Category Archives: Articles

Welcome to Connections Magazine 3.0

Read Connections Magazine Anywhere You Have Internet Access

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter Lyle DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections Magazine

As announced last year, the January 2021 issue of Connections Magazine marks an exciting turning point for us. Following a long-standing industry trend, Connections Magazine is now exclusively an online e-publication. We’ve gone all digital.

This means you can access all our content—articles, industry news, vendor intelligence, and association information—anytime, anywhere you have internet access. Read Connections on your computer, laptop, smart phone, tablet, or any other internet-connected device.

To get you started, here are some links to key sections on our website:

We’ve already successfully navigated this transition with our sister publication, AnswerStat, in becoming an e-publication in 2016. Since that time, AnswerStat has continued its mission of being the information hub for the healthcare contact center industry.

We now seek to build upon this history of accomplishment with Connections Magazine.

Advertiser Supported and Free to You

Throughout our 28-year history, Connections Magazine has been an advertiser supported publication. What’s this mean? Quite simply that our sponsors and advertisers provide the funds to produce each issue.

Thanks to them, you’ve always been able to read Connections Magazine for free and will be able to continue to do so. 

We will have no paid subscriptions, and we won’t hide the information you need behind a paywall. It’s readily available for you and all the industry to read. 

Every vendor and association listed on this website helps make Connections Magazine possible. Key among these are our valued sponsors:

Our other advertisers include TASbiller, CenturiSoft, Call Centre Hosting, Alliant, and Quality Contact Solutions

Please join me in thanking each one of them for doing their part to maintain Connections Magazine as a valued industry resource and to serve the call center industry.

A Milestone

Besides my excitement over transitioning Connections Magazine to a 100 percent e-publication, this year will see another landmark moment for me.

In August, I will have completed twenty years at the helm of this publication and as president of Peter DeHaan Publishing, Inc. It’s been a fun and invigorating, albeit at times challenging, adventure. I look forward to many more years of providing you with valuable, actionable, and helpful industry information.

In addition to Connections Magazine, I also produce TAS Trader for the telephone answering service industry and AnswerStat and Medical call Center News for healthcare call centers. These are also advertiser-supported publications, made free to readers.

A New Year

I can’t conclude this column without noting the passage of another year. Last year was indeed challenging for everyone. Lockdowns, restricted mobility, and social distancing shoved our world into an unprecedented time of confusion and perplexing thoughts.

The call center industry, however, found itself well-positioned to provide essential and safe communication between businesses and their customers. I’m proud to be part of such a resilient and indispensable industry that did much to help us navigate what last year threw at us.

Though turning the calendar to a new year does not return us to business as normal, it marks the opportunity to move forward and embrace a new future with new opportunities. I am confident that the call center industry will help our world successfully embrace what lies before us.

And Connections Magazine will be there every step of the way.

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.  Read more of his articles at PeterDeHaanPublishing.com.

Telesales Best Practices: Three Tips to Improve Telesales Training

By Angela Garfinkel

When it comes to telesales best practices, evaluating your training program is typically at the top of the to-do list. Telesales training can be painful, both for the trainees and for the trainer. Why is this? Primarily because the training is typically not that effective. 

Here are three ideas that will immediately improve your telesales training.

1. Intersperse Classroom Training with Hands-On Practice

Telesales training should not be jammed into a condensed schedule, racing from one module to the next. Telesales training is best conducted with a thoughtful blend of classroom training and hands-on experience. When it comes to telesales best practices, I’m an advocate for training 20 percent of the product knowledge and then giving the team some practice with some low value leads. People will not successfully retain all the product knowledge, market positioning, and benefits of your product or service when they don’t get a chance to practice and use what they have learned. 

Ideally, training follows a schedule like this:

  • Day 1: Classroom training on the first 20 percent of the training curriculum.
  • Day 2: Practice with live leads. Pair trainers to cut down on burning through your list with unskilled sales presentations. One sales rep does the talking, and the other sales rep does the call guide navigation and data entry.
  • Day 3: Classroom training on the next 20 percent of the training curriculum.
  • Day 4: Practice with live leads and set some realistic stair-step goals to master and implement the first 40 percent of the information trained.
  • Day 5: Classroom training for half the day with the next 20 percent of the training curriculum. Then spend the second half of the day with live calls.
  • Day 6: Classroom training for half the day with the next 20 percent of the training curriculum. Then spend the second half of the day with live calls.
  • Day 7: Classroom training for half the day with the final 20 percent of the training curriculum and tying it all together.
  • Day 8: Graduation from training.

2. Implement a Training Graduation Bonus

Pay a reward after finishing training and completing a skills assessment certification. This is particularly important if the team is comprised of new hires. Telesales representatives are motivated by money. Pay them a smaller hourly wage for training hours and then offer a bonus for successful completion of training. This includes perfect attendance and skills assessments tests. 

