Tag Archives: COVID

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


Amtelco

By Nicole Limpert

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

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

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

Are We Ready for Telemedicine?

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

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

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

Hospital Call Centers Experience Increased Telehealth Calls

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

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

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

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

Call Center Software Assists Telehealth Communication

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

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

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

Remote Operators Help Medical Staff

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

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

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

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

Telehealth as the New Normal

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

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

Amtelco

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

Should We Strive to Return to What Was or Move toward a New Normal?



Decisions We Make Today Can Better Prepare Us for Tomorrow

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

As writers pitched their article ideas for this issue of Connections Magazine, everyone, it seemed, wanted to talk about coronavirus and Covid-19. While I want the content of this magazine to address relevant, real-world situations, I also didn’t want to let the topic take over every page. I’ve had a similar quandary about what to address in this column, wanting to share content of value for both today and tomorrow.

We’re now moving away from the severity of the coronavirus impact, even though it is still a factor in our everyday existence. Each person must decide for themselves the best way to move forward. Each call center faces the same dilemma.

Many people long for a return to normal. I get that. Many more, however, wonder if we ever will. Instead they see us moving toward a new normal. Though we may lament this as a loss, we can also celebrate it as an opportunity for our call center operations. Here are some examples we can embrace as our new normal.

We may lament this as a loss, we can also celebrate it as an opportunity for our call center operations Click To Tweet

Distributed Staff

Though by definition a call center is centralized, requirements for social distancing or the need to self-isolate have pushed our centers of operation to become decentralized. Some call centers have already embraced this concept, while others have fully implemented it. However, in our new normal, we’ll see a decentralized workforce occur at an accelerated rate. 

Now is the time to fine-tune our remote staff practices and management. Some call centers do this in preparation for a possible second wave of the pandemic, while others see it as a way to enhance their operation for better outcomes.

Flexible Technology

In the past decade, we’ve seen a gradual shift from premise-based technology to on-demand, internet-delivered solutions. This technology goes by different names, with its proponents debating the various distinctive differences. But the inescapable fact is that this move away from premise-based call processing platforms supplies increased flexibility for call centers.

With this flexible solution, no longer does a call center agent need to remain tethered to a station at one location. And the complexities of turning up a new station at a different site have disappeared to become a nonissue. 

With these various online solutions, anyone with an adequate computing device and an internet connection can log into their call center to process calls. Anytime, anywhere accessibility affords call centers maximum flexibility in deploying their staff as needed. 

Work-At-Home Reality

This crisis has shown what I’ve known for twenty years: there is value in working from home. Aside from the obvious benefits of no commute time, zero travel costs, and minimal dress code considerations, there’s the benefit of being able to continue working in a safe, socially distanced environment. 

Though working in a home office at times has its challenges, the benefits are huge, especially during a pandemic. As many people faced layoffs, reduced hours, or health risks by continuing to go to work, home-based workers continued business as normal. This takes us to another significant point.

An Ideal Industry

As nonessential manufacturing closed and most service businesses ground to a halt, the ability of call centers to tap home-based workers allowed them to continue serving their callers. And for those that had already embraced this operational model or had the flexibility to move to it quickly, their callers didn’t know the difference.

Parting Thought 

Though I hope not, we may again experience a repeat of government-mandated self-isolation to stave off the impact of a pandemic. Isn’t it great to know that the call center industry is perfectly poised to embrace such a reality, if or when it occurs? 

As coronavirus restrictions ease in most parts of the world, don’t strive to return to normal. Instead look forward to the amazing benefits of embracing a new normal.

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.

The Importance of a Secure Messaging Platform



By Nicole Limpert

COVID-19 has made huge impacts on our health and day-to-day life throughout the world. The virus has been overwhelming to all, but particularly among the teams who are supporting and caring for those who are sick. Now more than ever, secure messaging platforms are critical to ensure communications are sent securely and quickly across these care and support teams. Here are the top three reasons why a secure messaging platform is an essential tool during these unprecedented times.

1. Communicate Sensitive Information Quickly

Whether you’re an operator relaying an important message or a doctor tending to a patient, fast and reliable communication is critical to ensure the safety and well-being of those involved.

