Category Archives: Articles

Three Major Benefits of a Medical Call Center Partnership



A Medical Call Center Partnership Contributes to Organizational Efficiency

By Karen Brown

Organizational efficiency is the ability to implement plans using the smallest possible expenditure of resources. It’s an important factor in organizational effectiveness and vital to the healthcare industry, which continues to experience increased operating costs and smaller bottom lines.

Medicare expansion and the ACA (Affordable Care Act) have contributed to significant increases in patient populations that are expensive to treat and provide minimal financial return. This strains an organization seeking to provide adequate post-discharge care, which can result in costly avoidable readmissions.

As patient loads and associated risks increase and reimbursement decreases, the ability to achieve organizational efficiency becomes more challenging. However, providing the highest possible quality patient care at the lowest possible operating expense can be possible with the assistance of a medical call center. By partnering with a call center’s team of registered nurses specially trained in telephone triage, organizations can save a significant amount of time and cost associated with adding staff while reducing the risk of unnecessary readmissions and inappropriate utilization of care.Partnering with a medical call center provides access to high quality care at the lowest cost possible. Click To Tweet

Telehealth and Related Services Are a Large Part of a Bright Future

It’s no secret that telehealth services and telemedicine are becoming increasingly popular due to the financial benefits they provide. Combined with federal policy changes (MACRA and MIPS) that address care planning and risk assessment—significantly effecting reimbursement in the process—telemedicine is poised to drive more revenue from virtual care directly to hospitals and healthcare organizations. And this is just the beginning. According to a recent report from Grand View Research, the telemedicine market should top $113 billion by 2025.

While telehealth currently focuses on a range of primary care services, the rising occurrences of chronic conditions as well as the increasing demand for self-care and remote monitoring are significant factors driving telehealth growth. Healthcare organizations that add new primary care options will reduce costs and create new services while remotely offering existing ones to more of their patient populations.

Partnering with a medical call center provides a healthcare organization with access to established chronic care, self-care, and remote monitoring programs. This eliminates significant labor costs. It’s vital to find a call center with outbound service offerings that include a variety of chronic care and follow-up, post-discharge call programs, including prescription/medicine reconciliation, self-care plan adherence, and follow-up appointment scheduling.

Quality of Care: Patient Satisfaction

In today’s world, people have a multitude of choices when it comes to their care. Because of this, it’s vital for healthcare organizations and providers to get every aspect of the patient experience right. Providing the correct medical care isn’t the only factor contributing to a positive experience. From the initial appointment-setting call to the final communication between a patient and provider, every experience contributes to the overall satisfaction and quality of care a patient receives.

One of the largest factors contributing to patient satisfaction is access to care. We live in a 24/7 world, and having access to definitive medical care at all times is a standard patient expectation. Providing that level of access is challenging and often costly. Not providing that level of access leaves patients feeling less empowered and engaged, which in turn can lead to poor experiences and even poorer satisfaction scores. A partnership with a medical call center gives patients access to definitive medical care 24/7/365 at much lower costs.

Another factor contributing to patient satisfaction is the quality of relationship with their caregivers. Patients expect to be engaged in decisions involving their care. This includes open communication with nurses and providers involved in that care. If patients do not feel their concerns have been heard and taken seriously, they feel less confident in the care they receive, resulting in a negative experience—even if the outcome is positive.

It isn’t uncommon for providers to become overwhelmed with consistently increasing workloads in a 24/7 environment. This can lead to frustration and burnout, which is often evident in their interactions with patients. Using a medical call center to cover all after-hours calls removes the 24/7 access from the provider’s core responsibilities. This is a powerful physician recruitment and retention game changer. In short, happy providers have more positive interactions with their patients, which results in higher patient engagement and satisfaction.

While no healthcare organization wants a patient to have a negative experience for any reason, there is a new factor regarding patient satisfaction that demands attention. Since the inception of value-based purchasing, the definition of a successful patient experience has been redefined. Now 30 percent of the overall quality of care is attributed to patient satisfaction.

This means that patient satisfaction survey scores directly impact an organization’s bottom line. The shift to pay-for-performance also means that reimbursements are tied to the quality of care. Hospitals that provide a higher quality of care than their peers will receive reimbursement incentives, while hospitals that provide a lower quality of care will incur penalties.

This is perhaps the most beneficial aspect of partnering with a medical call center. Providing positive experiences for both patient and provider can drastically improve overall patient satisfaction and outcomes, leading to a higher overall quality of care and the related financial rewards.

Ultimately the provision of appropriate, quality care to achieve positive outcomes is the goal of all healthcare organizations. Making that a possibility—while also considering organizational needs, government regulations, and patient experience—can be difficult and costly. Partnering with a medical call center provides access to high quality care at the lowest cost possible.

Karen Brown, RN, is vice president, business development, with TeamHealth Medical Call Center, a premier provider of medical call center solutions, providing services to more than 10,000 providers, health plans, home health and hospice organizations, employers, and universities across the United States.

The Healthcare Call Center’s Role in Reducing Hospital Readmissions



By Traci Haynes

Reducing hospital readmissions has been a focus of the healthcare environment for many years. Steven Jencks, MD, dubbed by many as the father of readmission research, along with Mark Williams, MD, and Eric Coleman, MD, analyzed medical claims data from 2003–2004 to describe the patterns of rehospitalization.