By pairing the training compensation to an end goal—as opposed to just a flat compensation for their hours—the telesales team members will be motivated to attend all training sessions and prepare for the required certifications. This will also cut down on the people that say, “I’ll try this job, and if it doesn’t work out, I don’t have anything to lose.” 

When it comes to telesales best practices, you want people to opt-in for the opportunity to have a high chance of earning the bonus. I recommend the bonus should be 30 to 50 percent of the minimum hourly rate you pay for a training class hour.

3. Integrate the “Why” into the Training

Why do we say the things we say? What is the psychology behind the words? How does the product or service make the world a better place? What is the potential customer missing out on by saying “no” to our call? 

As a telesales best practice, I recommend that you do the deep work to identify the “why” in your training curriculum. Start with answering these questions.

  • Why does the client and product exist?
  • Why do we pitch the product/solution the way we do?
  • Why does this product or service matter?
  • Why should a prospect take our call and listen to us?
  • Why should a gatekeeper provide us with access to the decision-maker?

Put these three training tips into practice to produce better telesales results.

Angela Garfinkel is the president and founder of Quality Contact Solutions, a leading outsourced telemarketing services organization. She leads a talented team that runs thousands of outbound telemarketing program hours daily. Angela can be reached at angela.garfinkel@qualitycontactsolutions.com or 516-656-5118.

Improve Hiring Results with Blind Auditions

By Donna West

Anyone who has ever seen The Voice knows blind auditions are often surprising. The audience knows that the very big voice is coming out of that very tiny girl, but the experts don’t. The guy with the shaggy looks might have the voice of an angel. The blind audition wipes out all prejudices and concentrates on what is important—in this case, the voice.

Dismissing Qualified Candidates 

In all areas of life and work we form opinions about the people we meet as soon as we see them. This occurs before they ever open their mouths. We often miss many excellent job candidates because their appearance sets them up for failure. Their clothes might be untidy or inappropriate. They may need a haircut or wear dreadlocks. Or they have piercings that give the interviewer a bad impression. 

We’re programmed by our own backgrounds and experiences to reject as unworthy some of the styles that others embrace. And it is certainly the prerogative of every employer to choose the culture they want in their business. 

That said, do we unintentionally disregard candidates who are eminently qualified to work in our answering services and contact centers? A friend will not hire anyone who has visible tattoos. Another person abbreviates interviews they consider a waste of time because the applicant is wearing jeans and deemed “not serious” about work. A nervous interviewee may not make eye contact and we disqualify them.

A Shrinking Labor Market

In a world where job candidates are dwindling, despite (or perhaps because of) unemployment, many businesses may stand to improve hiring processes by implementing blind auditions. The jobs offered by an answering service can be perfect for people whom society deems a misfit for whatever social reason. 

We can find the skills we need in people who choose video games as their passion, who wear neon nail polish—a different color on each finger—prefer green hair, or who have gauges in their ears and tattoos up their necks. 

Our industry can offer remote work to people who are afraid to leave their homes or can’t sit for hours at a time as in a typical office job. We can offer split shifts and uncommon schedules. We should let our agents’ compassion, their understanding, and their voices drive our hiring decisions. We should listen and judge our candidates’ attributes by how they could benefit our callers’ needs. 

If we strive to hire people who are computer literate and caring, the guy who tries to eke out a living by streaming live on YouTube might be the perfect candidate. Or the soldier with mild PTSD. Or the mom with kids at home who still needs an income. Our jobs are comparable to waitressing for an actress. Ours is the perfect reality job for those who are trying to live the dream or waking up from the nightmare.

If we seek employee longevity, let’s regularly seek nontraditional applicants who might offer a symbiotic relationship: someone sweet-natured who knows their way around a keyboard. Someone who appreciates the opportunity to work from home and live their life according to their own vision. 

Donna West is president of Focus Answering Service, which she founded in 1987. She began her second company, Business Calls, Inc., specializing in education and communication for the TAS industry two decades ago. She is a pioneer and thought leader, an award-winning speaker, writer, and educator within the telecommunications service arena. 

2020 Contact Center Retrospective

By Donna Fluss

What an amazing year 2020 was. We’ve never seen anything like it and hope we won’t again. Despite all the challenges, a lot of good things happened, including in the world of contact center. Here are six positive mega trends that emerged during the dark hours of the pandemic. All these developments are here to stay and will continue to play a key role in contact centers for the near future:

1. Work-from Home

When the pandemic hit country after country, many companies were ordered by their governments to close their offices. Contact centers were some of the most successful in getting their employees home and back to work. Contact centers all over the world, those with anywhere from ten to thousands of agents, demonstrated their flexibility and agility, along with the amazing commitment of their employees by being there for their customers.

