Category Archives: Articles

A New Opportunity for the Call Center Industry



Working from Home Is the Ideal Solution to Keep Employees Safe and Healthy

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

We never know what the future will hold, but we do know that what lies ahead will most assuredly be quite different from what last year held. As you grapple with staffing issues for your call center among the new reality of social distancing and face masks, an option emerges as the ideal solution: remote staffing—specifically working from home.

This is not a new idea; it’s been bouncing around for a couple of decades. Some call centers have been open for some time to hiring agents who work from their homes. A few other operations have embraced it fully as their business model. Yet until recently, employing homebound call center agents has not gained widespread traction.

This is now changing, and at an accelerated pace. Remote employees who work from the safety of their homes will arise as the backbone of our new economy. And call centers stand ready to lead the charge.

Keeping phone agents safe and working from their homes will allow the industry to hire and keep the workforce it needs to meet with this demand. Click To Tweet

Safe Work

From a health perspective, the best place to work, the safest place to be, is in our own homes isolated from other people. If we never come into physical contact with someone carrying the virus, we’ll never catch it. The advice to “stay home and stay safe” may remain with us forever, not disappearing as a once-chanted mantra. Though it may wane for a while, it is just as likely to return, never to go away again.

Though it will be a while—years, I suspect—before we know the truth of what we can do and shouldn’t do, the best advice now is to minimize risk and work from home. Remote call center jobs are ideally suited to accomplish this prudent approach.

Stable Work

In the past months, many employees have suffered through various workplace mandates, complex rules, and ever-altering expectations. They underwent layoffs. They saw their hours cut. And they endured uncertainty, criticism, and a new level of customer frustration, which they had to shoulder unfairly. This has all occurred through no fault of their own.

Everyone I know has had their work somehow affected, be it from annoying—and sometimes nonsensical—requirements to months-long layoffs. My work, however, has continued without interruption and without alteration—because I work from home. Though events outside my control have affected those I interact with, my ability to complete needed tasks has continued without hesitation. Though once viewed as an anomaly, my practice of working from home now produces admiration. At last the uncommitted see the value of working out of a home office.

A New Way to Attract Employees

As you seek to attract and hire call center workers, the ability to work from home now carries a benefit that you can tout as a reason for them to consider working for you and not another company where they may find their health and job security at risk.

Home-based call center work is now a smart job move. It is a safe way to work and a stable way to earn a living. Many other jobs, especially those that require in-person interaction with others, can’t provide these sought-after assurances. But now you can offer these benefits to a working populace who seeks to earn a living in a safe and secure environment. Call center work perfectly fits these requirements.

As our economy moves forward, we’ll undoubtedly see increased demand for call centers to do more work in a social-distanced, mask-wearing reality. And the ability to keep phone agents safe and working from their homes will allow the industry to hire and keep the workforce it needs to meet with this demand.

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

A Concise Guide for Outsourcing Success, Part Five



By Kathy Sisk

To conclude our series of articles on outsourcing success, here are two optional topics we need to address.

Consider an Independent Project Manager

If you are not comfortable selecting the ideal agency for your company and managing the relationship, or if you simply don’t have the time, you may wish to consider outsourcing this to an expert. Try one of the many independent project management companies in the business of helping you not only to select the agency, but also negotiate the terms and rates on your behalf. 

In addition, these companies can write call scripts, monitor agents remotely, and manage your account from beginning to end. Should you decide to outsource through an independent project management firm, be sure to use the steps provided earlier in this series to help you narrow down the selection process and find the ideal project manager for you.

Outsourcing is an all-or-nothing venture. Click To Tweet

Benefits of Strategically Small Outsourcing Ventures

Many believe that outsourcing is an all-or-nothing venture. But it doesn’t have to involve shutting down an existing operation or handing off the entire operation to a third party, thus leaving your employees jobless. 

Many companies have found that outsourcing even just a small percentage of calls based on specific times or call types can be an effective way for their organization to: 

  • handle heavy call volumes during peak hours-of-the-day, days-of-the-week, or weeks-of-the-year 
  • expand hours of operation
  • provide crucial coverage during service interruptions at the call center (disaster response and crisis recovery)
  • cut call-handling and seasonal-hiring costs 
  • free up agents to focus on more complex or profitable transactions
  • conduct outbound call handling such as cold calling or reviving lost customers

No matter what you decide, the call center industry is still thriving and growing. Call center excellence is essential today more than ever to ensure your operation. Or if you choose to outsource, you can access the right tools, hire exceptional talent, and provide ongoing soft skills training, monitoring, and coaching. 

Your customers are your most important asset. Therefore, handle your interactions with them with excellence. 

For more information about setting up, reengineering, outsourcing, and project managing your call center operations, Kathy Sisk Enterprises can help you. They have over forty years’ experience with satisfied clients and centers across the globe.

Conversational Analytics The Secret to Exceptional



By Simon Black 

Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, once advised, “Forget about your competitors, just focus on your customers.” As statistics highlight, dissatisfied customers not only cost you time and money, but if you lose a customer, it’s going to cost even more to replace them. In fact, it can cost five times as much to get a new customer versus keeping existing ones. In a world of oversharing, your customers are likely to complain about your business, products, or service across their social channels within minutes. That’s why your customers’ first interaction with your business needs to be purposeful from the outset.

