Tag Archives: Call Center Management Articles

Do You Have Right System to Sustain A Remote Call Center System



By Scott Mainwaring

As customer service representatives (CSRs) at contact centers begin to find their stride working remotely, it’s imperative that managers spend this time evaluating the sustainability of their new system by creating an open dialog about working conditions, obstacles, and performance trends. While each call center and organization is going to be at their own unique point on the change curve, leaders should use these conversations as a means to identify gaps and define what success may look like in this new scenario.

Here are some key questions to help managers navigate conversations with remote call center agents.

Can the CSR Do Their Job from Home? 

First, for some agents, working remotely might not be possible. Whether those agents voluntarily opt out because they can’t endure the solitary nature of remote work, they’re taking on increased family responsibilities that conflict with work, or they share a space that isn’t conducive to the privacy requirements of the job, managers should be prepared for attrition. For employees who began in the office environment and then shifted to work at home, managers should expect that only about 25 percent of their team will truly succeed.

As a manager, when you connect with your team members, ask probing questions to understand how each CSR is faring and the unique challenges they’re facing. This gives you the opportunity to collaborate on solutions, deepening your relationship. It will also provide you with a better sense for which team members have the capacity and interest to work remotely.

If these conversations give you the sense that you may face high attrition, assess creative staffing solutions that fit this new, ever-changing environment. This could be an opportunity to test variations on your staffing model (such as adjusting shift times, split shifts, or the makeup of the shift) or your team makeup (moving part- or full-time workers who need a change to a different employee category). The idea is to play with what you’ve got to better meet the needs of your team.

Do Agents Have the Necessary Tools to Work from Home? 

When your team works from one location, they enjoy streamlined processes for communicating company news, sharing training resources, and providing access to the technology that enables them to perform their job seamlessly. 

Remote work, however, requires managers to be much more deliberate on these fronts. Managers should assess whether their team has the necessary tools in place to remotely assess and guarantee that a comparable experience can exist outside the call center. 

As CSRs move beyond the initial obstacles of getting set up, establish regular touch points to ensure continuity. In uncertain times, the important frontline role CSRs play becomes greater. Managers should use this time with the CSR to reinforce that importance and its impact to the company’s reputation, customer satisfaction, and customer lifetime value. You’ll notice that when CSRs feel valued, they bring more value to your customers.

Have You Set Clear Expectations?

A recent CX Insight report found that having a defined adjustment period goes a long way to ease the transition. Is there a grace period for assessing the CSR and their level of performance? If so, how long?

To execute a customer-first approach, managers must first care for their agents. Given ever-evolving conditions, managers must make a commitment to communication—and what might at times feel like overcommunication.

This includes setting clear guardrails related to the transition and overall CSR performance. As the expression goes, “Happy agents yield happy customers.” A significant part of this happiness stems from leaders who makes sure the agents understand what success looks like (often through repetition) and guides them through reaching goals. Whether expressed via email, phone, or video call, establishing mutual agreement with individual direct reports is imperative to maintaining a close leader-agent partnership.

What Do the Metrics Reveal? 

Once you have expectation alignment and completed the adjustment period, it’s time to consider CSR productivity measurements. This is not about stringently holding team members to pre-work-at-home numbers. At first, watching the metrics is more about observing trends, which are hopefully trending upward.

Pay close attention to five key metrics on an agent’s scorecard:

1. Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) is the metric we all pay attention to. And while there are plenty of new external factors impacting customers—personal stressors, longer wait times due to high demand—there are an equal number of opportunities for CSRs to surprise and delight customers by showing empathy and patience. Make sure to equip agents with resources to manage difficult calls.

While we typically see higher CSATs for remote agents as compared to their brick-and-mortar counterparts, managers should not use those metrics as a baseline. Instead, focus on identifying outliers. If you see steady scores across the team with one or two individuals experiencing significant drops, spend some time with those team members, investigating what may be the cause. 

2. First Call Resolution could decline. Look at individual performance in context to the broader team. If there is an overall drop in average FCR across the entire team, then there are broader issues at play.

3. Quality Assurance Measures address the basics. Assess agent performance on key items such as caller verification and information accuracy. Misses on core functions may be indicative of further shortcomings or lost opportunities with customers.

4. Agent Utilization focuses on time logged-in and time on the phone with customers as key productivity indicators. Expect CSRs to be on target.

5. Average Handle Time can be tricky. Don’t consider it in isolation, because of the number of variables, but watch if it’s trending upward. AHT connects to CSAT. For high AHT, discuss tactics to bring it down.

Tracking these metrics will show how well an individual agent is thriving in a remote role. They also serve as a leading indicator of the overall remote contact center performance. 

5. Are Agents Getting the Attention and Information They Require? 

According to an ICMI article, overcommunicating during uncertain times is key to agent success. While one CSR might prefer weekly video meetings over daily conference calls, another could require greater one-on-one interaction and real-time responses from their manager. As a leader, how are you addressing your agents’ well-being and individual needs?

Managers will need to flex a different set of skills—like connecting with an employee over a video conference—but when you nail the people piece of the puzzle, you will increase retention and improve the bottom line.

While everyone’s situation is unique, it is a leader’s job to know what their team needs and how to help them. Whether it’s fostering a stronger social connection or taking extra time to explain recent corporate communications, make sure you are aware of individual engagement levels and needs during this volatile time.