2. Shift from Traditional Retail to Ecommerce

The world has gone virtual. Anything that can be done virtually, including things most people thought highly unlikely, like doctor’s appointments, has moved to the web or video. The need to socially distance has driven people and organizations to be highly creative as they figured out how to make the best out of demanding situations. 

Retail organizations have taken a major hit. Many retailers, particularly those that could not respond quickly enough to the increasingly virtual world, have gone bankrupt. Store traffic is down and unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels for years. The transition to the web is not unexpected, but the demise of many of the traditional retailers was accelerated by the pandemic. 

3. Digital Transformation

After years of talking about digital transformations, companies are being forced to do what they should have done years ago. They are building out digital channels to address the needs of their customers. Though consumers are expressing an increasing preference for interacting in these channels, voice calls are not going away. However, they are increasingly viewed as the channel of last resort. Digital transformations are proving highly beneficial for customers, companies, and their employees. 

4. Artificial Intelligence-based Self-Service Capabilities

Self-service has become the channel of choice for customers in many countries, as surprising as it seems. Customers increasingly prefer to interact with effective self-service solutions that allow them to take care of their business without the assistance of live agents. 

Artificial intelligence (AI)-based conversational systems are automating and speeding up the handling of all kinds of interactions. The key to success, however, remains being able to connect with a live agent, when necessary. 

5. Automation Solutions

Intelligent virtual agents (IVAs), virtual agents (VAs), robotic process automation (RPA), and workflow have emerged as essential enablers for enterprises. These solutions automate activities and tasks that do not require the cognitive capabilities or decision-making intelligence of live employees. These concepts have been around for years, but what is new is the ease with which they can be applied to all types of business challenges. 

These solutions allow companies and government agencies to reduce dependence on outsourcers by eliminating the human element in low-value tasks previously handled by mostly low-wage workers. The benefits for enterprises are clear, as is the opportunity that these solutions are creating for much higher-level employment opportunities. 

6. Analytics-Enabled Quality Management

After over fifty years of performing quality management (QM) the same way, which was highly people-intensive, even when supported by an application, AI-enabled speech analytics is now able to automate and greatly improve the process. Analytics-Enabled Quality Management (AQM) solutions are game changers for companies. They can now “listen” to 100 percent of their voice and digital interactions to gain an understanding of why people contact them and see which of their automated and live agents are doing a good job in handling the interactions and where changes are needed. 

AQM also reduces dependence on manual QM processes, which have not been effective for the last five-plus years because companies could not afford to properly staff this function as contact volumes increased. AQM was important before the pandemic forced employees’ home to work, and it has become mission-critical for contact center employees and other functions since then. 

Bottom Line

The pandemic has changed the world as we know it, but many of these changes are good and will have positive and lasting benefits for society, companies, customers, and employees. AI and automation are the common themes in these six megatrends. 

The pandemic accelerated their rollout but not their viability. The companies that are going to come out of the pandemic well-positioned to succeed in whatever the new normal looks like are those that are taking the actions needed to move thoughtfully into the digital future.

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 AI-Powered Technologies Can Help Reduce Contact Center Agent Burnout

By Seb Reeve

The global pandemic has put more pressure than ever on every one of us. Healthcare workers face untold challenges in treating patients, and not just those who become sick with COVID-19. Grocery store, delivery, and restaurant workers, now rightfully seen as the essential workers they are, must overcome their own fears and risks as they continue to work through a crisis. Contact center and office workers now work from home, trying to balance the demands of their careers with the demands of their families, many of whom are now schooling from home too. 

And as more consumers shift their typically in-person interactions into more virtual and online spaces, the changes have likewise put more pressure on contact center agents to respond to a rising number of calls in an uncertain environment. Working in these high-stress environments—in combination with longer working hours—means many agents are at risk for burnout.

Burnout Basics

Burnout, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a “special type of work-related stress,” marked by physical and emotional exhaustion, a sense of reduced accomplishment, reduced productivity and effectiveness on the job, and even dramatic consequences for overall health and wellbeing. 

From a business perspective, agent burnout often leads to turnover, which is extraordinarily expensive, often about 20 percent of the employee’s salary. In an industry with turnover ranging from 30-45 percent, preventing burnout is not simply good for people, it’s good for business.

Preventing burnout is incumbent on all of us. It can start with small, people-first strategies, such as encouraging teams to disconnect and recharge, as improving communication and feedback, and managing workloads to ensure they’re within appropriate boundaries. 