Focus on the conversation, rather than the process. Click To Tweet

First Contact

Quite often that first conversation occurs with your contact center, the heart of your company’s customer service function. It’s usually the first point of contact, so it’s important to ensure that your first call resolution (FCR) processes are fine-tuned and effective. Making sure communication between your agents and customers is as simple and as mutually understandable as possible is critical. 

From a customer point of view, their interaction with your business often means minimum effort on their part and maximum reward for them. Gartner recently highlighted that 94 percent of customers with low-effort interactions intend to repurchase, compared with 4 percent of those experiencing high effort.

These numbers aren’t really a surprise. We all know from our personal encounters that it only takes one good or bad incident to make or break a relationship. As Amazon CEO and founder, Jeff Bezos, puts it, “If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the internet, they can each tell six thousand.” The good news, though, according to PWC, is that when it comes to making a purchase, 42 percent of all consumers would pay more for a friendly, welcoming experience, which is why first call resolution is so important.

FCR, sometimes referred to as “one-touch resolution,” isn’t about the average number of support tickets your agent resolves on the first interaction with a customer. It may be a popular benchmark to measure metrics such as response rates and resolution time so that you can run your call center team efficiently, but there’s more to FCR if you really value the customer experience (CX) and their journey. 

Enter Artificial Intelligence 

As statistics highlight, dissatisfied customers not only cost you time and money, but if you lose a customer, it’s going to cost even more to replace them. Fortunately, the technology is now in place to support and improve these FCR interactions. By incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into your contact center, you can better support your agents and provide them with the right tools for resolution and a more seamless customer journey.

 A recent survey by PointSource highlighted that 49 percent of customers are willing to shop more often when AI is present, and 34 percent of customers will spend more money. The research also found that 38 percent will share their experiences with friends and family. This means that AI causes people to shop more, spend more, and share more. So, with today’s technology, there is every reason and every opportunity to get the customer experience right.

According to IDC, 13.9 billion dollars was invested into CX-focused AI and 42.7 billion dollars in CX-focused big data and analytics during 2019, with both expected to grow to 90 billion dollars in 2022. That’s a convincing argument. 

Now might be the time to look at how AI can support and enhance the experiences of your customers. This can become the game changer needed in your contact center customer relations.  You only need to look at consumer adoption of conversation digital assistants like Alexa to realize the widespread acceptance of natural language query or conversational analytics (CA).

Conversational Analytics 

Natural language processing (NLP) enables people to ask questions about data and receive an explanation thanks to the amazing analytics built into the platform. Conversational analytics takes this further by allowing people to ask questions verbally. 

We recognize that the use of NLP and CA can enhance our experiences as a consumer, so how can it help our businesses? In 2018, Tech Pro Research reported that 70 percent of survey respondents said their companies either have a digital transformation strategy in place or were working on one. Fast-forward two years, and digital transformation projects have been fast-tracked, thanks to the accelerant we now know as COVID-19. 

Almost overnight, organizations have had to transform their operations, mobilize their workforces, and meet customer expectations within new parameters. Digital transformation has put data at the center of every business. What you need to do now is use it to your advantage.

NLP and CA are so transformative that Gartner listed them in their own Top 10 Technology Trends in Data and Analytics report. The analyst house predicts that by 2021, NLP and CA will boost analytics and business intelligence adoption from 35 percent of employees to over 50 percent, including new classes of users, particularly front-office workers. And it’s your customer-facing employees—as well as your customers themselves—who stand to most benefit from CA.

Customer Service Outcomes

Think about omni-channel for a moment. It shouldn’t matter whether your customers reach you by telephone, email, or social media. They should have the same frictionless experience. CA enables your contact center agents to answer customer queries in a knowledgeable way—quickly supplying answers, resolving problems, or escalating issues so the customer gets a personalized, easy experience. 

In fact, there are a lot of benefits for both your customers and your agents with CA.

Customers will enjoy: 

  • Customer service whenever and wherever they need it 
  • The ability to ask all kinds of questions and not be transferred across multiple departments 
  • Real-time solutions to problems resolved with insight and real-time voice-to-voice translation, which means that customers can have their query resolved in their own language, not that of your business 

Call center agents will enjoy: 

  • The ability to provide outstanding customer service, rather than focusing on the process to make communication with customers more personalized to better meet their needs
  • The intuitive way CA works, which agents require less training or can move on to different campaigns without spending hours reading reams of training manuals 
  • The capability to handle calls and resolve them faster than before, which means your cost per call is kept in control 

With Conversational Analytics (CA), the capability to focus on the conversation, rather than the process, means that both agents and customers have a better experience. As a result, your staff retention will improve dramatically, as well as your customer retention.

Simon Black is the CEO of Awaken. He’s an established senior executive with over twenty years of experience in the software industry with a record of driving rapid sales growth and scaling businesses. Simon is passionate about delivering value and excellent service to customers and developing a strong team culture for success.