If you are a good listener and demonstrate empathy, you should better understand the needs of your team and individual performers. Yes, the onus is on you, but it’s also an opportunity to double down as a leader. Become a better, more visible manager—one that’s more accessible and open than when you shared a roof. 

Conclusion

From adjusting staffing models to providing individualized strategies for agents in need, taking the time to understand the variables and connect with the individual will help your team navigate the months ahead as they work from home.

Scott Mainwaring is with Spinnaker Consulting Group.

How Banks Can Manage High Call Volumes



By Robert McKay

As financial institutions close their lobbies and discontinue in-person service to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, contact centers are seeing dramatic increases in call volumes. While growing numbers of customers use digital banking solutions for basic operations, during these unsettling times many turn to the phone channel to complete transactions, obtain assistance with sensitive financial dealings, and confirm the status of accounts and loan processes.

According to data compiled by Neustar, between January 21, when the first US COVID-19 death occurred, and mid-March, some of the nation’s largest financial institutions experienced a 36 percent increase in overall inbound call volume. Retail banking divisions offering direct consumer-facing financial products, such as mortgages and vehicle loans, saw an even greater spike in traffic, with call volumes up 43.4 percent. As a result, some customers experienced long wait times, leading to frustration for both callers and agents.

The same solutions that help reduce call overloads and excessive customer wait times—well-designed IVR systems and accurate caller authentication Click To Tweet

To compound the challenge, social distancing measures led many banks to transition their call center agents to remote work, creating an additional layer of compliance and productivity concerns. So what steps are banks taking to enable their contact centers to deal with the elevated level of calls, while providing customers with a secure and positive experience during this chaotic time? 

Enhancing the IVR System

The first step in ramping up a call center’s capacity to accommodate high call volumes is generally to optimize the interactive voice response (IVR) system to increase the number of calls it can process. Banks take a closer look at their IVR call-flow design to ensure the user experience is intuitive and can provide answers to a wider array of inquiries. This includes questions customers may have due to the logistical impact of branch closures and to the economic impact of the pandemic.

Banks must reexamine authentication methods if a large share of inbound calls cannot receive full verification without agent intervention. Voice biometrics and device-based authentication, for example, can quickly and accurately confirm callers. This creates a frictionless experience that allows most customers to conduct their business entirely through IVR. And when the need for agent involvement arises, IVR authentication ensures the agent has the account information ready. This largely eliminates time-consuming identity interrogation. 

Containing more calls within the IVR system reduces the pressure on call centers, while facilitating faster service for all customers.

Investing in Call Center Agent Well-Being and Productivity

Most financial institutions’ business continuity plans call for redeploying operations to areas unaffected by a disaster. But faced with a global pandemic, many organizations have had to mobilize in unexpected ways. This includes transitioning call center agents to working from home. To maintain smooth operations in their inbound communication networks, banks have made extensive investments in equipment and software solutions. This provides agents with access to the programs and processes that ensure compliance with government regulations and anti-fraud measures.

Many banks have also found that they must hire more call center staff, as working from home decreases the productivity of agents who must care for ill or elderly family members or young children home from school. This requires additional employees to compensate for this decrease in productivity, which is due not to lack of diligence or enthusiasm but to the unique nature of this pandemic. Both financial institutions and their employees must have realistic expectations of productivity levels under these circumstances.

It’s also important to remember that call center employees are the people on the front lines, calming frantic customers and helping them execute important transactions. In addition, banks must recognize that their employees may experience increased professional as well as personal stress during this time.

Analysts and call center managers regularly report that call center agents’ job satisfaction is related to their ability to effectively do their job. Banks can support their employees’ effectiveness by routing lower-priority calls to the IVR system so agents can spend their time on high-value interactions. Financial institutions should also equip agents with all the tools they need to work from home. This includes a high-speed internet connection. 

And for agents who make outbound calls, this means ensuring that customer relationship management databases have up-to-date phone numbers. Customers could miss essential information if banks don’t take this crucial step for outbound dialing. 

Mitigating Fraud

Mitigating fraud is another important aspect of smooth call center operation. In times of crisis, criminals inevitably attempt to take advantage of the chaos. Fraudsters are targeting consumers directly (the Federal Trade Commission has issued an official warning about scams related to COVID-19) as well as attacking call centers. Call centers have historically been the weak link when it comes to account takeovers because human agents can be socially engineered by creative fraudsters and call centers are staffed by customer service professionals who naturally have a strong desire to help callers solve their problems quickly. 

With larger call volumes and more agents feeling harried and anxious, the risk of fraud increases. Fortunately, the same solutions that help reduce call overloads and excessive customer wait times—well-designed IVR systems and accurate caller authentication—can help combat fraud as well. Biometrics and device-based authentication technologies can reduce the time agents spend verifying callers, provide a more secure environment, and decrease the number of legitimate calls inadvertently directed into the call center’s fraud queue. Now more than ever, it is important to deploy fraud specialists at call centers in the most efficient manner possible—investigating actual fraud attempts versus legitimate customer calls incorrectly flagged.

Conclusion

As financial institutions assess the reasons for increased call volumes and long wait times, they need to ask themselves several questions. Are most customers talking to agents because they have complex needs to resolve, or could a better-designed IVR system handle their questions? Have banks made adequate investments in staffing and agent productivity, considering the challenges of working from home? And are agents spending time asking security questions when technological solutions could provide faster and more accurate authentication?