Investing in technology platforms can go a long way toward supporting agents and helping to prevent burnout. Providing the tools and technologies that help everyone do their job better will not only optimize employee workloads, but it can also alleviate the stressors that contribute to burnout. It’s also worth considering which technology platforms no longer serve agents or the organizational vision, and instead add unnecessarily to agent workflows on a day-to-day basis.

Technologies That Alleviate Burnout Stressors

Today’s contact centers can choose from a range of technologies that help agents do their jobs better and more efficiently. For example, artificial-intelligence-powered solutions such as virtual assistants can shorten call handling times by engaging a broader audience and answering repetitive questions. With a digital, automated interface, the virtual assistant can engage callers in natural conversation—either via voice or text—to respond to requests and answer questions with personalized responses in a self-service environment. When a live agent is needed, the virtual assistant uses skills-based routing to deliver the caller to the best agent to handle their issue.

Enabling the virtual assistant not only delivers prompt, live assistance to customers, it frees agents to handle the more complex, high-value calls that matter most and are most meaningful.

Similarly, automated customer service messaging platforms can help engage customers, providing immediate answers to their inquiries, again while alleviating the burden on live contact center agents. Proactive notifications built into these platforms can deflect the number of inbound calls to a call center, which has the added benefit of supporting customer service efforts. 

Preventing Burnout

AI-powered technologies also provide the analytics and reporting to improve live engagements and deliver frustration-free customer experiences. Analyzing 100 percent of call center customer interactions provides visibility into trends, outliers, and opportunities to build, train, and coach a high-performing contact center team—one that’s free from many of the stressors that can contribute to burnout. 

Beyond supporting agents with AI-powered technologies and tools that can reduce burnout, these solutions can contribute to a healthier bottom line—from improved customer service and digital experiences to reduced employee turnover. 

Seb Reeve is the Market Development VP at Nuance Communications.

Introducing Connections Magazine 3.0

Discover What’s Next for Connections Magazine

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter Lyle DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections Magazine

Over its twenty-eight-year history, Connections Magazine has seen many industry changes, with technological innovation leading the way. For industry veterans, recall what your call center looked like three decades ago. It was a vastly different operation from what you have today. We’ve also seen changes on the legislative and legal fronts, as well as heightened expectations from callers. Our workforce has changed too. We’re now much more diverse. With each iteration, we’ve adjusted and adapted to continue to provide critical telephone and related communication services to callers.

During this time, Connections Magazine has gone through many iterations, too, to reflect the needs of our readers and our vendors who make this publication possible. 

Version 1.0

Connections was launched in July 1993 by Steve and Chris Michaels for the “telecom service provider industry.” Published quarterly, Connections was printed on newsprint stock using black ink, with spot color on selected pages. This was Connections Magazine 1.0.

Version 2.0

In September 2001 I took over the reins of Connections Magazine. With the 9/11 attacks in the United States preoccupying my thoughts, I wondered what I had gotten myself into and what the future would look like. Would there even be a need for Connections? Indeed, there would be. Just as the country prevailed and the call center industry expanded, Connections Magazine was there every step of the way.

We increased circulation to six times a year, switched to magazine stock, and went to color on every page. At its zenith, we published Connections Magazine ten times a year, before settling back down to six. As an advertiser-supported magazine, the vendors who promote their services and products on these pages make this publication possible for you, our readers, to enjoy at no cost.

Version 3.0

The year 2020 is a time to remember—or to forget. Our world has gone through unprecedented change, impacting our economy, our jobs, and how we live our lives. Without a road map to guide us, we’re left to blaze our own trail. Since I have been working at home for two decades, my practices and my workflows have remained unchanged this year. But most people have not been so fortunate, needing to make significant adjustments to how they live and how they work.

Connections Magazine has also been impacted in the past year. As valued sponsors of the magazine, Map Communications, Startel, and Amtelco—our key supporters—have been loyal to us without hesitation. They, along with our other advertisers, have allowed us to continue to produce the magazine. Despite this, we’re in a situation where our costs exceed our revenue. It’s time for change. It’s time for Connections Magazine 3.0. But this isn’t the end. It’s a new beginning.

I’m pleased to announce that starting in 2021, Connections Magazine will go online and become an e-publication. Though we’ve been both a print and e-magazine for several years, we’ll now make the switch—like most other publications—and go all digital.

You will be able to read all the content of each issue online as always. We won’t put information behind a paywall and charge you a fee to access it. It’ll be there for free, like always.

We’ll also email you when each of our six annual issues become available. If you want to receive these bimonthly notices, make sure we have your email address. Just go to connectionsmagazine.com/subscribe, enter four pieces of information, and click subscribe. It’s that easy and will only take seconds.

As we look forward to the future of our work and our industry, Connections Magazine will move forward as well. 

Here’s to a great 2021!

