, which is integrated into the Tascom Evolution system. It automatically indicates who is currently on call, along with their contact information. The call center agents can speed-dial the appropriate person directly from the on-call form. Also, if the person on call has an alphanumeric pager programmed into the Tascom system, an agent can initiate the page. Authorized agents can also look ahead to determine who is on call in the future and can make temporary adjustments as needed.
Alston Tascom’s other offering is AppointmentsOnCall.com. It is completely Web-based and is platform independent.
Amtelco: The Infinity on-call scheduling module is flexible, easily adapting to meet a call center’s call handling needs. On-call scheduling is automated, making it easy to see who is currently on call for a particular client. On-call personnel are automatically placed on and taken off calls at designated days and times.
The companion feature, Web On-Call, allows clients to create and maintain their own schedules. Agents see this information immediately and have secure access to add or edit schedules as necessary. Reports include a daily and monthly report and an individual’s schedule detail, as well as a month display in calendar format.
Startel‘s on-call scheduling product increases productivity through features such as time/date sensitive on-call information display, auto-population of key account information for messages, drop-down menus, scheduling up to a year in advance, and an automatic audit trail. The schedule can reside on a LAN so each department can maintain its own schedule, record notes on changes, and access historical views. Schedules are password protected. The on-call schedule with Internet access maintains all of the local application functionality.
“It is so easy to maintain complex database information which can include names, specialties, account number, alpha pager number, home phone, hospital relationships,” said user JoAnn Brown, RN at Speed E-Z Physicians Exchange.
For more information, call Startel at 800-782-7835.
[From Connection Magazine – May 2003]