Developing a Contact Center Work-At-Home Program



By Donna Fluss

While many contact centers, particularly large ones, had disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity (BC) plans in place before the pandemic hit, even if they were rarely tested and updated, surprisingly few included the option of having employees work from home for an extended period of time. And even BC plans that had work-at-home (WAH) guidelines for agents were unlikely to have documented best practices for supervisors or managers who unexpectedly needed to work remotely too.

A good DR/BC plan should address everything that a contact center worker needs to do as part of their job (whether they are in a different office or their home), the systems to support these activities, and the security requirements to protect customers, employees, and the company. 

Allowing employees to work from home is going to be an expectation of employers. Click To Tweet

However, the first step in the process is to enable contact center workers to work from their homes. For this reason, all contact centers, even those with just a few employees, need an effective WAH program supported by the necessary technology and solutions. Below is a high-level list companies should take into consideration when building or enhancing their contact center WAH initiative. Most of these apply to all contact centers, but some, like the use of voice biometrics, may not be cost-effective for smaller environments.

Work-at-Home Considerations for Contact Centers

Legal: Have a WAH employee contract that lays out all requirements. It should include job responsibilities, working hours, system requirements (such as who buys and pays for personal computers, headsets, and internet access and bandwidth), working space, security, and so forth.

Interaction: Set up a daily communication session between supervisors and each at-home agent. Part of each supervisor’s job should be to keep at-home agents informed of all work-related meetings and to make sure their agents are well. Use internal chat for most agent inquiries. 

Real-time messaging and broadcasting capabilities are also essential for communicating issues that require immediate attention.

Agent Management: Train supervisors and managers to oversee a virtual workforce. Out of sight cannot mean out of mind. Ensure that supervisors and managers are comfortable using the necessary technologies when agents are remote.

Cloud-Based Technology: Acquire and utilize cloud-based contact center systems and applications that enable companies to easily route customer interactions to agents and provide insight into their performance, whether they are on-site or off-site, including:

  • Omni-channel call center as a service (CCaaS) solution
  • One hundred percent real-time and historical recording of calls and screens
  • Desktop analytics to monitor application usage
  • Real-time speech analytics to trigger supervisor alerts when emotionally charged verbal interactions are in progress
  • Historical speech analytics to identify performance trends and business opportunities
  • Text analytics to generate notifications when negative sentiment is expressed in text-based channels
  • Workforce management (WFM) with mobility to allow agents to schedule their work hours and vacations, make swaps, and participate in overtime and voluntary time-off opportunities
  • Voice biometrics for employee identification and verification and to ensure that each agent is performing his or her job
  • Video technology to enable employees to interact with one another and to monitor agents

Security: Update and enhance the security requirements for WAH employees. Keep in mind that WAH employees need access to their mobile phones to participate in WFM-related activities.

Online Training: Create online training programs for both premise-based and remote agents. Use virtual and e-learning management software to facilitate the training process. 

Quality Management: Train all agents to participate in the department’s quality management (QM) program. This should be a standard training module.

Agent Motivation: Design rewards, incentives, and team-building activities to accommodate both in-house and remote staff.

Knowledge Management System: Use a cloud-based KM solution to collect and curate the product, process, procedural, and system knowledge required by all agents. 

Conclusion

WAH programs should address the needs of agents, supervisors, and managers. All contact centers should encourage a certain percentage of their employees to work from home on a regular basis. This will help them be successful when it becomes necessary in a business continuity situation. And given the changes in the business world due to the pandemic, allowing employees to work from home, if desired, is going to be an expectation of employers, including contact centers.

Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting LLC. For more than two decades, she has helped emerging and established companies develop and deliver outstanding customer experiences. A recognized visionary, author, and speaker, Donna drives strategic transformation and innovation throughout the services industry. She provides strategic and practical counsel for enterprises, solution providers, and the investment community.

Flexing Your Leadership Courage



By Steve Yacovelli

When you think about being courageous in the workplace, even if you’re being your bravest self, there are still many factors that can prevent you from being your most courageous (and effective) leadership self. Here are the top three courage-inhibitors that come up for leaders:

1. The Challenge of Fear

If you were to ask around, you’d find that a lack of courage and an abundance of complacency in the workplace come down to one simple thing: fear. When you think about this in the business context, it breaks into two subtypes: 1) fear of failure (perceived or actual) and 2) fear of feeling like an outsider. 

It takes courage to try something new and individual resilience to keep at it when it doesn’t work perfectly the first time. Click To Tweet

With the first fear, you tend to strive for perfectionism, resulting in the idea that submitting anything less than perfect could alter the opinion of a boss or trusted ally. Typically, like most folks, you want to put your best foot forward; you want to be a rock-star performer. You see anything less as failure (even if it’s on par with others’ best work).

But the second fear comes from a more personal place, where challenging the status quo may make you feel like an outsider within your own workplace. At some point in your career, you’ve likely had that feeling (or maybe you currently do). It’s not fun; it’s alienating, and for some, it’s a feeling they don’t want to ever feel again. 