Ultimately, the pandemic-related branch closures may help hasten the transition to digital banking for some customers. This entire episode will amplify the need to press forward with omni-channel strategies. For the foreseeable future, however, the phone channel is here to stay, and overloaded call centers may be the catalyst financial institutions need to implement more effective, efficient, and streamlined approaches that strike the right balance between robust authentication and low friction in the customer experience, while maximizing IVR use.

Robert McKay is the senior vice president of customer identity and risk solutions, Neustar.

Enhance Contact Center Operations in a Shift toward Remote Models



By Matt McConnell

The coronavirus pandemic affects employees across every industry. This has forced frontline workers to drastically adapt their work styles to adhere to social distancing, while many typical on-premise office staff have shifted to a work-from-home model. For most employees, this move to teleworking doesn’t call for much more than a Zoom account and a stable internet connection.

Transitioning contact center agents, however, to work from home can present problems, especially if their company isn’t prepared for remote operations. They might lack the infrastructure and processes to effectively make the shift. This opens the door to challenges that will plague agents and managers alike. Fortunately, there are solutions to ease remote contact center operations and supplement the roles of agents and managers.

Understanding the Issue

This rapid transition to remote work has made routine tasks such as agent training, managing adherence, and maintaining engagement more difficult for operations than in a physical contact center. With a tethered contact center model, where agents work remotely but live near the contact center, in-person training and coaching may be more manageable. But managing adherence and ensuring engagement will be a challenge. 

A natural progression for contact centers to flow from physical to tethered and eventually to remote models might have been more helpful in the transition. But what happens now that circumstances have removed these first two options? Companies, forced to leapfrog the tethered model, move directly to the remote operations. But without the right systems in place, this can put added stress on agents and managers, as well as lead to a dip in efficiency across the board. 

A survey revealed that 55 percent of industry professionals believe a remote workforce will become permanent within the contact center operations. Click To Tweet

Many contact centers report record levels of call volume since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. They need to maintain peak efficiency despite the challenge thrown their way. Workforce automation (WFA) can alleviate many of these issues, allowing agents and managers to execute their roles from home just as they would in a physical contact center.

Empowering Agents

Data-driven automation is essential in managing a contact center with a remote workforce. Specifically, a platform can use real-time insights to ensure an engaged and connected workforce—this is despite agents and managers being miles apart. Even with surging call volume, in-the-moment data can keep agents on track to hit key performance indicators, while automatically updating schedules to account for breaks, training, and coaching. Real-time notifications can go directly to agents at the opportune time to share company-wide updates, inquire if they need help, prompt breaks, offer overtime, or supply more training.

For many agents this will be the first time they have worked from home. This change of scenery could present a challenge. Stress is at an all-time high for contact center agents, and a combination of increased volume, potentially upset customers, and adapting to new remote processes can lead to increased burnout and poor performance. In fact, 52 percent of contact center staff believe their company isn’t doing enough to prevent teams from burning out. 

Managers can help to improve staff morale by increasing the frequency of communication to ensure multiple daily interactions with agents. Despite today’s unexpected circumstances, using automation to boost interaction and engagement can enable agents to succeed.

Driving Value

Workforce automation is also a vital tool to push cost-savings to the bottom line during this pandemic. The crisis has forced companies to shift agents remotely—with the need to ensure that, despite the isolated nature of their new environment, there was no lag in productivity. With well-established WFA software, managers can know that handle times are in check and agents are logging on for their remote shifts. WFA monitors call volume in real-time. Any adjustments to staffing can occur automatically without manager intervention due to predetermined rules.

Automation supports the role of the manager, which frees them to focus on more strategic initiatives. They can prioritize the well-being of the agent and concentrate on coaching and engagement. This is a sustainable option to ensure consistent performance and productivity, regardless of external variables.

Many companies have been late to make these needed adjustments. They are playing catch-up in terms of their contact centers in the face of coronavirus concerns. But it isn’t too late to adopt workforce automation to combat the uncertainties of the pandemic and supplement the work of agents and managers. 

A survey revealed that 55 percent of industry professionals believe a remote workforce will become permanent within the contact center operations. This means that organizations should view the current operational landscape as the inflection point toward a future of remote work and look to automation as a catalyst for enhanced operations and happier agents.

Matt McConnell is the chairman, president, and CEO of Intradiem.

How to Super Charge Your Customer Experience Remotely



By Jeff Singman

According to a recent research report by SalesForce, 84 percent of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services. The same study found that nearly 80 percent of customers expect consistent experiences across channels with the same capabilities and contextualized engagement based on earlier interactions. Furthermore, 73 percent expect companies to understand their needs and expectations. They want a personalized experience.

The report also found that 62 percent of respondents now expect companies to adapt based on their actions and behaviors, yet only 47 percent say companies are living up to these expectations. According to these results, companies were already struggling to meet customers’ expectations prior to the coronavirus pandemic. If this is truly the case, how will they fare post-pandemic?

Allowing employees to work from home offers significant benefits to both the company and their staff. Click To Tweet

COVID-19 has had an impact on so many areas of our lives: economic, health, education, and business. Many organizations have succeeded in enabling their employees to work from home. But what about the staff responsible for customer success and support? Moving their contact center operations to a remote model can be a costly and logistically difficult challenge, especially for small and medium-size businesses. 