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.  Read more of his articles at PeterDeHaanPublishing.com.

Encryption 101: The Past, Present, and Future of Data Security

Startel delivers best-in-call contact center solutions

By Matt Bogan

You’re aware of the need for data encryption. However, you may not have a clear picture of how it works.

Cryptography—the study of secure communications—is a complex field of science, intersecting a wide range of disciplines and constantly evolving. Cryptography predates computers, with roots reaching back to ancient Greece and Egypt. It’s believed that Julius Caesar sent secure messages to his most trusted staff by replacing each letter of the alphabet with the letter three places after it: A became D, B became E, and so forth. This method of data encryption is sometimes called a Caesar cipher. By the ninth century, mathematicians applied statistical analysis to defeat simple substitution ciphers such as the Caesar cipher. Thus we have perhaps the first historical instance of an encryption algorithm being cracked.

As long as we’ve needed to encode information, there have been others wanting to decode it for nefarious reasons. In WWII, Allied cryptanalysts working to crack encrypted Axis communications are widely credited with shortening the war by months or even years. 

Today, computer scientists called “white-hat hackers” work to defeat existing encryption protocols to identify weaknesses before they can be exploited. The complexity of encryption algorithms and the protocols that implement them have increased dramatically. Despite that, having an uncrackable encryption remains hypothetical. 

Instead, data security aims for a moving target: difficult enough to crack with present technology that it’s astronomically unlikely anyone would be able to. Yet available computing power continues to increase, turning unlikely into likely. A protocol that today would be considered too complex for even a supercomputer to crack in any reasonable amount of time may be trivial to defeat on consumer-grade hardware in a handful of years. 

DES (Data Encryption Standard), a protocol developed by IBM and implemented by government agencies and militaries around the world as recently as the early 1990s, was cracked in less than a day in 1999 by a cluster of thousands of computers working together. By 2016, it was cracked by a single computer using off-the-shelf components, and today, using advanced cryptographic attack methods, DES can be defeated in under a minute with hardware you can pick up at your favorite big-box store. Like their ninth-century counterparts using mathematics to peer behind the curtain of simple substitution ciphers, modern cryptanalysts apply the latest technological advances to accomplish what was previously impossible.

If everyone’s motive in defeating encryption was altruism, this discussion might be academic, but this is not the case. Far from the image of loosely affiliated teenage malcontents portrayed in popular media, hacking in the twenty-first century is big business. With backing from organized crime syndicates and foreign governments, the goals are a lot more sinister than causing a little digital mischief. Your data is a battlefield, and encryption is the arms race. 

The cryptographically secure lifespan of a common algorithm known as MD5 was roughly a decade, and the SHA-1 algorithm fared only slightly better. Concerns over vulnerability have contributed to tech giants like Apple, Google, and Microsoft deprecating protocols based on them. The 1.0 and 1.1 versions of TLS (Transport Layer Security) have recently joined Caesar ciphers and DES in the boneyard of obsolete cryptography. These methods once seemed functionally impenetrable, but with subsequent technological advancements, they now offer only moderate inconvenience to a well-resourced attacker. 

With the successors already being subjected to the scrutiny of security professionals on both sides of the battle, we can be sure more encryption methods will eventually join them. With the target of “safe enough” advancing, as businesspeople, solution providers, and individual consumers, it’s critical to ensure we keep pace.

Ask your vendors what they’re doing to stay current with the latest data encryption advancements. Remember that not all encryption is equal. Older products relying on encryption methods that were state-of-the-art when they were originally developed are unlikely to offer much protection against an attack today. 

When assessing products to sell to your clients or use in your own business, keep in mind that marketing terms such as secure and compliant are only as meaningful as the person or organization making that claim. Savvy consumers should look for products that have been audited by independent security experts. And once you have purchased a solution, make sure you keep it current with vendor-recommended updates. It’s the only way to be certain your data will be as safe tomorrow as it is today.

Startel

Matt Bogan is the product manager for Startel, a leading provider of best-in-class contact center solutions. He has been involved in the contact center industry for over fifteen years. Startel’s upcoming CMC 16.0 release incorporates the latest in encryption technology.

How Can Your Contact Center Help the Homelessness in America?

By Traci Haynes

Homelessness in America occurs in every state and has many causes. According to the January 2017 Point-in-Time (PIT) count by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the most recent national estimate of homelessness in the United States identified 553,742 people experiencing homelessness. The PIT count is a count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night in January. Like all surveys, the PIT count has limitations. Results are influenced by the weather, availability of overflow shelter beds, the quality of the volunteers, and the level of engagement of the people being interviewed. 