Readmissions Rates

Almost one-fifth (19.6 percent) of the 11,855,702 Medicare beneficiaries who had been discharged from a hospital were rehospitalized within thirty days. In 2007 the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) reported to Congress that 13 percent of patients rehospitalized within thirty days of discharge in 2005 were for preventable reasons. These readmissions accounted for $12 billion in Medicare spending.

As a result, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) of 2010 mandated that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) implement a program in which hospitals with higher-than-expected readmission rates for certain designated conditions experience reductions (that is, penalties) in their Medicare payments.

Beginning in October 2012, the hospital readmission reduction program (HRRP) began adjusting hospital payments based on excess readmissions within thirty days of Medicare patients following myocardial infarction (MI), heart failure (HF), and pneumonia hospitalizations. The maximum penalty at that time was 1 percent of a hospital’s base Medicare reimbursement rate per discharged patient.

A year later the penalty increased to 2 percent and then to 3 percent in 2014. The first year more than 2,200 hospitals received penalties for failing to meet standards, with 8 percent incurring the maximum penalty. In addition readmission penalties now include elective knee and hip replacements and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Utilizing the call center to identify and implement communication strategies adds value to the organization and better outcomes for their patients. Click To Tweet

Reasons for Readmission

According to Bisognano and Boutwell, the primary reasons for readmission were no physician follow-up visit, medication discrepancies, and communication failure during transitions of care.

Coleman and others identified poor information transfer, poor patient and caregiver preparation, and limited empowerment to assert preferences as the primary reasons for readmission. Contributing factors include nurses not having time to thoroughly address the needs of both the patients and caregivers upon discharge, the hospital setting not being conducive to education to drive behavior change before discharge, and the care continuum breakdown between hospital discharge and the handoff to primary care.

The impact of the penalties has been a significant concern for hospitals that care for a larger number of low-income patients. They claim it is more difficult for their patients to adhere to post-hospital instructions, including payment for medications, dietary modifications, and transportation to follow-up appointments.

To address these challenges, some hospitals have implemented measures including discharging patients with medications, home visits, and follow-up calls. Other interventions include hiring specialty care coordinators and transition coaches to offer follow-up care for patients with multiple comorbidities, providing patients with extensive teach-back for multiple days prior to discharge so they’ll better know what to do after discharge. In addition many include comprehensive medication reviews with a clinical pharmacist.

Call Centers Help Reduce Readmissions

The healthcare call center can help reduce avoidable readmissions by enhancing the quality of care in the hospital-to-home transition through the combined capabilities of technology and human interaction. Discharge planning should begin upon admission to the hospital. This includes arranging for durable medical equipment (DME), transfer to step-down as appropriate, home healthcare, transportation needs, and communication with primary care providers (PCPs). Discussions with caregivers, the extended care team (which includes the PCP, caregivers, and pharmacist), and other members of the interdisciplinary team can be greatly improved by the services of the call center in helping to comprehensively coordinate the patient’s care.

The patient and their caregivers will also benefit from the reinforcement of information provided, teach-back, appointment reminders, and coordination of services including transportation, as well as medication reconciliation and symptom assessment resulting in earlier interventions and improved outcomes. Extending contact beyond the thirty-day penalty period will bring even greater benefits to patients and their caregivers, which may prolong readmissions indefinitely.

Some healthcare call centers make one post-discharge call to review the patient’s diagnosis, instructions, medications, and education materials. They also ensure that the patient has scheduled their follow-up appointment. Others make several outbound calls to the discharged patient including a call within the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours.

In addition, the call center staff or care coordinator may reach out to the patient again after their first appointment. Ideally this should occur within seven days post-discharge. This call typically reviews follow-up appointment instructions or changes in medications, assists in referrals and scheduling with additional providers or resources, and communicates to the interdisciplinary team as appropriate. During this contact, biometric monitoring may also be tracked through technology or as self-reported by patients or their caregivers.

Whatever level of service provided, it’s a win for the patients, their caregivers, and the healthcare organization. Utilizing the call center to identify and implement communication strategies that effectively engage the patient and their caregivers adds value to the organization and the opportunity of better outcomes for their patients.

Traci Haynes, MSN, RN, BA, CEN, is the director of clinical services at LVM Systems, Inc.

References:

  • Bisognano, M., Boutwell, A. (2009). Improving Transition to Reduce Readmissions. Frontiers of Health Services Management 25(3), 3-10.
  • Coleman, E.A., Parry, C., Chalmers, S., & Sung-joon, M. (2006). Care Transitions Intervention. Arch Intern Medicine 166(17) 1822-1828.

Jencks, S.F., Williams, M.V., & Coleman, E.A. (2011). “Rehospitalization Among Patients in the Medicare Fee-For-Service Program,” New England Journal of Medicine 364:1582.

How to Stay Positive in the Telemarketing Services Industry



By Angela Garfinkel

No. Not interested. Thanks for your call, but no. No.