A recent study conducted by analyst firm Nemertes Research found that across key verticals such as healthcare (70 percent) and retail (68 percent), employers are planning to allow their contact center employees to continue to work from home following the coronavirus pandemic. So, what does this mean long term for contact centers and their ability to serve their customers remotely? It means there must be an innovative approach to how contact centers succeed in this “new normal.”

Traditional on-premise enterprise contact center platforms may not have the capabilities to provide adequate support for remote employees. Additionally, many of these platforms can’t process omni-channel interactions, or they make it cost-prohibitive to do so. If you already have a conventional on-premise platform in place, upgrading to the latest multichannel features requires additional capital outlays, special training, and expertise, making the platform even more difficult and expensive to manage and scale.

Newer cloud-based contact center solutions can help companies of all sizes avoid equipment cost and complexity, modernize customer engagement, and support remote workers. But many systems target large-scale contact centers, with advanced capabilities such as multichannel communications and chatbots, with a price tag beyond the reach of many businesses. Worse still, many cloud contact center solutions require six-figure professional services engagements just to begin.

But there are solutions on the market that are easy to set up, can integrate with existing contact center platforms, and are affordable. These solutions can enable a company’s contact center employees to offer world-class customer service and support regardless of where they work.

Platform Goals

When searching for a modern contact center solution, that solution should empower companies to:

  • Eliminate the cost and complexity of traditional on-premise enterprise contact center platforms. Ideally it would be cloud-based, so there’s no need to buy or install any on-site equipment or special-purpose software.
  • Eradicate the expensive professional services required to get the contact center up and running. The solution should be easy to deploy and manage, and require no complicated setup, plug-ins, or configuration.
  • Deliver an affordable, comprehensive collection of cloud-based communications and collaboration services. You want a solution that delivers immersive customer experiences, including video, screen sharing, social media, and web integration, as well as traditional phone calls. Cloud platforms provide the latest features in real-time with no costly upgrades or downtime. 
  • Remove the need to buy costly agent hardware or specialized software that you must install on every agent’s computer or laptop. Agents should be able to easily log on from anywhere, engage with customers, and access all features and services.
  • Elastically scale and add capacity on demand as business requirements dictate. For example, departments or work groups should be able to temporarily add agents to support promotional campaigns or seasonal traffic spikes.
  • Protect and extend existing investments. Look for solutions that give you the option to deploy it as a stand-alone solution or one you can integrate with legacy call center platforms.

No solution is perfect, but those that have these features and functionalities will help ensure that companies not only have satisfied customers, but also happy employees. The Nemertes study also found that there was a direct correlation between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction. For companies that keep agent turnover at less than 15 percent, there is a 26 percent improvement in customer ratings, which is huge. 

Additionally, allowing employees to work from home offers significant benefits to both the company and their staff. For the company, the most significant benefit includes real estate cost savings. According to national averages, the cost of office space per agent is about $8,300 per year, and a fifty-agent contact center saves more than $200,000 per year in real estate by allowing employees to work from home part-time. 

In the Nemertes survey, the reasons companies cited for allowing employees to continue to work from home included: 

  • Fifty-seven percent of companies said it will improve agents’ quality of life, which could in turn lead to lower turnover rates (and lower turnover rates means happier customers).
  • Forty-six percent said it will prepare agents for future disasters. The pandemic made many companies realize they are not ready for a major disaster (such as another pandemic, terrorist attack, or weather event).
  • Thirty-six percent said it is better for the environment to allow people to work from home.
  • Thirty-four percent said the technology works better than they thought.

The bottom line is that we must rethink the way we work. Having the right solutions will be critical in ensuring the success of the contact center industry moving forward. The good thing is that there are cost-effective solutions available today that will allow the modern contact center to super-charge the customer experience, regardless of where their agents work.

 Jeff Singman has been a vice president with Kandy/Ribbon Communications since January 2016. A serial entrepreneur, his experience includes IT, security, telecom, and software solutions, with depth in industries including media, entertainment, financial, and healthcare verticals.

Enhancing the Customer Experience with Expanded Services and Automation



By Nancy Lee and April Forer

Call centers exist in an ever-changing marketplace. New channels and technologies are constantly emerging. Using a multichannel, all-in-one system makes it easier to support customers’ needs and earn their loyalty. A true omni-channel system eliminates many performance challenges call centers face today. Agents need to be able to assist customers without having to access multiple systems.

Remote agents are increasingly in demand to maximize the availability of resources. Software and virtual operator applications make working from home easier. To be effective, these tools should be scalable and capable of offering fully functioning call handling.

Automation adds value by accurately handling everyday, tedious tasks, which allows agents to focus on providing a higher level of customer satisfaction. Artificial intelligence (AI) can be employed to improve call taking and reduce errors. Digital channels have become popular tools to enhance the customer experience. Users can use analytics to improve customer retention rates and enrich the caller experience.

These tools can translate popular social media posts, messages, and notifications on the client accounts into tasks for agents to manage. Click To Tweet

Transitioning to Virtual Call Centers

Faced with limited space, some call centers are using a unique solution by having their agents work remotely from home. One of the benefits of running a call center in a virtual server environment, or in the cloud, is the ability to use home-based operators.