Most of this population lives in some form of shelter or transitional housing. However, approximately 35 percent live in places not meant for human habitation. The nature of homelessness makes it difficult to quantify the true size of the homeless population, not to mention the PIT methodology (although generally acknowledged to be the most accurate way to establish valid trend data). It is challenging to calculate the exact number of individuals who are homeless, because many live in hidden areas in parks, vehicles, or abandoned houses, and because numbers fluctuate based on weather.

Health Problems Faced by the Homeless

Homeless individuals are at a relatively high risk for a range of acute and chronic physical and mental illnesses. Some health problems precede and may contribute to homelessness, while others are often a consequence of being homeless. And homelessness complicates the treatment of many illnesses. 

One example of a health problem that can cause homelessness is a major mental illness, such as schizophrenia. Without therapeutic interventions and supportive housing arrangements, such an individual may become homeless. 

Another example is an accidental injury, including job-related injuries. Even with benefits under employer programs, these individuals may experience major economic costs leading to loss of housing.

Diseases of the extremities, skin disorders, malnutrition, degenerative joint diseases, dental and periodontal disease, communicable diseases, and the possibility of trauma are other health problems that may result from, or frequently occur in, the homeless population. Medical care and treatment for acute or chronic illness can be extremely difficult. 

Bed rest may be nonexistent for a homeless individual who has no bed or only has a bed in a shelter at night. Special diets and medication adherence are impossible to maintain for a person who is homeless.

Contact centers have long been known for assisting their organizations in offering triage, coaching, remote patient monitoring, and care management for an identified population. Some contact centers have also assisted other community agencies or services in filling a need or gap. 

Triage Call Centers Can Help Address Health Concerns of the Homeless

So, we all know homelessness exists, and it is a tremendous problem, but what does that have to do with triage call centers?

A community triage contact center at EvergreenHealth in Kirkland, Washington, implemented a program around 2000, in which they began to offer low-level acuity triage for their regional 911 dispatch centers. The dispatchers would go through their algorithms with the caller, and once they ruled out any emergent or urgent issue, the caller was offered the option of speaking with a nurse. If the caller preferred, she or he could be connected with an appropriate unit or the individual could be transported to the Emergency Department (ED). This program proved a tremendous success in both caller/patient satisfaction and dollars saved.

A study was published in 2015 for a comparable 911 program in two cities with similar outcomes. MedStar in Fort Worth, Texas, provided nine months of 911 call data, and LMEMS in Louisville, Kentucky, provided thirty-four months of 911 data. The study reported that the 911 program had a significant reduction in callers routed to the Emergency Department (ED) at a cost savings of 1.2 million dollars in payments, as well as a decrease in emergency ambulance transports resulting in a cost savings of $450,000 and a resultant increase in access to alternative care. Overall, patient satisfaction was 91.2 percent.

As a result of the involvement with the regional 911 dispatch centers, the contact center was asked to become involved with yet another identified need: the growing population of homeless individuals. County shelters and housing facilities for the homeless population needed a resource for individuals with low to moderate acuity symptoms, when medical or nursing personnel were not on-site. The fire department was handling 90,000 incidents per year, which resulted in overuse or misuse of the emergency medical response (EMR) system. And while the county shelters were not most of the calls, they were a contributor. 

Addressing the Concerns of the Homeless

A critical concern to the homeless individual is whether they will lose their shelter bed for the night if they are transported. The fire department is not authorized to make a medical diagnosis on the scene, to provide advice or guidance about disease management, to make a referral to other medical resources, such as a primary care doctor, or to provide transportation anywhere except an ED. 

The contact center had the system and tools in place to assist the RN with the individual at the county shelter’s assessment and make recommendations of care. “Right care, right place, right time” is the fundamental premise of contact center RN triage. Their service provided a much-needed solution to an ongoing gap in care. They currently support five dispatch centers in providing contact center RN triage for thirteen shelters.

The contact center educated the staff at the shelters and facilities. They provided training on when to call 911 (a red flag list) and when to call the contact center’s health line. Each homeless individual received HIPAA information that included “understanding and agreement that a copy of the information discussed during the call interaction would be shared with the residence so that they may further assist the individual with their care.” 

The workflow included one number for all facilities to dial into the Healthline contact center. The case manager and the resident had to be available at the time of the call. The RN in the contact center triaged the individual, and then the case manager determined the best non-EMR transportation based on the disposition. The triage note was then faxed to that facility. 

Challenges included the individual wishing to remain anonymous, the individual being a vague or poor historian, individuals declining triage or the recommendation, availability of OTC meds, and individual psych/social needs.

The Results

Eighteen months after the start of the program, the facility staff was queried, and all were either very or somewhat comfortable in knowing what situations required 911. Over 85 percent of the staff felt the service was especially important to the facility. 