So, in a work context, this desire to avoid the feeling of being an outsider leads you to be compliant, even if at your core you know the idea at hand really needs to be challenged for the good of the organization. Having courage here means being OK with failing; it’s being OK with others perceiving you as an outsider for the sake of doing better work, benefiting your team members, or moving your organization forward.

2. The Challenge of Assumptions

As humans, it’s common to fill in the gaps when presented with a situation where all the data isn’t available. It’s easy to connect the dots between one problem and the next, even when the two aren’t related, without taking the time to examine your own approach. It’s how we humans are wired. 

When you think of this in the context of courage, you’re either avoiding understanding the situation, or you’re scared (back to fear again) to dive more deeply into the truth of the situation. Having leadership courage means lifting those rocks and seeing what’s underneath. The lack of courage causes you to make assumptions about the situation without knowing all the information.

3. The Challenge of Being Locked into Current Behaviors  

Let’s talk about change for a minute. On a fundamental level, change is an impressive idea: it’s fresh and new, it expands horizons, and it allows for innovation and new experiences. In a workplace context, you initiate change so the organization can grow and prosper. 

But the hard truth? Most people hate change. Why? On one hand (at an unconscious level), we don’t like change because it hits a part of our brain that values safety and security. As our cave-ancestors survived and grew as a species, they (like us) were wired to be fearful of change. Engaging in something new could lead to a dangerous situation. 

Now, flash-forward to today: you’re still wired like this in changing situations. When most people engage in change, it leads to an unsettling feeling of vulnerability. On the other hand, your conscious self doesn’t like change because it’s difficult. There’s a tendency to simply accept situations and adjust to them, even if the situations aren’t ideal. 

You might have heard the phrase “the devil you know versus the devil you don’t,” meaning that we tend to be OK with even bad situations, bosses, friends, and relationships because we know where we stand. Too many people dislike change so much that they’d sooner stay in an unpleasant situation because it’s familiar than make a move to something new but unfamiliar. 

So, whether unconscious or conscious, for most people change is hard. It takes courage to try something new and individual resilience to keep at it when it doesn’t work perfectly the first time.

As a leader, courage should be your foundation—the courage to challenge the status quo and to be your authentic and effective self in front of the world. It’s a superpower that every leader has within them; it’s just a matter of avoiding the three courage-inhibitors and then channeling your courage.

Dr. Steve Yacovelli is owner and principal of TopDog Learning Group, LLC, a learning and development, leadership, change management, and diversity and consulting firm based in Orlando, Florida, with affiliates across the globe. With over twenty-five years’ experience, Steve understands the power of using academic theory and applying it to the real world for better results. 

How Automated Analytics Can Elevate Agent Performance and Experience



By Brad Snedeker

As a business process outsourcer (BPO) or outsourcing contact center, your agents serve as the face of your clients’ businesses. Low performance and high agent turnover can have a negative impact on the overall business. This can manifest in reduced end-customer loyalty and satisfaction. 

Even in the best of times, high-quality agent training and assessment presents challenges. In 2020, with a sudden shift to agents working from home due to the pandemic, the emphasis on proper training, monitoring, and assessment has become even more critical. This applies not only to new agents joining your organization, but also to existing agents who may be taking on new roles, new clients, or new channels.

Through automated analytics, contact centers can also uncover training opportunities due to changes in their own processes. Click To Tweet

Automating Data Science for Improved Interactions

One traditional way of teaching agents how to interact with customers has been to shadow a top-performing agent. But job shadowing has its limitations. It’s difficult to learn how to respond to different customer needs, the trainer agent might act differently when the trainee watching, and the trainee has limited time to learn and ask questions. Even so, shadowing can be helpful for agents to get a high-level feel for the tone and language they should emulate. But training shouldn’t end there.

Today, contact centers can leverage software automation to record and analyze agent interactions over the phone, email, chat, and social media. Centers can also use this information in near real-time to enable virtual or on-site management insights and training inspiration. This approach to training offers a richer experience and helps build agent confidence. It also makes training more efficient since you’re not asking other agents or managers to listen to and respond to every scenario or question.

Interaction monitoring, recording, and analytics together can reveal the why, not just the what, of agent performance, allowing managers to uncover trends and improve interactions for better long-term outcomes. It offers an opportunity to improve training for specific agents and enhance the customer experience for future interactions.

Uncovering Best and Not-So-Best Practices

Using massive quantities of data and automated analytics to uncover specific areas where agent behavior is impacting a customer interaction can shed light on experiences both positive and negative. This shows agents specific areas where they can improve, as well as find examples of behavior or language that other agents can emulate. A well-provisioned quality management system can even allow a contact center to share best practices with the click of a button, creating a library of successful examples.

For instance, one contact center manager discovered that an increasing number of retail customer calls escalated from first-contact agents to a supervisor. This diverted the supervisor’s attention away from other aspects of the business and hindered unrelated KPIs.

Voice-of-the-customer (and employee) analytics allowed the team to isolate relevant interactions based on this pattern of escalation and apply speech analysis. The analysis revealed the exact point in the conversations where the agents needed supervisor assistance. This level of insight gave the retailer the why for agents who struggled to manage challenging and emotional calls.

