11/17/2020

BY KIMBERLEY ARNOLD, BEN HORTON, AND LINDSAY WRIGHT

Have you ever tried to contact your healthcare provider, only to spend more time than planned on the phone with someone who is unable to address your specific question?

In the rapidly changing space of the healthcare industry, healthcare providers and insurers must prioritize a customer-centric strategy to thrive – and a critical component of a customer-centric strategy is an efficiently-operated contact center.

Today, providing the best possible customer experience means ensuring it’s easy to contact a healthcare provider or insurer even if it’s difficult to meet face-to-face. Unexpected events can result in call center volumes nearly doubling for periods of time; therefore, provider and insurer organizations need to establish the proper processes and controls for their contact centers to continue delivering quality service.

In the rapidly changing space of the healthcare industry, healthcare providers and insurers must prioritize a customer-centric strategy to thrive.

We’ve identified five tips to help you optimize your contact center in a world forever changed by the pandemic:

1. Implement and Track Key Performance Indicators to Effectively Staff your Contact Center Workforce

Given the nature of today’s climate, it is more important than ever to make sure that patients can get through to their healthcare provider quickly and with ease. Supervisor dashboards can give insight into a variety of metrics that help keep a contact center running at its highest potential and maintain appropriate staffing models. Some metrics that help contact center agents and supervisors better flex with variability in the marketplace include the ability to predict high call volume days and even the projected volume during high traffic events like flu season. Overall, establishing these metrics helps supervisors properly staff the contact center so agents are able to assist patients quicker and increase the quality of the patient’s experience.

Dashboards contain KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) such as calls offered, calls handled, average handle time, abandonment rate, average speed to answer, and more. These metrics help predict a large influx in calls as well as show trends over time to ensure that the contact center is appropriately staffed. If these numbers are not frequently and closely monitored, you can certainly expect customer experience to suffer.

With so many telephony platforms available in the market, it’s important your organization selects the system that works best for your environment and that it is implemented correctly. Many systems offer out-of-the-box reporting functionality, but it is critical that the data in the dashboards is useful and relevant to your company’s specific needs.

2. Equip the Contact Center to Work Remotely

The flexibility to work from home has proven to be crucial in 2020 and is likely a trend that will stick around. To equip contact center agents with the flexibility to work from home, there are numerous aspects of their day to day processes that need to be considered to ensure calls are able to be answered quickly and accurately:

  • Hardware: Equipping a contact center agent with hardware to work from home is more involved than just handing them a company computer and/or a phone– you will also need to ensure those pieces of hardware are able to connect to the network. Validating that network protocols are configured for remote access is essential and needs to be tested thoroughly. It is also crucial to ensure consistency across office resources. For example, providing all agents with headsets that minimize background noise. These headsets are crucial in an office setting to lessen the background noise of other agents but are just as beneficial at home to minimize noise within the house and outside.
  • Software: There are also many software capabilities such as softphones that allow agents the ability to take calls using only their company computer, eliminating the need for a desk phone. It is important for companies to also consider how agents will be able to update their software remotely. Will certificate updates be available to upgrade remotely or will agents need to return to the office to connect physically to the network?

By providing similar resources across work environments, you are ensuring a seamless transition from an agent’s office environment to their home. We’ve partnered with clients to quickly transition hundreds of agents from onsite contact centers to their homes in response to COVID-19, something that would not have been nearly as easy had they not had the proper hardware and software set-up and foundation.

3. Enable Contact Center Agents to Succeed

The pandemic has produced new healthcare difficulties for many people, meaning contact center agents need to be equipped to answer questions for customers who normally may not be calling. For example, the economic uncertainty produced by COVID-19 has resulted in millions of people losing jobs that had previously provided health insurance for their families. Many of these newly unemployed individuals have questions about obtaining short-term health coverage, especially questions about coverage for the treatment of COVID-19.

With so many contact center agents working in unfamiliar and remote situations, preparing agents to help solve these modern problems requires modern solutions. Training previously facilitated in person must now be replaced by online learning sessions conducted through video conferencing or eLearning modules. Agents need to receive job aids outlining instructions and resources to provide to customers on the phone promptly.