Communications software and virtual operator applications make working from home easy. These applications are scalable and offer fully functioning call handling to transform any personal computer into a professional telephone agent station, accessible through the internet or local intranet. All agent functions are still available for remote agent connections, including call log recordings and retrieval, which allows for a smooth transition. For callers, the fact that the agents are remote is transparent.

A cloud-based messaging system is omni-channel and offers flexibility and efficiency. Establish a VPN connection for remote operators to ensure that their connection is secure. Set up the data link via direct connection, remote desktop, or thin client and an audio connection via integrated audio or external audio.

It is helpful to have a remote system that performs directory searches, scripted messaging, and dispatching, and also provides access to call log recordings, web content, and on-call schedules. Custom call center scripting guides remote operators through each call with the exact information they need to provide. The ability to easily edit scripting protocols means that frontline operators, working from any location, will have the most up-to-date information to provide the best caller experience and reduce errors or misinformation.

Benefits of Utilizing AI

AI can reduce customer effort and help resolve customer needs on the first contact. First-contact resolution is a leading sign of a great customer experience. Meeting this goal includes making call taking easier for agents, speeding up the call process for the caller, and reducing the possibility of errors.

AI can enhance skill-based call routing to determine the best agent to receive a call. By using a call’s automatic number identification (ANI), the artificial intelligence ACD feature can determine the best agent to receive that call based on which agent previously worked with the caller, started a dispatch for the caller, and is the most qualified to handle the call. 

Expanding Digital Channels

By offering additional digital channels such as chat, mobile, and social media, users can engage customers with meaningful support. These channels are becoming increasingly popular as customers feel more comfortable with them.

These tools can translate popular social media posts, messages, and notifications on the client accounts into tasks for agents to manage. Check Facebook accounts for keywords, inbound messages, posts, comments about posts, shares of posts, and reactions to posts such as likes and other emoticon-based comments. Monitor Twitter accounts for keywords, inbound direct messages, replies to account tweets, and for likes, hashtags, retweets, mentions, and reactions to posts by the customer. Track Instagram accounts for likes and comments regarding a client’s posts.

Utilizing Analytic Tools

Tapping new analytic software is important to improve customer retention rates. Speech analytics allow supervisors a deeper analysis of call logs, such as providing a transcript of the call and describing the overall tone of the caller. Speech analytics can also look for keywords in the call recordings and alert supervisors about those keywords. Then supervisors can analyze the data through charts, reports, and transcripts.

Evolving Technology

As technology continues to evolve, using a multichannel, all-in-one system will provide agents and customers with a more efficient call handling solution. Using automation and enhanced services allows call centers to provide a higher level of customer satisfaction while reducing frustration for both the agent and customer.

Amtelco

Nancy Lee and April Forer are marketing specialists at Amtelco. Founded in 1976 to provide communication solutions to the answering service and medical messaging industry, Amtelco has a strong history in the telemessaging industry. Amtelco focuses on providing call center solutions that meet or exceed customer expectations, backed by top notch service and support. For more information contact them at info@amtelco.com or 800-356-9148.

A Concise Guide for Outsourcing Success, Part Three



By Kathy Sisk

In the five steps to select an outsource call center agency, we’ve already covered the first three: 1) design an RFP; 2) review the responses; and 3) conduct a phone interview. Now it is time to move to steps four and five.

Step 4: Visit the agency and monitor their agents.

Once you’ve narrowed your list to two or three candidates, visit their facility to assess their operation. Speak with their IT department, project managers, and quality control supervisors to evaluate their ability and willingness to handle your calls effectively and efficiently.

 Ask to monitor as many agents and calls as possible to help determine the skill level of the agency’s staff. Some agencies may tell you they have a privacy clause with their clients and cannot allow you to monitor calls. If this occurs, ask the agency to request special permission for you to conduct your call evaluations. If the agency has a good relationship with its client, and your company is not a competitive threat, they will usually grant permission. Eliminate any agency that either refuses to let you monitor or ask their clients for permission. They may have something to hide.

Step 5: Select an agency and negotiate the contract.

Using this information, choose the right agency for your company based on affordability, performance, and cultural compatibility. 

 Carefully negotiate your contract, ensuring that the agency’s rates, setup fees, and terms are consistent with your RFP. See if you can get a better price. If the agency really wants your business and believes it will be a long-term venture, you will have more negotiating power. 

 Put your performance requirements in writing and include a clause that permits you to terminate the contract without stipulations if the agency doesn’t perform up to your standards. Most agencies don’t want such a clause and prefer a thirty- to ninety-day notice. If the agency is not willing to budge on these terms and you do not have an alternative, try to negotiate a lower fee during the ramp-up time. 

If these negotiations fail, you may want to start over.

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

Mitigating Medical Call Center Risk



By Traci Haynes

Does the word risk evoke an emotional connotation? Regardless of the inference and based on life experience, the word can carry an emotive element. There are uncertainties in risk, which may be associated with hobbies, tasks, or employment. 

Calculated risk is an action taken after careful consideration and estimation of the probable outcome. Healthcare organizations employ risk managers to identify and evaluate risks to reduce injury to patients, staff, and visitors within the organization. 