You get the point. Working in outbound telemarketing sales can be a difficult job. Working in telemarketing management is also hard, but at least we aren’t the ones who are told no every five to seven minutes throughout an eight-hour day. Most telemarketing programs average one sale every four to five hours. Some really great programs get one sale every two to three hours. The very best programs get one sale for every hour of calling. In an eight-hour day, that’s about one hundred noes and, at best, a handful of yeses.

Remaining upbeat and positive is a challenge, but the key is knowing that what you’re selling is worth the effort. We call it “worthwhile work.” It’s important to carefully evaluate each client program to ensure that it meets the minimum standard of being worthwhile work. If I go to Thanksgiving dinner and tell my grandma what project I’m working on, will I be proud of it? If the answer is “not really,” then we’ll choose to not work on it. Click To Tweet

Here Are Some Criteria I Consider:

  • Would our team enjoy working with this client? Would our management team get along with them and find there is a true partnership? Obviously, it takes a while to build a relationship, but within an initial conversation, I can normally tell if there is a seed of potential for our team to enjoy working with a client.
  • Is the potential client a reputable company? I check the Better Business Bureau. I look at their website. I read press releases and other news about the company. If I can’t find anything that validates them as a reputable company, that isn’t necessarily a negative, but then I do my own assessment by asking some detailed questions about the company and how they approach their market.
  • Is the product or service something the target market needs? This can be difficult to assess, but you can normally ask some questions that will give you insight to the need in the market. One key question is asking them how many products they’ve sold so far. If it’s zero, that could be a real challenge.
  • Is the product or service something that can be sold over the phone? Has the client already tested telemarketing? Was it successful? If not, look at the potential for success with scrutiny.
  • Is it a program our team will be successful with? That’s hard to quantify, but with thirty years of experience, I’m pretty good at identifying if our team will do well with a client program or not.
  • Is it something a consumer or business may ultimately view as a rip-off or scam? Obviously if the answer is yes, then we carefully walk away from the potential opportunity.

Based on these answers, I’ve found that it is critical to carefully consider whether the program will be viewed by our team as worthwhile work. In the simplest of terms, I explain it this way: If I go to Thanksgiving dinner and tell my grandma what project I’m working on, will I be proud of it? If the answer is “not really,” then we’ll choose to not work on it.

Here Are Some Programs My Team Considers Worthwhile Work:

  • Calling physician offices and hospitals to sell them billing and coding resources.
  • Calling existing utility customers to offer a warranty and appliance repair program from the utility.
  • Calling small business owners to ask if they’re interested in learning more about 401(k) benefits for their employees.
  • Calling existing customers of auto dealerships to schedule service appointments and conduct after-service surveys.
  • Calling small and medium businesses to sell them regulatory and compliance resources to help them navigate complex regulatory requirements in their industry.
  • Calling small businesses to ask them to listen to the radio for a chance to win a prize.

And while I won’t mention the brand names represented in these worthwhile calls, they are household names our employees love to work for.

So here’s my theory: when you’re conducting worthwhile work for well-known, respected brand names, you can take pride in what you do and know that it matters. This makes it easier to stay positive and let those noes roll off your back. There’s an old chant we used years ago that I still think is relevant and a great way to put the noes into perspective: “Some will. Some won’t. So what? Who’s next?”

Angela Garfinkel is the president and founder of Quality Contact Solutions, a leading outsourced telemarketing services organization. Angela has the pleasure of leading a talented team that runs thousands of outbound telemarketing program hours each day. Angela is also a certified Self-Regulatory Organization (SRO) auditor with the Professional Association for Customer Engagement, and she is a designated Customer Engagement Compliance Professional (CECP). Angela can be reached at angela.garfinkel@qualitycontactsolutions.com or 516-656-5118.

Six Omnichannel Trends Disrupting Customer Service in 2018



By Murph Krajewski

Two thousand seventeen was the year of operational shifts in customer service as archaic legacy systems were replaced with technological innovations to make service faster and improve customer interactions. However, this shift alone cannot win the customer service battle in today’s competitive marketplace. As consumers’ demands become increasingly harder to achieve, companies will need to be more proactive by offering a true omnichannel experience.

Omnichannel may seem like a buzzword, but it’s more than that. It’s a fluid journey that provides a consistent, seamless, and personalized experience that most consumers crave. However, only a small percentage of contact centers today describe themselves as omnichannel. While staying ahead of the curve as new technologies become mainstream seems like a daunting task, companies that focus on streamlining omnichannel capabilities to further assist, engage, and enhance their agents, while also understanding the trends disrupting customer service, will enjoy the new year.

The Reevaluation of Self-Service

In 2018, many contact centers will see a reevaluation of self-service, which plays a critical role in today’s omnichannel approach. Self-service tools are an important concept that unfortunately have not always been used well and have some recovery work to do in the eyes of customers.