Using analytics, the managers identified the agents who grappled with this type of interaction. This allowed them to implement targeted training and assistance, creating a new best practice for all agents. 

Not only was this beneficial for the retail brand’s reputation with customers, it also helped agents improve their skill sets and learn how to de-escalate situations by modifying how agents interacted with customers. Reducing the stress of interactions had the additional benefit of creating happier, more successful agents who were less likely to turn over. 

When Change Dictates New Training

Through automated analytics, contact centers can also uncover training opportunities due to changes in their own processes.

For example, using speech analytics as part of its normal quality control efforts, one contact center identified a correlation between the use of phrases like “I don’t know” and calls placed on hold. Further, managers found a pattern in which calls placed on hold spiked when leaders deployed a new knowledge base. The company had inadvertently introduced its own problem. The analysis helped leaders quickly institute training in the areas where agents had knowledge gaps when new tasks were added, avoiding any long-term impact.

Unexpected situations can also trigger a need for extra training, but without analytics offering insight on changes and the new landscape of operations, leaders often don’t know where to start. 

According to a Calabrio study, 89 percent of contact centers had at least half their agents shift to a work-from-home model due to the pandemic. This compares to only 36 percent of contact centers with half their agents working remotely pre-pandemic.

Contact centers using analytics can stay close to their teams and quickly identify impacts on interactions and behaviors for new remote agents, as well as track how agents are functioning during this time of crisis. For example, KPIs might have indicated longer-than-usual call-resolution times. However, live interaction monitoring and analytics showed that agents were dealing with more customers who were scared, sad, or confused. 

This caused agents to modify their behaviors and spend additional time reassuring callers and working through fewer calls. New training, then, placed the emphasis on easy displays of empathy and ways to navigate complex interactions rather than on speed and low handle times.

Creating a Culture of CX Excellence

In addition to identifying weaknesses, centers can tap analytics to create a continuous culture of improvement. One area where this is especially important is with the customer experience (CX). Customer expectations will become more demanding in the future. In fact, 69 percent of contact center managers expect customers to have an increased need for emotional empathy in customer service interactions post-pandemic. Analytics can be a tool to support agents as customer needs evolve.

For example, sentiment analysis can help contact centers analyze customer and agent tone, as well as track how satisfied customers are based on their voice or text interactions. Radial, a BPO serving leading retail brands, used sentiment analysis to identify strategies to improve its end customers’ experience.

Using speech and text analytics, Radial identified instances of powerless-to-help language and phrases like “not allowed,” “unfortunately,” and “I wish we could” in customer interactions. Leaders correlated those to negative-sentiment scores. The results allowed Radial to create training and strategies to empower agents with the right tools, resources, and language to improve interactions and reduce negative-sentiment scores.

Simply by understanding the correlation between specific language and sentiment, Radial increased its net first-contact resolution by 3 percent, increased net customer satisfaction (CSAT) by 2.1 percent, and improved net agent demeanor by .56 percent. 

Not Just for the Customer

In the past, analytics-based insights had the stigma of being micro-managerial or critical toward agents. However, modern analytics use is meant to be pro-agent, offering support when needed and credit when deserved. By leveraging workforce engagement management tools together—including recording, quality management, workforce management, analytics, and reporting—contact centers now have the technologies they need to understand the details behind the good and the not-so-good customer-agent interactions. With this knowledge now easily accessible, applying training to make each interaction a positive one has the potential to improve every aspect of contact center work.

With more than fifteen years in the industry, Brad Snedeker has extensive knowledge of the contact center space. As Calabrio’s director of innovation, he ensures that customers have access to the best training available. He works directly with users to develop new and innovative techniques to implement workforce optimization best practices.

How Telephone Triage Nurses Act as An Extension of Physicians and Practices



By Ravi K. Raheja, MD

In an era where there are multiple sources of medical advice and people frequently use Google to get answers, telephone triage nurses need to be mindful that they play a critical role in ensuring that patients get the customized care directed by their physician. This is vital for consumer-focused patient care. That is why sophisticated triage systems have custom instructions and standing orders. These tailored directions are based on physician or practice preferences for triage nurses to follow once the appropriate care for the patient has been determined.

Telephone triage nurses are important in establishing that the patient’s doctor cares about their problem. Click To Tweet

What Are Custom Orders?

Custom orders are additional instructions that physicians and practices add to existing protocols. An example would be telling the patient to take ibuprofen over Tylenol or sending them to a certain ER or urgent care facility. Custom orders are designed to help the triage nurse function as an extension of the doctor without having to always call the on-call doctor. With custom orders, patients are provided continuity of care, reassurance, and the ability for the physician to follow up with their patient the next day.

How to Properly Represent the Physician and Group

Through the triage process of assessing the patient and choosing the highest acuity protocol, disposition, and advising the patient per protocol guidelines, triage nurses need to keep in mind that they represent a specific physician or practice.

Since they never see the patient in person, it is important that triage nurses provide the empathy and care that will make patients feel better. Patients are not just a voice over the phone with a problem for nurses to solve. Every phone call has an impact, and one of the best ways nurses can care for patients is to establish and affirm the trust they have in their provider.