The five basic steps of risk management include: 

  1. Establish the context.
  2. Identify risks.
  3. Analyze risks.
  4. Evaluate risks.
  5. Treat/manage risks.

Risks exist in a medical call center too. There are employee risks and patient risks. These can include risks from the physical environment, clinical management, and technology. What can organizations do to help mitigate these risks? They can strive to be calculative, carefully considering and estimating probable outcomes. Even doing so, however, will not eliminate all risk.

A medical call center’s number-one asset is its staff. Click To Tweet

Risk Resource

An excellent resource that covers information on risk is The Art and Science of Telephone Triage: How to Practice Nursing over the Phone. It is a book written by two industry leaders in the field of telehealth nursing practice, Carol Rutenberg, RN-BC, C-TNP, MNSc, and M. Elizabeth Greenberg, RN-BC, C-TNP, PhD. The book also documents the history of telephone triage and its subsequent evolution, provides real-case scenarios, and contains chapters onFAQs, best practices, and other topics. 

Minimizing risk is essential in the medical call center environment. Consider your potential for risk. Then analyze, evaluate, and manage it. Also essential is focusing on ways the medical call center can support the organization’s risk avoidance. Of utmost importance to every organization is supporting the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Triple Aim initiative and optimizing health system performance of better outcomes, lower costs, and improved patient experience. 

Hospitals throughout the country are aggressively tackling performance improvement within their own organizations, and evidence shows their efforts are helping to reduce risk. The recent addition of a fourth aim emphasizes the importance of improving the experiences of those in the workforce who provide healthcare. The Quadruple Aim focuses not only on better outcomes, lower costs, and improved patient experience, but also on improved clinician experience. 

A medical call center’s number-one asset is its staff. Employees need to feel recognized for the work they do. Their working environment should encourage respect and foster a sense of belonging and purpose. They should have the ability to influence their work, as well as be given opportunities for professional growth.

Medical Call Center Risks

Let’s drill down a little further on potential risks in a medical call center. Please note, this is not an all-inclusive list and not listed in order of importance. However, it is valuable information to consider. 

Clinical Management

  • Clinical oversight (such as the medical director): approval of clinical content, decision support tools, educational material, medications, and orders.
  • Job descriptions: title, clear description of work duties, purpose, special skills, and qualifications for the position
  • Scope of service: what type and for whom 
  • State Board of Nursing Nurse Practice Act: follow standards of practice
  • Licensure: state license, Nurse Licensure Compact 
  • Orientation/training/preceptor: defined program with monitoring, feedback, and evaluation
  • Policies and procedures: associated with call handling and call scenarios
  • Performance monitoring/evaluations: formal approach using call records and/or call recording
  • Continuous quality improvement: process to identify issues, implement/monitor corrective action, and evaluate the effectiveness

Technology 

  • Electronic Health Record (EHR): access and by whom
  • Computers: hardware/software, latest recommendations, updates, backup, and archiving
  • Database: decision-support tools and functionality for a standard method of documenting the encounter, optimizing the intake of information, and supporting a consistent approach to provision of information and directions for care; reporting of outcomes
  • Telephone system: supports call handling that may include auto-attendant, call routing, tracking average speed of answer, time in queue, abandonment; real-time monitoring, reports, and recording of calls
  • Chat/email/texts/photos: accept and save as part of EHR
  • HIPAA-compliant: protecting health information

Physical Environment

  • Outdoor surveillance monitoring
  • Lighting: internal measurement, general, task, emergency, external
  • Security locks: after-hours or 24/7
  • Parking: on-site, off-site, monitored, lighting
  • Security personnel: on-site, off-site
  • Sound: acoustics, masking, privacy 
  • Workstation ergonomics: standing/sitting, monitor height/distance, keyboard/mouse position, adjustable chair with height/arm and height/back support, headset, and so forth. 
  • Repetitive stress injuries: most commonly affects injuries to the upper extremities (wrists, elbows, and hands) due to repetitive keyboard activities

Patients and Families

  • Medical call center access: 24/7, after-hours, business hours, community service, or provider/payer service
  • Reason for call: emergent, urgent, semi-urgent, and nonurgent
  • Language and culture: linguistically and culturally appropriate and using an individual’s primary language
  • Age-specific or all age groups
  • Social determinants of health: influences an individual’s quality of health
  • Past medical history: health status prior to encounter and effect on the reason for call/disposition
  • Chronic conditions: type, number, effect on the reason for call/disposition
  • Medications: routine, PRN, effect on the reason for call/disposition
  • Preventive health: effect on overall health
  • Disabilities: type, effect on reason for call/disposition
  • Disposition: collaborative decision, access for care as needed

Addressing risk potential in medical call centers will benefit all stakeholders and improve healthcare outcomes.

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

Don’t Compromise on Security When Selecting a Vendor



By Ravi K. Raheja, MD

The average cost of a data breach in the United States has hit an all-time high of 7.35 million dollars. Just this year, there have been more than one hundred hacker attacks on healthcare organizations, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Despite better awareness among healthcare organizations, data breach costs average 408 dollars per record. Cybercriminals use weaponized ransomware, misconfigured cloud-storage buckets, and phishing emails to attack.

Hidden costs in data breaches are difficult and expensive to manage, resulting in customer turnover, reputation damage, and increased operational costs. Knowing where the costs lie and how to reduce them can help companies invest their resources more strategically and lower the huge financial risks at stake.