Hospitals should consider updating their pager system to a secure messaging platform. Pagers have been shown to waste a considerable amount of time among healthcare teams. Compared to legacy paging technology, secure messaging can save staff up to two minutes per message.

Secure messaging offers features such as persistent alerts, event-driven notifications, critical alerts, and high-priority settings Click To Tweet

When it comes to the safety of sensitive information, a secure messaging platform is paramount. Most secure messaging platforms use end-to-end encryption, which can ensure that personal health information (PHI) in the form of text, photo, video, and audio stays secure. Look for a secure messaging platform that doesn’t store messages on the device. Also critical is being able to remotely disable the app on lost or stolen devices to prevent unauthorized access.

2. Accountability with Time Stamps and Reports

It can be difficult to stay organized and keep a level head when things are moving quickly and staff is getting overwhelmed. Imagine that you’re a doctor, and you just sent a message to a lab tech via a secure messaging app requesting some lab results for an ICU patient. With the app, you can see if your message was sent successfully and when the lab tech read the message. Time stamps add an extra level of reassurance and accountability to your team, which is critical in times of crisis.

Most secure messaging apps also keep track of all message activity. This should include an audit log and a message log, complete with message histories, showing to whom messages were sent, when the recipient read the message, and who replied.

3. Urgent and Emergency Notifications

During times of crisis, it can be easy for alarms, notifications, and messages over a public address system to overwhelm healthcare workers. Conversely, some hospital staff may fall victim to alarm fatigue. One study records an average of 1.2 alarms are heard by a nurse every sixty seconds, or as many as 359 alarms per medical procedure. In addition, recent studies estimate as many as 90 percent of alarms in critical care settings are either false or clinically irrelevant. This leads healthcare providers to believe that many devices are crying wolf, delaying practitioner response time when a real emergency occurs.

To combat the effects of alarm fatigue, secure messaging offers features such as persistent alerts, event-driven notifications, critical alerts, and high-priority settings to ensure that vital messages receive a prompt acknowledgment.

COVID-19 has placed an elevated level of responsibility and pressure on healthcare and call center staff. These demands become easier with the help of a high-performing secure messaging platform that can meet their needs to combat the disease and ensure the safety of patients. 

Amtelco

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

Work from Home Success



By Phil Kenter

One of our family friends told us that she disliked working in New York City as an investment broker/manager and was considering another career despite her financial success. She decided to try working from home and found it worked fine. She since has become more successful than before without the stress of commuting to the city every day. 

Now 100 percent of our staff work remotely. This has resolved all our staffing problems. Click To Tweet

In another case, the daughter of one of our clients was an equipment trainer, which required her to travel extensively throughout the country to hospitals and healthcare facilities. She convinced her employer that she could accomplish the training remotely from her home with the use of video conferencing. 

That prompted an idea for us to consider. We changed our Help Wanted ad to read “Work from Home After Training. Details: www.rccjobs.com.” The site describes the job and includes a twelve-minute video of an operator processing a call. 

We began to receive inquiries and requests for interviews. Applicants must train in our office for four to six weeks, four hours a day, five days a week. We usually know within the first week or two if they have what it takes. 

Once fully trained, we assist them in setting up their home office. We provide a headset, electronic access equipment, and detailed instructions. They provide their own computer, per our specs, that we set up and program for them to use exclusively for us. They’re also responsible for the telephone circuit and the internet connection. In under six months, we have hired four operators, all of whom enjoy working remotely. 

Because of that success, our remaining staff requested remote status too. Now 100 percent of our staff work remotely. This has resolved all our staffing problems. The midnight operators enjoy working from home in their pajamas rather than driving to the office in the middle of the night. 

If we need an operator to cover for someone else, one or more of them are readily available and enjoy doing it. The same applies for weekends and holidays. If we have a major snowstorm—when no one can come in—now they all are available to log in. In the winter when we become inundated with heat calls for oil deliveries, we always have operators available. The same occurs in the summer months during a heatwave when we’re inundated with air conditioning outage calls. 

When one of our lead operators moved to Florida with her family and informed us of minimal employment opportunities near where she lived, we sent her equipment. Now she continues to work for us forty hours a-week from her home in Florida.