To accomplish this, companies will enhance data collection processes for the types of inquiries being received across all channels to create a concise portal with applicable questions and answers. Agents will then use this page as a resource by directing future callers to a specific link or copying and pasting answers to common questions. While customers haven’t always been wowed by their self-service options, there is new life coming to this avenue of omnichannel. The vendors leading the way will set the bar for this trend in 2018. As consumers’ demands become increasingly harder to achieve, companies will need to be more proactive by offering a true omnichannel experience. Click To Tweet

Adding Mobile to the Mix

As the number of smartphone users moves closer to 2.5 billion, mobile will increasingly gain momentum as it continues to become the most popular customer service communication channel. According to OneReach, 64 percent of consumers would prefer to use texting rather than voice for customer service, and 77 percent are more likely to have a positive customer experience through mobile per a report from Aberdeen Group.

Other reports show that mobile capabilities among contact centers have grown substantially, but 2018 will be the year when many move from the siloed mobile approach and seamlessly combine it with other channels. Customers live their lives on their mobile devices. Companies must meet their customers where they are to provide a smooth customer experience, and that means meeting them on mobile.

Moving toward the Cloud

Cloud-based and cloud-native contact center infrastructure is key to the globalization of customer service. According to a 2017–2018 DMG Consulting Report, adoption of the cloud among contact centers continues to pick up momentum, especially in the financial sector. Thanks to advances in cloud technology, particularly from vendors that do not have to recalibrate legacy systems, cloud-native and cloud-based systems are highly secure, reliable, and provide quality infrastructure. In the new year, it can be expected that more operations will move to the cloud, allowing agents to access the platform at any time worldwide and disseminate information in real time to create a more relevant customer experience.

Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence

In the beginning, chatbots were designed primarily to optimize business operations. Now there’s a newer breed of chatbots that use machine-learning capabilities to provide superior customer experiences. Not only do they help anticipate the needs of “being there” throughout the customer journey, but they also help brands provide options for self-navigation. Plus, they know when it’s time to connect a customer to a live agent.

Fueled by artificial intelligence, chatbots become more intelligent day-to-day by collecting data on customer conversations. However, like any new technology, these tools need to be carefully integrated into the customer experience. To be effective they must be deployed in messaging apps, web chat, and other channels as part of an omnichannel strategy. This also means that if an agent needs to jump in, they can switch channels efficiently without the customer having to repeat information. This has been the goal of AI-to-agent experiences, but few companies have implemented the process at its fullest potential. Those that streamline this experience will see the greatest success.

The Rise in Social Media

A recent Hootsuite report revealed there are more than 2.8 billion active social media users with an annual growth rate of 21 percent. Among users under twenty-five, social media remains the first choice among support channels. Though most businesses have observed the need for social support, nearly one-third of businesses are still not incorporating social into their omnichannel approach. Instead users are being redirected to another channel. Although a temporary fix for an ever-evolving market, social media will play an even more important role in omnichannel this year.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

More than half of contact center leaders plan to enable Internet of Things (IoT) in the next year, signaling a shift toward accelerated innovation in the contact center. And since more than 30 billion devices will be wirelessly connected to physical things by 2020, IoT is going to completely alter the way companies connect to customers. It will usher in the era of proactive customer service.

Soon data from devices will empower companies to be aware of issues in real time and intervene before a customer even knows there is a problem. IoT will also allow for shorter wait times and more efficient service as automated solutions solve routine problems, freeing associates to focus on more complicated issues. In addition, those lagging in the implementation of IoT will feel increased pressure from customers to conform. Failing to adopt will erode customer loyalty over time due to slow service processes, fostering a lackluster impression compared to those companies who have moved forward.

Start Today

Companies can no longer afford to get away with subpar customer experiences by offering a siloed approach that erodes customer loyalty. Instead focus on implementing a true omnichannel methodology that meets the needs of customers and adheres to industry trends. Doing so will provide an experience that meets the needs of customers in 2018 and for years to come.

Murph Krajewski is vice president of marketing at Sharpen, a contact center platform with an agent-first focus. With nearly twenty years of experience in the contact center industry, he has tackled a variety of roles on multiple sides of contact center systems and gathered incredible insights on what provides exceptional customer service. In his current role Murph focuses on creating better experiences for contact center agents, which he believes makes for happier customers and could even change the world. He is also a regular contributor to the Forbes Communication Council.

Apocalyptic Forecasts and the Contact Center



By Donna Fluss

Every few years the soothsayers among us predict global trends that are either totally alarmist or too good to be true. Here are some of my favorites from the past few decades:

  • The world is running out of oil. This started in the 1970s.
  • New age sensibility and meditation will bring world peace, circa 1970s.
  • The office is going paperless, circa 1980s.
  • Programming will be so easy anyone can do it, circa 1980s.
  • All interfaces will be speechified, circa 1990s.
  • The Y2K bug will bring the modern world to a catastrophic end, circa 1990s.
  • Two thousand eighteen will be the year of driverless cars, circa 2016.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and robots will replace all human workers, the “big news” in 2017.

The call center world hasn’t escaped its share of sensational claims, which include:

  • Voice response units (VRUs, predecessors of the IVR) will replace the need for live agents, circa 1980s.
  • Email will replace the phone as the primary form of customer service, circa 1990s.
  • Social media will eliminate the need for contact centers, circa 2000s.
  • Web and mobile apps will eliminate the need for live agents, circa 2010s.