While looking for cost-saving solutions is important for any business, it is critical to make sure your vendor partners also meet the same stringent criteria on data security. This extends to your outsourced after-hours services as well. Not doing the proper due diligence can lead to a significant risk in terms of data loss and security.

Don’t be afraid to dig deeper and ask vendors questions if you have any concerns. Click To Tweet

Here are fourteen critical questions you should consider when selecting your partners in healthcare:

  1. Do you have a chief information officer (CIO) who oversees the security program?
  2. Do you have a formal security compliance program in place with yearly audits?
  3. Is the vendor URAC-accredited so a third party is auditing the triage call center policies and procedures to ensure they are followed?
  4. Does the vendor subcontract services? If they do, are the proper BAAs (Business Associate Agreements) and contracts in place?
  5. What is their data breach insurance policy limits?
  6. Is the data center infrastructure set up to maximize data protection along with regular scanning of the software and servers?
  7. Does the vendor have an intrusion detection system to alert potential threats?
  8. Does the vendor have adequate IT resources to monitor all systems and to respond quickly to any potential threats?
  9. Do the products meet HIPAA, HITECH, and other security requirements?
  10. Do the security reports meet all auditing and HIPAA-reporting needs?
  11. Do you have a formal HIPAA training program for all staff members?
  12. Does the data center where the data is stored have proper security certifications?
  13. Is the patient data secured at all times and in all modules of the product? (This must include strong password protection or other user authentication, data encrypted at rest, and data encrypted in motion.)
  14. Is the patient’s data secured when accessed via handheld devices, such as through secured through SSL websites, iPhone apps, and so forth?

If the answer is no to any of the above questions, then it may be an indication that you should look deeper and compare vendors before selecting one that will protect your patient data properly. Don’t be afraid to dig deeper and ask vendors questions if you have any concerns. Remember, it is harder to change vendors once you implement a program than to ask questions beforehand and make sure that you have the best system in place for your needs.

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 seven thousand physicians and covers over 18 million lives nationwide. For more information, visit www.triagelogic.com and www.continuwell.com.

Cyber Security and HIPAA in a Medical Contact Center


Startel, Professional Teledata, Alston Tascom

By Bobby Bennett

Regardless of size, medical contact centers must take steps to protect against cyberattacks and ensure HIPAA compliance. These two issues warrant intentional and proactive attention.

Ways to Prevent Cyberattacks

With cyberattacks on the rise, what steps should a contact center take to prevent falling victim? The first is to recognize that it could happen to anyone. Do not equate small with safe. According to a 2017 Trend Micro online survey, 45 percent of small business owners believe they will never be targeted. The cyber security firm 4iQ states in its 2019 Identity Breach Report that cybercriminals targeted small businesses with cyberattacks at an inordinate rate in 2018—up 425 percent over the previous year. Here are some ways to prevent such an attack: 

  • Install, use, and regularly update antivirus and anti-spyware software on every computer used in your business.
  • Use a firewall for your internet connection.
  • Download and install software updates for your operating systems and applications as they become available.
  • Make backup copies of important business data and information.
  • Control physical access to your computers and network components.
  • Secure your Wi-Fi network and make sure it is hidden.
  • Require individual user accounts for each employee.
  • Limit employee access to data and information. Also limit authority to install the software.
  • Regularly change passwords.
  • Consider two-factor authentication such as a password and a PIN.

The Federal Communications Commission provides a Small Biz Cyber Security Planner on their website. 

A business associate is also liable and subject to civil and criminal penalties for making uses and disclosures of PHI not authorized by its contract or required by law. Click To Tweet

HIPAA and Protected Health Information

Another factor to be mindful of as a call center that takes calls for healthcare providers and clinics is that you are a business associate of the covered entity. A HIPAA business associate is a contractor or vendor to a HIPAA-covered entity that creates, maintains, or transmits protected health information in performing a function or service to the covered entity.

If a covered entity engages a business associate to help it carry out its health care activities and functions, the covered entity must have a written business associate contract or other arrangement with the business associate that establishes specifically what the business associate has been engaged to do and requires the business associate to comply with the [HIPAA] Rules’ requirements to protect the privacy and security of protected health information. In addition to these contractual obligations, business associates are liable for compliance with certain provisions of the HIPAA Rules. (HHS.Gov)

A business associate contract serves to clarify and limit, as appropriate, the permissible uses and disclosures of protected health information (PHI) by the business associate. They may use or disclose PHI only as permitted or required by its business associate contract or as required by law. 

A business associate is also liable and subject to civil and criminal penalties for making uses and disclosures of PHI not authorized by its contract or required by law. It is important that employees are trained and understand the HIPAA rules required of a business associate. You can find sample Business Associate Agreement Provisions and training resources on the HHS.gov website.

Text messaging (SMS) has become the preferred method of message delivery for both the contact center and healthcare providers. With this growing trend comes the risk associated with the transmission of PHI. 

Standard forms of SMS could mean that text messages may remain on a device for an extended time. If the device is recycled, lost, or left accessible to unauthorized persons, HIPAA violations may occur. You must provide safeguards to reduce your exposure to these risks. 

Secure messaging is a HIPAA-compliant way to safely exchange sensitive information via text. Most contact center system vendors have developed secure messaging applications for use with their systems. However, quite often it is difficult for a contact center to convince a large medical group to make changes and convert from their current secure messaging provider to one offered by the contact center. 