Phil Kenter is with Relay Communications Center in Long Island, New York.

Preparing Your Contact Center for a Pandemic



By Donna Fluss

As the coronavirus pandemic fills the news headlines, contact centers are striving to continue to deliver service to their customers. Many companies have disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity (BC) plans to address the ability to operate if a disaster—such as a hurricane, earthquake, or fire—were to occur. Some companies may even have plans to cope with the impact of a major flu outbreak, but few contact centers have a BC plan to handle a pandemic where employees are at risk if they sit closer than six feet from each other, which is the situation in most service organizations.

Business Continuity for Pandemics

Planning for business continuity in case of a pandemic is different from preparing for a natural disaster scenario. In the case of weather-related disasters, the main consideration is often employees’ safety when driving to and from the workplace. For a pandemic, however, the main issue may be people’s reluctance to leave home at all. Keep in mind that it’s not fair for companies to require their contact center staff and other service employees to report to work under these circumstances when other departments may be advised that it’s unsafe to come to the office.

Companies should prioritize keeping their employees safe and healthy so they can be there to assist their customers. Click To Tweet

Allow Contact Center Staff to Work from Home

Companies should make it as easy as possible for their contact center staff to work from home. Provide employees with PCs, headsets, and secure access to operating systems so they can perform their job in the safety of their home. This reinforces the benefit of investing in cloud-based contact center infrastructure solutions that are accessible from most locations, including employees’ homes.

Supervisors should also be set up to work from their homes. To mitigate the risk of leaving contact center agents unsupported during a widespread health crisis, it’s a best practice to establish a structure where managers and supervisors share responsibilities, and it can be especially helpful to have them in different geographies. All systems should be capable of being managed from remote locations.

Communication Is Key

It’s important for businesses to have a documented DR/BC plan that addresses healthcare emergency scenarios. A communications plan is the most essential element during any crisis situation. The plan should inform staff members how to stay in touch with the business, and to let them know what is expected of them. It’s advisable for a company to have two ways of reaching each employee, such as email and SMS, to ensure that they receive each communication on a timely basis. 

Another essential element of the communication plan is a process for interacting with customers to let them know that your company is there for them and the most effective methods for receiving assistance. The customer communication should also set expectations for customers. If service response times are slower due to an increase in volumes or decrease in staff, advise them of this.

Enhance Self-Service Solutions

To decrease the volume of interactions that require live agents, companies should enhance their voice and web-based self-service solutions by adding options that don’t require human assistance. Companies can either enhance an existing interactive voice response (IVR) system or use a next-generation intelligent virtual assistant (IVA) that can be set up to manage multiple channels, including voice, websites, SMS, and more.

Final Recommendation

Social distancing has proven to be the most effective method to date for limiting the rapid spread of the highly contagious coronavirus. Companies should prioritize keeping their employees safe and healthy so they can be there to assist their customers. For contact center employees, this means allowing them to work from their homes.

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.

Case Study: A BPO Adapts to the COVID-19 Pandemic



By Scott Newman

Transparent BPO recently undertook a serious initiative: to deploy 850 brick-and-mortar contact center agents to a work-from-home (WFH) environment.

With captive contact centers and other outsourcers in our industry still looking at viable alternatives to adapt to the new and evolving landscape with COVID-19, I felt publishing our story might, in some small way, help others navigate this change.

Before I begin, let me say that no quickly deployed work-from-home solution is perfect. True WFH solutions take time and effort to plan data and physical security, training, performance monitoring, and other essential functions. Even now we continue to work on enhancements and additional monitoring to help ensure excellent service delivery.

Introduction

The first known case of COVID-19 in the United States was confirmed on January 20, 2020. That announcement set in motion a new era in our personal and business lives that most never expected or considered.

While many of us are finding ways to navigate this pandemic personally, businesses large and small are trying to figure out a path forward (or determine if one even exists). The business process outsourcing (BPO) industry companies that can continue operating and lean into this situation, embrace the reality, and push the boundaries on possible solutions will be the ones who come out on the other side of the pandemic stronger and with new and innovative ways to service their clients.