When giving the protocol advice, triage nurses should first check for any specific practice orders that apply to the situation. Then, as they advise, they should use phrases such as, “Your doctor would like you to . . .” or “Your doctor cares very much about his patients and would want you to . . .”

Summary

Telephone triage nurses are important in establishing that the patient’s doctor cares about their problem. They are a crucial link to the patient trusting the care and advice of their physician. Since triage nurses are only with a patient for a few moments, it is vital that they gain their trust and provide the best care possible. 

When the patient call ends, their continuity of care is in the hands of their physician. Telephone triage nurses help the patient beyond the call when they nurture trust in the doctor they represent.

Ravi K. Raheja, MD, is the COO and medical director of the TriageLogic Group. Founded in 2005, TriageLogic is a URAC-accredited, physician-led provider of high-quality telehealth services, nurse triage, triage education, and software for telephone medicine. Their comprehensive triage solution includes integrated mobile access and two-way video capability. The TriageLogic group serves over 7,000 physicians and covers over 18 million lives nationwide. For more information visit www.triagelogic.com.

How to Manage a Remote Contact Center Team



By Chris Robinson

As any contact center leader knows, managing a team of agents is not for the fainthearted. This is even more challenging with agents working remotely. Deploying excellent technology will help to dramatically improve your customer experience (CX), but to create an entirely frictionless experience, you also need great people.

Finding the Right Contact Center Manager for Your Team

Business leaders know that finding a contact center manager with a can-do attitude is critical to the customer service journey. Being able to cope with a high-pressure environment, whether on the contact center floor or having to spur on the troops remotely, has never been more important. 

Regularly talking to agents and maintaining two-way communication—whether face-to-face, over the phone, via email, or a messaging channel—is key to motivating individuals. Taking the time to listen and engage with people improves productivity. Indeed, a study by York University psychologist Faye Doell found that those who “listen to understand” have better, happier relationships with others. 

A supportive manager will know that giving co-workers and employees the space to communicate fully and openly means that they’re more likely to become part of the team, make suggestions, and collaborate on projects.

Being a good listener means that your contact center manager will create the right chemistry across the team, whether that’s managing twenty agents or over one thousand. An ability for resourcing campaigns properly will also help to further alleviate team stress, while a sound knowledge of the call center technology supporting the work is important. If you’re going to invest in technology, you want to ensure that every member of the team can use it to its full potential.

The phrase “Zoom fatigue” is becoming a real issue for remote workers, so do everything you can to streamline video calls. Click To Tweet

Leading by example, demonstrating their own abilities, and creating a stress-free environment means that any capable contact center manager will inspire those around him or her. When you support your team, you inspire loyalty, which in turn should help to reduce agent churn—something that’s a challenge in the contact center world. 

According to Cornell University, the average cost to replace an agent is between five and seven thousand dollars, with entry level employees being the greatest number to leave (27 percent). Furthermore, contact center workers are absent for 8.2 days a year. That’s higher than any other industry. 

You have the power to not become a statistic and to enhance the agent experience within your contact center, whether locally or remotely.

What Does Great Contact Center Management Entail? 

Making the right hires, providing the necessary training, and supporting agents with great technology will dramatically enhance CX. To accomplish this, consider these management strategies:

  • Hire Smart: Employ the right people and make sure that the onboarding process is as smooth and as informative as possible. This will go a long way in maintaining a happy and productive environment.
  • Use Information: Embrace the data that you collate to help determine what works best for your customers and staff, as well as identify any underperforming areas.
  • Offer Incentives: Rewards and initiatives tap into our basic human needs. This can encourage superior performance and help keep agents motivated.
  • Promote Rest: Breaks have always been important in a call center environment but are even more important now with people working remotely or in strained circumstances. Ensuring that employees get time away from screens and calls will help keep all engagements in perspective.

Ultimately, being able to drive efficiencies through stronger management practices and behaviors will pay dividends. 

Top Tips for Managing Remotely

  • Speak to Your Team Every Day: Communicate with them either as a group or individually. Make the conversations informal and not all about work.
  • Be Available: There’s a fine balance to being available and always being “on.” Manage your time and let people know when it’s an appropriate time to catch up if they need to talk, whether that’s about personal or work-related challenges. Encourage them to do the same with their colleagues.
  • Empower to Harness Trust: Don’t micromanage your team. Outline responsibilities and make sure the entire team is aware of who is supposed to do what. Agree with them about what work they need to do and set realistic deadlines. Then trust people to get on with the task at hand and don’t chase them ahead of the deadline.
  • The Right Tools for the Job: Make sure your remote team has the right setup when working remotely. You may need to ask IT to carry out health checks on their devices and make sure they can use all their software easily. Arrange refresher training for any areas where the tools cause frustration.
  • Calendar Cleanse: Review meetings (i.e., video calls). Discuss whether they’re required, who needs to attend, and who can have their time freed up to address more important things.
  • Introduce Some Process: The phrase “Zoom fatigue” is becoming a real issue for remote workers, so do everything you can to streamline video calls, keeping the time spent short and productive. Have an agenda for every meeting, take minutes, and if you have to share a presentation, share it with people prior to the meeting (not ten minutes before) so they have time to review and can prepare any relevant feedback or questions. This will shorten your meeting time, and you will start to be more productive and less swamped by too much information and not enough time.
  • Make It Fun: There will be times where some members of your team feel upbeat while others struggle, and vice versa. Introduce a few fun ways where you can meet as a team but ask people what they would like to do. Remember, enforced fun is no fun.