Time has put to rest most of these claims, although it remains to be seen what will happen with driverless cars (by 2018) and AI/robots. But as they’re here on the list with all the other failed predictions, my opinion is clear.The overarching theme these contact center trends have in common is productivity improvement. Click To Tweet

While apocalyptic forecasts and sweeping claims make for great headlines and generate a lot of discussion, they rarely come true. And if they do become a reality, it is often over a longer time and with much less impact than originally predicted. Despite the silliness of some of these predictions, they reflect what society and the business world is thinking about.

It’s clear from all the bombastic rhetoric about contact centers that there has been, and continues to be, a push to reduce dependence on live agents. As contact centers are people-intensive organizations, where agents account for 65 to 75 percent of departmental costs, it makes sense for businesses to look for ways to reduce their dependence on live agents and make them more productive.

DMG does not believe that contact centers are going away for the foreseeable future. However, we do expect they will change. Here are a few of DMG’s predictions about contact centers and the likelihood of each scenario happening:

  • Robotics (robotic process automation [RPA], aka bots) will automate an increasing amount of work currently done by agents in contact centers within the next five years: 0.9 probability.
  • Machine learning will be incorporated into many contact center applications to improve performance and reduce dependence on IT resources within the next five years: 0.9 probability.
  • Speech analytics will replace the traditional quality assurance (QA) process in the next eight years: 0.7 probability.
  • Customer journey analytics (CJA) solutions that capture, analyze, and identify opportunities for improvements will emerge in the next eight years: 0.65 probability.
  • AI will drive omnichannel routing to ensure that all interactions get to the right people in the organization to resolve the issues, while considering the cost of handling each transaction, in the next eight years: 0.35 probability.
  • Contact centers and back offices will merge in the next ten years: 0.3 probability.
  • Self-service solutions will eliminate the need for live agents in the next ten years: 0.1 probability.

The overarching theme these contact center trends have in common is productivity improvement. What makes this push different from what we’ve seen for decades is the use of technology to automate activities previously done by human beings instead of motivating agents and supervisors to perform their jobs faster and do more with less.

It is our job as executives, leaders, and managers to discount silly claims while considering the relevant ones. The objective is to increase contact center effectiveness every year by taking advantage of technical and operational innovation while improving the service experience. The pressure rightly is being put on contact centers. Those that identify and embrace the right trends and innovation will experience measurable improvements, but organizations that stick to business as usual will be left behind in the digital transformation.

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.

How Secure Is Your Contact Center?



Why Your Agents May Be Putting Customer Data at Risk

By Tim Critchley

Despite the rise in automated, self-servicing technologies in contact centers, many customers still prefer to pay bills and receive support by speaking with a live agent or customer service representative (CSR). Live agents continue to play a significant role in the customer experience, as they provide more personalized service and help streamline payment transactions. However, agents can also pose threats to contact center security, especially when they handle and process sensitive customer data.

To determine how personally identifiable information (PII) such as payment card numbers are captured, Semafone surveyed five hundred global contact center agents across a multitude of industries. The survey confirmed that contact centers still rely on outdated data collection practices, making organizations vulnerable to security threats and putting customer PII at risk for brand-damaging data breaches. Here are the most common ways callers share their PII with agents, along with the security challenges that accompany them.A single data breach can cost more than $3.6 million and jeopardize your reputation and customers’ trust. Click To Tweet

Reading PII Aloud

According to the survey, 72 percent of agents who collect credit and debit card information or social security numbers (SSNs) require customers to read their information out loud over the phone. This creates several risks, as the information is exposed to the agent on the line, call recordings, and even nearby eavesdroppers.

While most agents are honest, hardworking people, it is possible that a rogue agent could copy down a customer’s credit card number for fraudulent use. Or numbers may be stored on a call recording system that could be breached. Some contact centers rely on “pause and resume” or “stop/start” systems to pause recordings while PII is read aloud, but these systems are prone to failure—especially since an agent must manually stop and start the recording at the right point in time. If an agent forgets to pause the recording, PII may inadvertently be logged and thus vulnerable to a breach.

Using Interactive Voice Response (IVR) Systems

Used by 11 percent of agents surveyed, these automated telephony systems interact with callers to shield PII from agents and recordings. However, without an agent on the line, customers often don’t know how to correct miskeyed information, which can result in ended calls before the transaction is complete (perhaps meaning a lost sale). Plus, a poor customer experience can impact contact center metrics such as first contact resolution (FCR) and average handling time (AHT).

However, the data still touches various IT systems, so it is still susceptible to a breach by either rogue employees (30 percent of agents have access to customer PII when they aren’t on the phone with them) or an outside hacker.

Sharing Data Through an Online Chat Window

Ten percent of agents said they capture customer information through an online chat window. Although data is not verbalized, basic chat functionality is merely a glorified “instant messenger,” not designed with encryption capabilities. Also, the agent is still exposed to PII, unless the contact center implements an appropriate method of encrypting the payment session within the chat engagement.