Transparent BPO Background

Founded in 2009, Transparent BPO runs a brick-and-mortar operation out of three physical sites in Belize City, Belize, Central America, with 850 employees (as well as a work-from-home operation based in the Philippines). 

Our efforts to prevent or at least mitigate the spread of COVID-19 transpired over time based on what we perceived to be an increasing threat. It occurred in three stages.

Stage 1: Physical Prevention

On February 28, even though no cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Belize, we felt it necessary to be proactive and take measures to put our employees’ minds at ease and de-risk the contact center. We decided to enact the following measures:

  • Reinforce that any flu-like symptoms would require the employee to see a doctor immediately and not report to work
  • Quarantine for anyone who traveled to and from China
  • Purchased additional inventory of Lysol, Clorox, or other alcohol-based wipes to give us a two-month plus supply for each call floor
  • Required each employee to wipe down their workstations before and after each shift
  • Instituted a headset-sharing restriction policy
  • Encourage healthy habits, such as washing your hands and not touching your face.

We also began communicating regularly with clients and employees, and we published educational posters throughout the contact centers with best practices and information on COVID-19 to ensure accurate information was accessible. 

Stage 2: More Stringent Measures

On March 13, with additional cases announced in the United (but still none in Belize), we took other measures, which included:

Travel Restrictions: We restricted all international travel. Any employee who traveled outside of Belize must self-quarantine before returning to work. 

Contact Center Closures: We closed all contact centers to outside visitors, including clients, vendors, and family members.

Sanitization and Prevention Protocols: We installed hand-sanitizing stations at the entrance of all buildings and required employees to wash their hands as much as possible (at least twice per day). We also prohibited all physical contact, including shaking hands and hugging, and started temperature checks upon entrance to the building. (Anyone with a temperature over 100.4 Fahrenheit would be sent to the doctor and not allowed to return until cleared by a healthcare professional.)

In addition, we required security personnel, janitorial staff, and food handlers to wear gloves. We enhanced janitorial efforts to wipe down high-traffic areas (such as door handles, countertops and tables, elevator buttons, and water cooler handles) every two hours. And we ordered an extra three months’ worth of janitorial supplies to guarantee that we had plenty in reserve.

As a further preventative measure, we sanitized all buses and company vehicles before and after each trip, and we installed hand-sanitizing stations on each.

Stage 3: Business Continuity Planning

At this same time, our leadership team felt we needed to design and quickly implement a business continuity plan—even though there were still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Belize—that centered around using a WFH model.

Unlike other contact centers, we did not merely put computers in a home. That would have resulted in a much less desirable rollout. Instead, we took a well-thought-out, balanced approach between holding ourselves to a high standard to keep a quality product and ensuring proper compliance measures, such as adhering to PCI, SOC-2, and HIPAA. 

In developing the continuity plan, we evaluated problems we might encounter during implementation and developed solutions to circumvent them, as follows.

Evaluated Thin Client Deployment Model

The first consideration was whether to use a thin client deployment model, which would require investing in a server farm at our colocation facility in Miami. This option, however, proved problematic. 

The main components we needed came from China and were on a significantly delayed lead time. We felt the expected six-to-eight-week implementation period would be counterproductive if we hoped to reach our goals. As a result, we pivoted and began to look for other ideas.

Addressed Firewall Limitations

The firewalls we had in place were only meant for brick-and-mortar operations and faced limitations for remote VPN connections. To resolve the problem, we purchased a Cisco ASA firewall, which we deployed in our colocation in Miami. It uses Cisco’s AnyConnect VPN software, which allowed us to support up to 700 users initially and now supports over 5,000 concurrent connections. 

Agents working from home have no access to client systems unless connected to our VPN, which connects to our network. This precaution allows us to enforce virus protection and the policies and rules we have at our facilities in Belize to be 100 percent compliant.

Enabled Multifactor Authentication Availability

Remote workers are required to have multifactor-authentication (MFA) capabilities to remain PCI-compliant. This requirement is challenging in a developing country like Belize because companies can’t rely on employees to have mobile phones with an MFA token. Also, the fact employees can’t have cell phones at their workstations exacerbates the problem. After exploring a range of options, we found an MFA solution that works on desktops and in a WFH environment. 