Making the right management hires, providing the right training, and supporting your agents with great technology will dramatically enhance your CX. In a time where customers expect more, supporting your agents with the right infrastructure will not only deliver significant savings, but will also increase profitability. 

Chris Robinson is the director and executive chairman of Awaken Intelligence. He has been at the forefront of omni-channel communications for the last two decades. During this time, he has been instrumental in developing solutions that blend the best in contact center processes, unified communications, and cloud computing technologies into a powerful outsourced business offering used by many clients across a variety of sectors. 

The Future of Healthcare is Here with Help from Telehealth and Hospital Call Centers


Amtelco

By Nicole Limpert

Those in the healthcare communication field already know the value of telehealth and virtual care. As the COVID-19 pandemic evolved, telemedicine gained worldwide recognition as a critical healthcare tool to keep both patients and medical staff safe.

Telehealth has been used to bring healthcare to rural areas or isolated populations, such as overseas military personnel and those who work in the maritime industry. Until recently, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) placed certain stipulations on telehealth providers and would only reimburse for services provided in rural areas with specific audio-visual equipment.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 6, 2020, CMS relaxed restrictions and removed many of the conditions to which clinicians had to adhere in order to supply telehealth services to patients across the entire United States. Later, CMS expanded its telehealth adoption to include eighty-five new telehealth services to their covered list and set provider reimbursement rates for telehealth visits to be the same as in-person services.

Are We Ready for Telemedicine?

Many people are new to the concept of telemedicine. On July 31, 2019, J.D. Power reported that nearly three-quarters of Americans weren’t aware of telehealth options or didn’t have access to technology to partake in telehealth. Yet the American Hospital Association states that 76 percent of U.S. hospitals were already using telehealth before the coronavirus pandemic. Currently, forty-eight states require telehealth coverage in insurance plans.

Healthcare-related industries already had infrastructure in place and were prepared for the use of telemedicine and telehealth. However, few, if any, expected how quickly the use of these virtual tools would grow or how they would be used in new ways when COVID-19 began to spread. 

The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically accelerated the adoption of telemedicine usage. Telehealth visits skyrocketed by 50 percent in March 2020 according to data from Frost and Sullivan. Analysts at Forrester Research estimates that virtual healthcare interactions will reach more than 1 billion by the end of 2020.

Hospital Call Centers Experience Increased Telehealth Calls

The use of telehealth has undeniably shown what a critical tool it is in supporting a healthy population.  Click To Tweet

The pandemic has affected call centers in every industry. Most business websites have placed a message at the top of their home page warning of long hold times and delays in service. In healthcare, communication setbacks can mean life or death. Understandably, hospital call centers experienced a substantial increase in calls early in the pandemic. Many healthcare call centers help with telehealth efforts, and they also serve as a hub for their healthcare organization during a crisis.

“We played an immediate role in the hospital’s corporate response to the coronavirus pandemic,” explains Shelley White, MS, CHAM, FACHE, director of patient access services for State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University. “A COVID-19 hotline was established, and we took calls from multiple counties in our area. Within two weeks, our call volume drastically increased, and we needed more space in our call centers to work while practicing social distancing. We used free operator licenses from our vendor to set up more remote operator workstations so more of our agents could work from home. This kept our staff safe while serving the community.”

Running a call center in a virtual server environment, or in the cloud, is giving hospitals the ability to stay flexible and available by using remote operators. These tools are scalable and result in fully functioning call handling to transform any personal computer into a professional telephone agent station.

Call Center Software Assists Telehealth Communication

Using telehealth for virtual appointments with medical staff and patients has been essential during this pandemic. But there are other ways healthcare systems use telehealth communications. Hospital call centers tap their communication software, often in new ways, to provide their communities and staff with correct information, quick responses, and in some cases, hope.

  • Nurse Triage Centers: Agents use a customized script to triage calls.
  • Improved Navigation Menus: Callers are directed to additional, updated information.
  • Nonclinical Services: Telehealth also refers to remote, nonclinical administrative uses such as establishing and maintaining on-call shifts for COVID-19 volunteer pools and even creating announcements using a song, tone, or message to broadcast throughout the hospital when a coronavirus patient is released. It’s a wonderful way to spread hope and encouragement to patients and staff.

Many telehealth agents are working from home, and it is crucial for them to have access to the IT support they would normally use when working in the call center. Jennie McWhorter, information services operations manager for Ephraim McDowell Health in Danville, Kentucky, explains how the system can help here as well. “We have entered a telehealth support hotline in the call center software that allows the operators to connect to our help desk directly,” says Jennie. “This is very important, as our main help desk line is usually a voicemail-only system that creates a ticket in our help desk software.” 