Phone Keypad Entry (DTMF)

A fourth method of capturing data, mentioned by only 8 percent of agents in the survey, is customers entering their data by their phone keypad. This approach may involve dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) masking technologies, which shields data from agents and keep it out of business IT infrastructures. As customers enter PII, such as payment card numbers, DTMF (keypad) tones are masked with flat ones so agents and eavesdroppers cannot decipher the numbers. In addition, numbers are not stored on call recordings that could be breached. PII is sent directly to the appropriate third party (such as a payment processor) so it never touches the contact center’s environment. Unlike IVR systems, DTMF masking solutions allow agents to remain in full voice communication with the customer, assisting with any issues, completing wrap-up tasks, and providing a better overall customer experience.

With these survey results in mind, think about how your agents collect customer PII, as well as how your contact center stores this sensitive information. In a time when a single data breach can cost more than $3.6 million and jeopardize your reputation and customers’ trust, there is no room for taking risks. The bottom line is to explore technologies that replace outdated data capture practices and remove as much PII as possible from your infrastructures.

No one can hack the data you don’t hold.

Tim Critchley has been the CEO of Semafone since 2009 and has led the company from a UK start-up to an international business spanning five continents. Under his leadership the company has secured global partnerships and won clients across a range of industry sectors, including major brands such as AXA, BT, Capita, Harley-Davidson, Next, Rogers Communications, Santander, and Sky. Prior to joining Semafone, Tim was COO at Knowledgepool Group

The Call Center Can Save Healthcare



With a shortage of practitioners and a downward push on costs, the call center is poised to come to the rescue

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

The Call Center Can Save HealthcareIt’s a bold statement to claim that call centers are the future solution to healthcare’s present problems. But it’s what I believe. And more and more people in the healthcare industry are believing it every day too. Here’s why:

Contain Costs

The healthcare industry is under extreme pressure to hold costs down. One way to do this is to outsource calls to professional communicators at healthcare call centers. Let healthcare practitioners and staff do what they do best, and let call centers handle their calls for them. It saves money and frees healthcare staff to focus on patients and providing care.

Counter Staff Shortages

We currently have a shortage of doctors, and projections indicate the shortage will increase. Also, some geographic areas suffer from a shortage of nurses, and no one expects this to get better either. Given these shortages of key personnel, it makes sense to keep them off the phones and outsource as much telephone work as possible to healthcare call centers, with agents who can do the work faster and more economically.The medical answering service makes medical practices, clinics, and hospitals available to patients around-the-clock, 24/7. Click To Tweet

Increase Availability

The medical answering service has long been a cost-effective way to extend patient availability past normal office hours. It makes medical practices, clinics, and hospitals available to patients around-the-clock, 24/7. More recently, telephone triage operations have also made healthcare support available by telephone anytime of the day or night. Though this isn’t currently available to all people in all places, it will change. It must.

Retain Patients

Patients increasingly have a consumer mind-set when it comes to healthcare. Loyalty to their providers is no longer as strong as it once was. They’ll switch caregivers over the smallest of slights, which often occurs when they can’t get the assistance they want, when they want it. That’s why 24/7 phone coverage is essential to retain patients in today’s marketplace. The healthcare call center is primed to accomplish this.

Serve More People

Telehealth is another exciting healthcare development in the call center industry. With telehealth—of which telephone triage serves as the entry point—remote populations can now receive cost-effective service. No longer will people in rural areas need to drive long distances to access the healthcare system. Instead they’ll start with their phone. And if they have a smartphone, they can do a video chat, which aids remotely located practitioners in making more informed recommendations.

Let Specialists Specialize

In medicine we have many types of specialists. These highly trained individuals focus on one area, which allows them to serve a niche market better and faster than a general practitioner. Let’s expand this thought to the healthcare call center. The healthcare call center stands as the communication specialist for the healthcare industry. Just as there are benefits of going with a medical specialist, so too there are benefits of going with a healthcare communications specialist.

Conclusion

These exciting opportunities and the compelling outcomes they can provide show us how important healthcare call centers are to the healthcare industry. This applies both now and in the future. And while the demand for these healthcare call center specialists is great now, it will be even greater in the future.

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.

Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery: Hope for the Best, but Prepare for the Worst



By Michael Dozier

Disaster can strike your business at any time and in a variety of ways. Once an effective, well-designed, and professionally managed telephony disaster recovery plan is in place, you can rest secure in the knowledge that fire, flood, power outage, natural disasters, or other problems don’t mean a change in your business’s fortune.

Statistics about Disaster Recovery:

  • There were 102 disaster recovery declarations by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) in 2016 and 136 in 2017. An even larger number of security, technology, network, and telecommunications outages and disruptions occur annually.
  • A Gartner study states, “Two out of every five companies struck with a major disaster are unable to recover. Of the survivors, one-third goes out of business within the next two years.”
  • Twenty percent of businesses experience an emergency failure in any given year, and 80 percent of those businesses will go under in just over a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Nearly 40 percent of small businesses close after a disaster, according to FEMA.
  • Only 25 percent of businesses that close due to a major disaster ever reopen, according to the Institute for Business & Home Safety.