Added Policy Statement

We added a confirmation of policies and procedures statement both on the active directory and VPN logins. It is an additional layer that reminds agents of the importance of PCI-compliance each time they log in for their shift.

Staging Environment and Internet Provider Testing

Once we settled on a solution, we went through a staging environment and internet testing procedure. We set up one PC in a remote location for each client and brought in an agent from each program to work for a full day, under supervision, to make sure there were no VPN connectivity hurdles that might impede them from working productively. We took this step before setting up anything in the field to establish proof of concept and troubleshoot any problems that might arise in a remote location.

Simultaneously, we surveyed our employees to determine who had home internet and what connections they used. We then sent members of our IT team into agents’ homes and evaluated seven different residential internet providers for latency, jitter, and stability. 

Agent Due Diligence

With our attorney, we drafted a work-from-home agreement, which we required all agents to sign. Our training director developed a course for work-at-home certification that consisted of a ten-minute self-paced video and quiz that agents had to pass to be eligible. Lastly, agents had to sign an equipment asset sign-out form that contained asset tags, serial numbers, and replacement costs. 

Client Communications

We surveyed clients to determine their appetite for our staff to work-from-home ability, giving them a few options:

  • Not interested in work-from-home
  • Only in the event of a serious incident
  • Yes: moving now to get ahead and secure 100 percent uptime
  • Only partial WFH and the rest in the office

We also had to resolve a PCI-compliance liability issue. Even though we could protect data security thanks to the VPN and MFA, we could not exert total control over physical security (such as an agent writing down credit card numbers.)

In some cases, we agreed to change the job scope to limit agents’ ability to take sensitive information. We also asked clients to look at alternative secure technology solutions if they wanted to continue to accept credit card information, such as using a secure IVR solution or link that allows customers to input card information themselves.

Unexpected Problems

We encountered a few unexpected problems. They included: 

Ethernet cables. In Belize, many home internet installations are mounted high on a wall and intended for Wi-Fi use only. Because our policies require workstations be plugged in via ethernet meant we had to build cables to accommodate the need. (The average cable length needed for each home was over 30 feet, and some were over 50 feet.) We purchased several boxes of cable, ends, and punch-downs, and made cables to send home with the PCs.

Getting computers to homes: Another problem was how to get computers and other equipment to the agents’ homes. It wasn’t wise to send someone home with a PC, dual monitors, keyboard, mouse, and headset on public transportation. 

To solve the problem, we conducted a staged rollout by loading up our buses, vans, and personal vehicles and carried people and equipment to each home. We took anywhere from five to fifteen people per run throughout the day, along with a member of the IT staff. We could set up the equipment in about five minutes per house. 

Results to Date

On April 1, the Government of Belize declared a national state of emergency, which required all nonessential businesses to close. Unfortunately, contact centers are not considered essential. Thus, we have closed our facilities until the emergency state is lifted. 

The good news is that after selectively setting up the first fifteen employees on Monday, March 23, within just over a week, we have moved 100 percent of the required employees to a WFH environment. It has been a massive effort with many working long hours to make it happen.

Both performance and attendance have been excellent, and our agents are appreciative of the opportunity. We know it will pay off in increased loyalty to our brand.

So far we have only addressed the issue of physically moving agents from our office to WFH in an organized manner that enables them to work efficiently. Now our efforts will turn to building additional monitoring and QA tools to help live in the new WFH environment and deliver results successfully.

We surveyed clients to determine their appetite for our staff to work-from-home. Click To Tweet

Lessons Learned

Although we are still early in the process, we have learned two valuable lessons. Initially, we asked clients to pay a small portion of the added expense. But after receiving feedback, we reconsidered the request.

Another lesson is that quick action and planning is critical to success. Brainstorming possible scenarios and developing contingency plans to address them help us to prepare for risks and secure the necessary provisions to meet an unexpected turn of events. 

BPO Industry Future

The COVID-19 pandemic is going to change the BPO industry landscape forever. It requires that industry leaders think seriously about how significantly the virus has impacted companies and how client expectations will change as a result. 