By far, the majority felt that the nurses at Healthline were very knowledgeable (83.33 percent). More than 85 percent also felt that the nurse line process was easy to use and felt that the residents were satisfied with the service. Most of the staff felt very satisfied once the resident had talked with the nurse, and 100 percent indicated the importance of having the service available 24/7, adding that it was practical and helpful to the residents in the facility.

Traci Haynes MSN, RN, BA, CEN, CCCTM, is the director of clinical services at LVM Systems, Inc., and has been involved in the contact center industry for over twenty-five years. (Traci thanks Cheryl Patterson, BSN, RNC—TNP, clinical manager—quality and education, Healthline, for her contributions to this article.)

Restoring Trust in Calling Information Is Key for Maximizing Call and Text-Answer Rates

By Michael O’Brien

Americans were inundated with more than 58 billion illegal robocalls in 2019, plus 4.5 billion spam text messages. Consumers are so fed up that when they see a call from an unfamiliar or unidentified number, they let it drop into voicemail 76 percent of the time. 

Regulators and law enforcement are fighting back. For example, the FCC levied a record-setting 225 million dollars fine on Rising Eagle, a Texas-based telemarketer, for making over one billion spoofed robocalls in 2019. The same year, Iosif Florea received a thirty-two-month sentence in federal prison for an SMS phishing (“smishing”) scam that targeted nearly 500,000 people in Alabama. Florea’s messages appeared to come from the Alabama State Employees Credit Union (ASECU) and asked recipients to verify account information.

As voice service providers, regulators, analytics engines, vendors, and other members of the telecom ecosystem battle back against illegal robocallers and SMS fraudsters, legitimate contact centers find themselves caught in the crossfire. For example, many voice service providers use analytics engines, which look for high volumes of calls originating from one source, to provide guidance about call treatment. Another example is smartphone apps that screen calls. Sometimes these apps and engines mistakenly label calls from legitimate call centers as spam. Some industry stakeholders say that outbound call-answer rates plummeted 30 percent in 2019 because so many legitimate calls were mistakenly blocked.

Getting Legitimate Calls Through

There are times when getting the call is more critical than ever. Indiana is among a growing number of states and municipalities hiring call centers to assist with COVID-19 contact tracing. Many of those potentially life-saving outbound calls could wind up either blocked or automatically routed to voicemail, depending on the service provider’s policies. This is another reason why it’s essential to restore confidence so that intended recipients will answer their phones. 

Customers who have full mailboxes, never set up their voicemail, or don’t check messages won’t hear those critical messages. Even if they check voicemail, it’s still a game of phone tag. As a result, contact center agents have multiple interactions with each of those customers. This increases overhead costs and requires additional staff. Every day, the same fate awaits countless outbound calls from contact centers serving state and local governments, insurance companies, travel and hospitality providers, and other organizations.

COVID-19 contact tracing also is an example of how fraudsters find opportunities to use smishing. “Scammers, pretending to be contact tracers and taking advantage of how the process works, are also sending text messages,” the Federal Trade Commission recently warned. “Theirs are spam text messages that ask you to click a link. Clicking on the link will download software onto your device, giving scammers access to your personal and financial information.”

The smishing scourge conditions consumers to be highly skeptical about text messages from unfamiliar numbers. Now, just like with illegal robocalls, contact centers must spend more time sending follow-up text messages, again driving up costs.

Weeding Out Fraudsters and Spam

Voice service providers, analytics engines, and enterprises understand that anti-spam mechanisms must be intelligent enough to distinguish between legitimate, trustworthy calls and text messages from those sent by illegal robocallers and fraudsters. To achieve this goal, industry organizations such as the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) and the GSM Association (GSMA) are collaborating to create frameworks that voice service providers, contact centers, messaging partners or aggregators, and service platforms such as communications platform as a service (CPaaS) and unified communications as a service (UCaaS) can quickly and widely implement, regardless of network type or technology.

For example, Validating INtegrity of End-to-End Signaling (VINES) is a new GSMA Working Group developing solutions to prevent internet work signaling fraud, which includes illegal robocalls, spoofing, toll bypass, and consumer fraud. Service providers and standards bodies worldwide can use VINES solutions to restore consumer trust in communications, combat billions of dollars annually in service provider fraud, and help protect their customers from fraud via spoofed numbers. The VINES working group will also help service providers ensure that legitimate international business calls aren’t mistakenly flagged as spam.

Another example is the GSMA’s RCS Verified Sender initiative, which is an industry effort to ensure that the new Rich Communication Service (RCS) avoids the spoofing and other fraud types that afflict SMS. A key component is an independent Verification Authority (VA) that would be responsible for authenticating the identity of businesses and their chatbots.