Remote Operators Help Medical Staff

Shelley White’s team has also been able to aid staff who still work in the hospital. SUNY Upstate Medical University is the only ACS-certified Level I Trauma Center in the region and serves about 1.7 million people and twenty-eight referral hospitals. Shelley says, “During this coronavirus crisis, our ER registration is short-staffed, but we are able to help by watching our track board, which is tied into the EMR system with Epic. When a COVID-19 patient is admitted, we can call the patient to register them and verify insurance information over the phone. This process would normally be done in person by ER staff, but we can do it remotely and ease some of their workload.” 

According to numbers reported from Becker’s Hospital Review on April 7, 2020, employees from 243 hospitals have been furloughed during the pandemic. Hospitals are taking steps to save supplies, suspend elective procedures, and focus on treating COVID-19 patients. 

To avoid layoffs, some healthcare organizations are reassigning their medical staff as remote call center operators. “We were able to redistribute existing staff from other departments and tap into their skills to cross-train them to work for the switchboard,” states Shelley. “In our situation, patient access staff and medical answer teams were trained on easy calls and were then able to work from home as remote operators. These staff members are now even more valuable to our organization.”

Kathleen Kerrigan, BSN, RN, and manager of medical communications center, radiology contact center, and pager services for Nebraska Medicine, mentions her experience. “Nebraska Medicine has created a Flex Pool for employees that work in areas of the organization that have closed or severely cut their workflows due to COVID-19. I was able to add nineteen of these employees to my team, including both nurses and agents.” 

Telehealth as the New Normal

Telehealth has suddenly become crucial for patients and healthcare organizations. The use of telehealth has undeniably shown what a critical tool it is in supporting a healthy population. 

Hospital call center and healthcare professionals have already shown agility in adapting communications software in new ways to improve telemedicine applications while enhancing patient care, even during a pandemic. Advances in technology and our ability to use it could soon make the use of telehealth a standard healthcare practice. 

Amtelco

Nicole Limpert is the marketing content writer for Amtelco and their 1Call Healthcare Division. Amtelco is a leading provider of innovative communication applications. 1Call develops software solutions and applications designed for the specific needs of healthcare organizations.

Use Secure Texting to Send Emails from Your Call Center



By Mark Dwyer

Are you incorporating technology into your communication plan? Today’s consumers, patients, and physicians have expectations about the way you communicate with them. However, be careful. In all electronic communication, be sure to meet HIPAA and HITECH standards. Regardless of the communication method you use, you must encrypt any Personal Health Information (PHI).

It is more important than ever to interact using current technology. Texts and emails play an increasingly important part in sending patients both secure and nonsecure communications. These include reminders for appointments and medication refills, health information, care advice, confirmation of referrals, registrations, and other notifications. Not only does this increase consumer, patient, and physician satisfaction, but these electronic methods also increase the efficiency of the call center. 

Creative call centers equipped to handle calls from the hearing-impaired are now using secure text messaging. Click To Tweet

Advantages

Some of the advantages include:

  • Electronic communication—whether text or email—arrives quickly, usually within one to two minutes.
  • The message contains clear, direct written communication and instructions.
  • Patients and consumers can refer to the information, which they can review whenever needed. 
  • Repetitive phone calls or relying on memory or recall of the instructions are reduced.
  • The consumer or patient’s need to write down the instructions or information given is eliminated.

Applications

More and more physicians and medical staff are requesting that call centers text them with answering service requests and patient callbacks and updates. These are becoming key areas for the call center to use secure texting or messaging to communicate with patients or medical staff.

Another growing use is to send secure emails or texts to the patient regarding the care advice given during a triage call. When doing so, remember that these transmissions must be HIPAA-compliant. Therefore, require the physician or patient to enter their last name and a password or challenge word before receiving the message. 

An application often used in triage call centers is sending health information to a patient when they are not calling about a symptom-based issue but instead have a general health question—for example, about chickenpox. In this scenario, the triage nurse can send the information via secure text or email to the caller.

Call center staff can also text the physician when the provider needs to call the call center or to inform the physician that they need to call a patient. These outbound messages also work with answering services and on-call scheduling. 

Hospitals are also using texting and email for nonclinical reasons. As an example, if there is a valid email address on the consumer record, many will email class registration and physician referral confirmation letters to their consumers. If the email address is not valid or if there is a misspelling in the email address, the software can send the confirmation letters to a generic email address that a manager reviews daily. In these cases, the manager prints the attached pdf version of the confirmation letter and then sends it via postal mail.

Finally, creative call centers equipped to handle calls from the hearing-impaired are now using secure text messaging. In this application, the triage nurse can send care advice associated with the guidelines used to the patient. One call center reported that a hearing-impaired patient cried upon receiving the care advice in a readable format.

Summary

Communication continues to change, and we must embrace it. We are a text and email society. And texts and emails are not going away. So embrace this valuable resource. 

Mark Dwyer is a veteran of the healthcare call center industry and serves as COO of LVM Systems.