We must ask ourselves some vital questions: Does the business model need to change? Do we consider that a subset of agents works from home permanently? How do we expand our business in a WFH scenario?

This isn’t just a matter of surviving a natural disaster, either. It involves prolonged absence from the office and is a threat that could impact us like nothing we have ever seen. That’s why all future contracts will include a pandemic clause.

There are also many unknowns to consider. No one knows how long this will last or whether it could occur seasonally, like the flu. Since the likelihood of a vaccine being ready soon is practically nil, we need to prepare for the eventuality that this could happen again.

The future of our industry could depend on it. 

Scott Newman is the CEO of Transparent BPO.

Coronavirus Communication



Seek Balance in Your Customer-Facing Messaging

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

It seems cliché to say it, but we live in an unprecedented time. We don’t have a roadmap on how to navigate this crisis we’re in. Responses to this pandemic vary, with some overreacting and others being dismissive. We need balance in our response, neither panicking nor ignoring. The same holds true when communicating with and supporting our clients and customers.

Here are some ideas to help guide us forward.

Answer Questions

Do your stakeholders (both customers and staff) have questions about the impact of coronavirus? Anticipate their queries, and answer them before anyone asks. They’ll appreciate your initiative. Then fine-tune your messaging as updates become available.

Consider Your Situation

However, you may not even need to formulate a coronavirus plan. For example, since I, and all my subcontractors, work at home (or can work at home), it’s business as usual. I’ve not made a coronavirus statement to our customers. What’s interesting is that no one has asked. This makes me wonder how many companies are spending time on coronavirus messaging when they don’t need to.

Whether tomorrow is a return to normal or a new normal doesn’t matter as much as what we can do to make the most of it. Click To Tweet

Avoid Overcommunicating

In the past month, the number of email messages I receive has decreased greatly. Yet a disproportionate number of them are about coronavirus and COVID-19. Some of these emails come from businesses I use regularly. I appreciate their initial message telling me what to expect. But I don’t appreciate receiving additional emails that don’t tell me anything of value.

Other businesses where I have, at best, a tangential relationship have contacted me too. I don’t care, and I unsubscribe. What surprises me most is the number of companies with whom I’ve never done business that feel I’m interested in their coronavirus response. I’m not. These emails merely cause irritation.

Provide Help

Look at your company’s product and service offerings. How can these items help your stakeholders? Consider their pain points and how you might be able to offer something that can address these needs. 

Of particular value are products that carry no incremental cost to provide. Yes, by giving them away for free for a time, you lengthen the payback period of your initial investment, or you lose income to reinvest in your operation, but offering these tools don’t carry a direct cost. And when you do so, you invest in a long-term relationship with your stakeholders. They won’t forget it.

Offer Respect 

No doubt you’ve heard of people and companies taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis. This is not a time to maximize profits. I’ve had memberships and subscriptions that I couldn’t use because the organization closed due to coronavirus, keeping me from using what I had paid for. Yet they’re not offering an extension when they reopen. Instead they’ve already asked me to renew even though they’re closed.

Another local business promoted home delivery of their products for twenty-five dollars. But when I placed the order, it doubled to fifty dollars. I contacted customer service for an explanation, but they never responded. Three days later I decided to place my order anyway, but the delivery fee had tripled to seventy-five dollars. I’ll never forget that this business—one I often frequented—ripped me off.

Treat your stakeholders with respect, and they won’t forget it. Take advantage of them, and they won’t forget that either.

Seek to Maintain Business as Usual

One company’s coronavirus email simply said that since all their employees already work from home, I could expect no interruption to their availability and the level of service they provide. For them it was business as usual. To the degree possible, we should seek to do the same. I don’t want to diminish the critical situation that coronavirus has put us in, but I do want to point out that by focusing on it, we serve to amplify its impact.

Going Forward

Some people look ahead to when things return to normal. Other people worry that this won’t happen. Instead, we’ll form a new normal. As we move forward to an unpredictable future, let’s take the lessons that we’re learning now and apply them to tomorrow. Whether tomorrow is a return to normal or a new normal doesn’t matter as much as what we can do to make the most of it.

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.