Google is also helping protect Android users. Verified SMS adds sender verification and business branding to text messages. Verified Calls displays the business’ name, logo, reason for calling, and “a verification symbol indicating the business has been authenticated by Google.” 

A Centralized Industry Database of Trusted Numbers

A centralized database would give voice service providers and analytics engines independently verified information about each phone number and the company using it. Additionally, a unified registration platform for brands will avoid fragmentation and confusion. The authenticated data would enable service providers and their vendor partners to treat each call and text message properly and present caller information their customers know they can trust. 

Here’s how a verifiable database could work:

  • Call centers—internal and third-party providers—register their telephone numbers, along with information about their company or their clients.
  • Once verified, this information is shared with all participating service providers, analytics engines, and robocall-mitigation companies. This centralized architecture saves contact centers significant amounts of time and money because they don’t have to provide their information to different voice service providers that are managing each telephone number. 
  • Service providers could combine this trusted data with their existing call analytics and other tools to further ensure that only legitimate calls, text messages, and chatbots are reaching their customers.
  • Application programming interfaces (API) would make it fast and easy for contact centers to upload their information and subsequent updates in high volumes.

This database also could be used to authenticate text messages and RCS data. For example, legitimate contact centers would register their SMS short codes and RCS chatbots in a centralized, omni-channel database.

Another key business benefit for contact centers is more efficient staffing. Higher contact rates mean that agents spend less time repeatedly calling or texting people who don’t answer or text back when they see an unfamiliar phone number.

This efficiency is particularly valuable for outsourced contact centers with tight margins. Third-party contact centers can add value to their clients and create a differentiator by registering their clients’ telephone numbers, chatbots, and SMS messages in the centralized database and potentially help increase their clients’ answer rates.

Maximize Trust to Maximize Consumer Responsiveness

Voice calls and text messages are the most effective ways for enterprises, government agencies, and other organizations to reach consumers with essential information such as appointment reminders, financial transaction alerts, school closures, and public safety alerts. A centralized database is critical for maintaining and maximizing that effectiveness.

This gives service providers and contact centers a streamlined, authoritative way to exchange verified information that gives consumers confidence in the information when they receive a call or text or interact with a chatbot. In the process, contact centers—both internal and outsourced—enterprises and consumers benefit. This is a future where everyone comes out ahead. 

Michael O’Brien is chief product officer at iconectiv. He is responsible for executing on the company’s strategy and driving new pathways of sustainable growth for the company. An experienced industry veteran, O’Brien has more than thirty years of experience in the mobile communications industry.

Secure Texting Helps Create Effective HIPAA-Compliant Communication

By Ravi K. Raheja, MD

Once a call center triage nurse has done an initial evaluation on a patient, there are times when the protocol or circumstances require a physician to get involved. In these instances, it is critical for the nurse to get in touch securely and effectively with the provider who is on call to communicate the needs of the patient. This requires relaying protected health information, or PHI, securely.

Traditionally, the nurse will page the doctor to call their phone number. The physician calls back, and the nurse verbally relays the relevant information. There are several drawbacks to this option:

  • It is time-consuming for the doctor. They must call back and verbally listen to each case.
  • There is no confirmation that the provider received the page, which can lead to a delay in care if the nurse does not follow up closely.
  • The doctor may be involved in a critical procedure or another call and does not know how urgent the request is from the nurse.

Secure texting was created to overcome these drawbacks and provide an efficient way to transfer information that does not hinder daily workflow.

With secure texting, the provider gets a notification from the nurse. The nurse can send protected health information securely. The provider can read the message, and the nurse gets a notification confirming that the message was received and read. This approach supplies the provider with detailed written information as well as allowing them to evaluate the urgency for the call so they can determine the proper callback time and plan before they contact the triage nurse.

While there are many secure messaging platforms available, almost every one of them requires the provider to install and set up an app on their phone. It also requires ongoing support for the app. When the doctor changes phones, the operating system or app needs to be updated.

Providers who are looking for secure texting methods should find platforms that allow for all the features of secure texting and chatting with the nurse, but without an app required on the doctor’s phone. With these types of platforms, nurses can auto-populate the patient information and send the provider’s cell phone a link (with no patient data). 

The provider follows the link and securely accesses the confidential message from the nurse. The provider can then call the nurse back, call the patient back, or securely chat with the nurse. The nurse receives a notification both when the message is delivered and when it is read; this provides continuity of care and prevents any lapse in communication. The messages and secure chat for the nurse are documented in the triage system for future reference.

Providers love this type of service because it does not require any setup on their part and takes less than five minutes to train on the system, which can quickly be done by the practice manager at the provider’s convenience. There is no impact to the service if they change phones or have updates to their device. Setup is quick and easy since there is no app to download and register.

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 and www.continuwell.com.