Sendero has worked with clients to plan, develop, and deploy learning materials to ensure agents are equipped with the information they need quickly. Finding new ways to consistently connect with agents and provide them with up-to-date information is crucial in allowing them to handle calls to the best of their abilities. A recent example of change resulting in updated learning materials can be seen from the many legislative changes due to COVID-19, such as Congress waiving existing Medicare regulations to provide increased flexibility for healthcare providers to treat patients. A potential Medicare customer may be interested in knowing if they will be covered for medical care in their own home. By taking the time to properly train your contact center agents as change continues to manifest in the marketplace, you will set them up for increased effectiveness and long-term success.

4. Implement Cutting-Edge Technologies to Assist Agents

Contact centers can also equip their agents with innovative technologies to provide an optimal experience for their customers. With increased unemployment rates due to COVID-19, health insurance customers are facing new challenges that require fast and accurate responses from contact center agents. One of the ways to assist your contact center to quickly respond is through the utilization of automation tools.

  • Robotic Process Automation (RPA) – RPA technology automates processes that are basic, repetitive, and rules-based. Simple tasks like copying and pasting customer information from one application to another, billing customers, or processing a sales order can be replaced with RPA technology. Automating processes will allow agents the ability to provide focused attention on critical customer concerns and ensure consistency across operational processes, minimizing the risk of error.
  • ChatBots – ChatBots use artificial intelligence (AI) to simulate a conversation with a customer and formulate responses to questions through Natural Language Processing (NLP). Setting up ChatBots to monitor a chat session after-hours can provide scalability to any contact center and provide around-the-clock support. ChatBots can also offer sentiment analysis which allows the Bot to understand customer dissatisfaction and connect the customer to a live agent.
  • CoBots – CoBots, also known as Collaborative Bots, work alongside human workers and use artificial intelligence (AI) to listen, learn, and assist the agent by providing pertinent knowledge or insights. Within a contact center, CoBots can provide real-time prompts to assist agents while speaking with customers. This includes reminding agents that the customer has an upcoming birthday or providing the agent with follow-up questions to get to the root cause of an issue.

Setting up automation tools can at times be challenging when juggling response times, high call volume, and daily responsibilities. We’ve partnered with clients and vendors to provide strategic planning, tool selection, and project management to ensure automation tools are implemented effectively to meet each client’s individual needs. Implementing these cutting-edge technologies and tools can help your contact center meet the current demands and be set up for success to thrive in the future.

5. Utilize Strategic Routing to Ensure Customer Satisfaction

It is crucial that contact centers utilize a strategic routing approach to ensure customer calls are quickly addressed. While workforce management software helps equip contact center supervisors with the ability to forecast staffing needs, there are always unpredictable events that cause an influx in customer calls. Having a routing strategy where agents are cross trained and can quickly mitigate a high number of customer calls is essential, especially during unprecedented events. Routing strategies can include:

  • Skills-based routing – Calls are routed based on specific skills or capabilities assigned to a particular agent. For example, if an agent speaks Spanish and can answer billing questions, they will receive billing calls for callers that have selected Spanish as their preferred language.
  • Service level routing – If the number of calls in the queue are in jeopardy of exceeding that particular group’s service level, calls can be routed to back-up agents to ensure customer satisfaction stays intact and service levels are maintained.
  • Data-directed routing – Calls can be routed to a particular group of agents based on a caller profile in the company’s downstream system, such as a CRM.

We’ve partnered with clients to develop complex and strategic routing plans to ensure calls are routed quickly and appropriately. In doing so, they’ve been able to see an increase in caller satisfaction and a more organized structure in their call centers.

Many companies have been forced to quickly rethink their onsite call center structure for the very first time. Utilizing the strategies above will enable your organization to handle a remote work structure, meet the demand of unpredictable call volumes, and empower your agents with the latest, most up to date information to provide customers with the best experience possible.

Many companies have been forced to quickly rethink their onsite call center structure for the very first time.

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