Technologies and Mitigating Strategies:

In such circumstances, what technologies are available to businesses that might be used to keep telephony up and running 24/7? Start with session initiation protocol (SIP). SIP trunking offers high flexibility in the event of a disaster and has the capability to provide disaster recovery options for your business telephony. Most service providers offer:

  • Automatic Failover: In the event the primary T-1 or internet connection fails, calls automatically switch to a secondary, tertiary, or 4G LTE connections.
  • Automated Distribution and Rerouting of Calls: If your location fails to receive calls, calls are automatically rerouted between geographically diverse sites, to a designated off-site number, or another call center. This allows you to maintain receipt of inbound calls in the event of a power, system, or circuit failure.

Next look at disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS). Voice over IP (VoIP) needs to be at the core of any well-planned communications recovery strategy and should be used to bolster disaster recovery plans. Call centers with VoIP can expect a high availability in the event their system (either premise-based or hosted) fails or they lose connectivity to their system. Some key attributes of a failover, cloud-based backup system are:

  • Calls are automatically delivered directly to operator desktops via softphones.
  • Calling party ID and customer name or account number are delivered to the operator.
  • A cloud-based IVR provides multiple call queues, skills-based routing, and redirect of calls at the DID level.

The best line of defense in the event you lose the ability to work from your existing location due to fire, storm, power outage, or another disaster is a hot standby emergency system for remote continuity. Send employees home or to locations with internet access to work with a computer softphone and headset. You may be able to resume critical functions in minutes at a temporary location. The same key attributes of a failover, cloud-based backup system are available.A true business continuity telephony solution needs to be able to handle any kind of problem, no matter how big or small. Click To Tweet

Finally, realize that communication continuity also depends on redundancy in the business continuity and disaster recovery provider’s infrastructure. Here are some criteria to consider:

  • Does the provider utilize redundant, geographically diverse data centers?
  • Are these data centers Tier 3 high-availability data centers or Tier 1 and Tier 2? Organizations selecting Tier 1 and Tier 2 solutions typically do not depend on real-time delivery of products or services for a significant part of their revenue stream.
  • Tier 3 data center services providers depend on colocation services for the critical lifeline of their business. Rigorous uptime requirements and long-term viability are usually the reasons for selecting strategic solutions found in Tier 3 and Tier 4 site infrastructure.
  • Is SIP trunk redundancy available? Insure connectivity of each SIP trunk to geographically diverse data centers, so if there is a data center issue, carrier issue, or other problem, the other takes over for all trunks and DIDs.
  • Is toll-free number redundancy available? In the event of a major failure at one carrier, all toll-free numbers are activated on a secondary carrier.
  • Do they provision DIDs to multiple carriers to terminate traffic? In the event of a major failure at one carrier, not all DIDs are out of service.
  • Does each of their data centers have connectivity to multiple national networks? If there is a problem with quality or service issues with one network, calls are routed to another.

A true business continuity telephony solution needs to be able to handle any kind of problem, no matter how big or small. Whatever disaster recovery methods for telephony a company uses, the effectiveness of the whole recovery plan will have a massive impact on how well a company deals with the disaster.

Create a Telecommunications Disaster Recovery Plan:

  • You need a serious plan if your regular communication method fails. Consider how your employees will react to the change in communication as well. Both customers and employees are key to your business running smoothly. Take both into consideration as you develop your plan.
  • Create a well-written document regarding how your telecommunications systems operate. Include important information like failover specifications and remote capabilities. Some issues can be resolved remotely with the proper plan in place. Be sure to document any critical operation functions and any service level agreements associated with them. Include the technical support reporting processes and escalation processes and contact information for all critical providers.
  • Identify the potential crisis that may affect your business telecommunications systems and create well-defined procedures to handle each crisis. Make sure various departments within your organization review the procedures, and make adjustments and addendums as necessary. Be sure to plan for the transition for resumption of service. Lastly, create roles and responsibilities for employees overseeing business continuity and recovery efforts. Does staff know where they should work from in the event of a disaster recovery plan being implemented?
  • The best way to ensure that your disaster recovery plan is effective is to implement a test.

Establish, develop, and manage strategies, plans, policies, and procedures to protect your people, facilities, and supporting technology in case of a disaster. Make sure your organization is prepared for the worst.

Michael Dozier is president and CEO of Pulsar360, Inc., a leading provider of SIP services and disaster recovery solutions for call centers.

Why Telemarketing Programs Fail, Part Two



By Kathy Sisk

In the last issue we discussed the key reasons telemarketing programs fail. Now let’s look at some vital aspects of setting up and managing a campaign.

Expectations

Having unrealistic expectations can cause agents to become unmotivated and produce poorer results. Having unrealistic expectations causes staff to handle the campaign in a state of “crisis management.”  

A Project Management Guide (PMG) outlines expectations for the campaign; it’s the responsibility of those assigned to carry out the PMG to meet those expectations. Expectations should be tested and defined to address all variables. The PMG also needs a “what if” section so if something doesn’t go as planned, alternatives are provided to correct mistakes and adjust expectations. This increases the internal and external communication between the client, the project management team, and the assigned center.

Database

For outbound campaigns, the database is critical for success. The database must be fresh and pre-scrubbed. The demographics should closely match the ideal customer the client seeks. A list that is outdated, poorly targeted, overworked, or not scrubbed will eat up calling hours, yield inferior results, and frustrate agents, along with everyone else who is part of the campaign.Having unrealistic expectations causes staff to handle the campaign in a state of 'crisis management.' Click To Tweet

This is where the disposition of calls is crucial. The agent must have a clear understanding of the target prospect to identify how to best disposition each call and identify a bad lead. If there are too many bad leads, the list may need replacing.