Conclusion

Don’t ignore the risks of cyberattacks and HIPAA-noncompliance in your medical contact center. Take essential steps today to reduce bigger problems tomorrow. 

Startel

Bobby Bennett is the western regional sales manager for Startel, Professional Teledata, and Alston Tascom, leading providers of best-in-class contact center solutions for healthcare and medical telephone answering service call centers. Startel’s Alston Tascom Division has created a stand-alone, vendor-agnostic secure messaging gateway that has integrations with some of the most popular secure messaging providers. Contact Bobby at bobby.bennett@startel.com or 800-782-7835. 

Build Robust Customer Relationships by Being Proactive



By Jill J. Johnson

While today’s online sales process can appear streamlined, it creates complexities and confusion for consumers who have many options in a global marketplace. The internet has blurred traditional sales territories because consumers can now search the world for the products and services they want or need. Finding the right one requires them to weed through many alternatives so they can make optimal purchasing decisions. 

Proactively building robust and trusting relationships with customers provides opportunities to become their top advisor and go-to vendor. Anticipating potential customer service challenges will help develop a framework for resolving issues in a manner that protects customer relationships. Software applications and marketing automation also create opportunities for enhanced customer insight and relationship development. 

Team Efforts Build Strong Customer Relationships

The most successful salespeople develop strong and lasting relationships with their customers. They focus on solving problems, not just making a transaction. They become an advisor their clients rely on for accurate information and solutions to address their needs. They are responsive and do not leave their clients waiting for answers. With this approach, you can anticipate opportunities for your customers and present new ideas when they are most likely ready to consider them.

Successful sales and marketing team members work closely together to create synergies among all communications used to connect with customers. Service teams must also work in sync with sales to deliver the quality that sales promised. There is nothing worse for the client relationship than a salesperson making a promise that service can’t deliver. In most organizations, service delivery stands separate from sales. Each department has its own evaluation metrics, with little communication between the two groups. When that happens, the entire customer relationship can be at risk.

Companies that effectively calibrate and coordinate their ability to supply the services the customer expects will be the most successful over the long-term. Sales relationships strategized throughout the organization provide the best opportunities for gaining accurate customer intelligence. 

You must move from passive order-taking to developing a customer relationship focused on knowing their interests and requirements. Click To Tweet

Maintaining Customer Relationships Requires Trust

When working with clients who have a long-standing relationship with your organization, it can become easy to take them for granted. Personal relationships often develop among the various parties on both sides. Frequently this evolves into a high-trust relationship.

When there is a glitch in service, client relationships can be jeopardized. If something significant interferes with the trust relationship, the entire account can be at risk. It may be service glitches or price points that are too high. When this occurs, it can be easy for everyone to assume that the relationship will resolve the issue. But when it doesn’t, everyone must remember that business is business. Personal relationships developed with care over time can vanish when mistakes occur. Both parties have their own jobs to protect and their own internal political challenges.

Often the best approach is for a call center to operate on a “no surprises” basis with clients. When you know there might be a service issue, the sooner you alert the customer, the more options you have to maintain the trusted relationship. Understanding the latitude and flexibility you have when there is a problem can move you faster to finding a resolution. No matter what, resolve client problems before they become a social media nightmare or result in lost business. 

Effective Client Relationship Management 

Building and managing relationships with your prospects and key referral sources require effort. It’s more than simply having them on your mailing list or emailing them newsletters or updates. More personal and consistent one-to-one relationships are necessary to achieve your goals. 

You must move from passive order-taking to developing a customer relationship focused on knowing their interests and requirements. Then you can match your outreach and communications to move them through their decision-making cycle. Reassess your prospect management to determine if you are relying on stale efforts that do little to move the sale forward or deepen your relationship. 

Years ago, salespeople tracked customer information on index cards. Today, robust customer relationship management (CRM) software has changed how we manage interactions with current and potential clients. CRM integration with email marketing applications can enhance sales productivity and offer options for customer personalization.

Using CRM tools helps you stay on top of customer follow-up. This requires an investment of time in capturing information into the system. Once you do this, you can take advantage of opportunities to use its robust capability for data capture and market segmentation options. These efforts will help you more effectively manage your client relationships and provide options for efficient and appropriate outreach.

Final Thoughts 

Take time to review the effectiveness of your approach to customer relationship management. Don’t take your client relationships for granted. As with any relationship, they must be nurtured to preserve and grow. Actively managing your customer and prospect interactions creates more opportunities for engagement. Each engagement takes you one step closer to closing another sale or selling a bigger deal than you can currently imagine. 

Being your customers’ subject matter expert, anticipating their needs before they do, and doing their homework for them are essential to successful and lasting customer relationships. Improving your customer’s experience will build word of mouth about your effectiveness as a sales professional—rather than just someone who manages transactions.

Jill J. Johnson is the president and founder of Johnson Consulting Services, a highly accomplished speaker, an award-winning management consultant, and author of the bestselling book Compounding Your Confidence. Jill helps her clients make critical business decisions and develop market-based strategic plans for turnaround or growth. Her consulting work has impacted more than four billion dollars’ worth of decisions. She has a proven record of dealing with complex business issues and getting results. For more information, visit www.jcs-usa.com.