Reporting

The project manager will assist the client in assessing the profile of an ideal list. Once identified, the reporting of the dispositions from the list is defined. This allows agents to report more accurate results. This helps everyone determine the quality of the list for outbound campaigns, quality of the marketing efforts for inbound campaigns, the effectiveness of the assigned agents, and a determination of the overall results. The per call results enables the assigned task team (such as floor supervisors, shift supervisors, quality assurance department, and project managers) to assess the results of the campaign and make appropriate changes to enhance the overall results.

Next time we’ll discuss how to properly assess and prepare agents for training.

Kathy Sisk Enterprises Inc. has forty years of experience providing call center set-up, reengineering, assessments, training, script development, and project management services to centers globally.

Three Options for Setting up a Nurse Advice Line

By Charu Raheja, PhD



Managing patient calls effectively is critical to ensure high-quality, well-coordinated care for every patient. Make sure the people answering your phones triage patients efficiently and effectively. Establish a consistent nurse triage system to improve the way you manage patient calls, improve patient satisfaction, and decrease unnecessary medical expenses. Triage nurses can direct patients to the appropriate care for their symptoms and give patients peace of mind by addressing their concerns.

The benefits of nurse triage are better patient access, coordinated care, and cost savings. In addition, nurse triage gives patients better access to providers even if they aren’t seeking emergency care. This improves patient satisfaction, prevents future complications, and allows providers to educate patients.

With technology advances, several cost-effective opportunities are available to provide nurse triage services. Here are three key options to set up a nurse advice line:Each patient encounter starts with a phone call. Make sure your nurse triage service,is a seamless experience for your patients. Click To Tweet

1. Do It Yourself: Start Your Own Call Center

Opening your own call center involves setting up the call center infrastructure. The requirements depend on the scale and number of calls received. For daytime calls, many practices choose to have their own staff nurses take calls using daytime triage protocols.

These protocols are available in book form or in electronic format. For night calls, the requirements include hiring an experienced call center manager, purchasing triage software for nighttime protocols, and hiring clinical and nonclinical staff to handle patient calls.

Pro: Having your own system gives your staff the flexibility to perform multiple tasks in addition to triage, such as physician referrals, scheduling, disease management, class registration, and surveys.

Con: Setting up a call center requires a high investment. It is labor intensive for the nursing department, and it requires human resources and IT involvement. Moreover, there are significant differences in terms of hardware requirements and capabilities with various software programs, so it’s important to do your research and speak with a variety of vendors. This is a long-term project with a slow return on investment.

The organizations most likely to succeed with this approach are larger facilities with high call volumes who expect to handle over 50,000 triage calls a year. These companies are ideal because they likely already have some call center infrastructure in place and just need to add to it. The high call volume also allows the center to use nurses’ time efficiently.

2. Outsource to a Nurse Triage Center

If setting up your own call center seems daunting, you could use an outside vendor for nurse triage calls.

Pro: This option has a low start-up cost. You don’t need to train triage nurses. And there’s no human resources or IT component. Since the vendor is already taking calls, start-up is quick, and there’s an immediate return on investment. In addition, vendors may have more expertise in the niche area of triage, resulting in better care for patients.

Con: When outsourcing patient calls, you have less direct control over the nurses. Also, some nurse triage vendors can’t integrate with electronic medical records (EMR).

For the best outcome, be careful when interviewing vendors and make sure you’re comfortable with them. Be aware that costs vary depending on the vendor. While you “get what you pay for,” you get less from some than others. Assuming you’ve done your homework, outsourcing is a good option for small- to medium-size practices.

3. Use a Combination of In-House and Outsourced Services

In this model a healthcare organization uses its own nurse triage software and nurses during high call volumes and outsources the triage to a service during low call volumes. Call center technology, integration engines, and communication platforms can accomplish this seamlessly.

Pro: A combined model can expand services and decrease costs. Most triage centers lose money when the call volume is low because nurses sit idle waiting for phone calls. By outsourcing calls during low traffic times, the call center can provide service at a reduced cost.

Your organization can continue to provide the same level or increased levels of service and at the same time decrease operating costs. This also allows organizations to keep their current infrastructure and resources.

Con: Just as with the previous option, it’s critical to find the right partner who has the technology and service-level knowledge to implement a combined model. If their system doesn’t align with yours, an interruption in patient care will result.

This option works best for organizations that have some existing nurse triage infrastructure. Again, it’s crucial to select your call center partner carefully. Discuss your software and services with your partner before making a commitment.

Each patient encounter starts with a phone call. Make sure your nurse triage service, whether in-house, outsourced, or a combination, is a seamless experience for your patients.

It’s important to explore options for managing patient calls to find the solution and product that aligns with your needs.

Charu Raheja, PhD, is the CEO of TriageLogic, a leading provider of quality, affordable triage solutions, including after-hours medical call center software, daytime triage protocol software, and nurse triage on call.