Assuring Call Center Performance Effectiveness

Written by on August 29, 2014 in Insight - No comments

CallCenterWEBCall center professionals have become critical to the success of many hospitals and physician practices serving as customer relationship experts who can assist callers in navigating a complex health care system and who provide physicians with accurate, relevant, and timely information to help them treat patients effectively.

As they create crucial first and subsequent impressions, the way they execute their roles may be critical in a patient’s judgment of a medical organization’s competency while also being instrumental in scheduling appointments for which medical practices receive income.

This article identifies performance goals for call centers, success measures by which to evaluate their performance, criteria for hiring call center agents, and a program to motivate call center workers to perform their roles effectively. It is based on research done on call centers, at the request of an urban health care organization.

Performance goals: In our analysis we identified five critical performance goals for call centers:

•  Complete and accurate patient information capture
•  Appropriate record keeping for risk mitigation
•  Effective interpersonal communication with all stakeholders
•  Patient utilization of related fee-paying services
•  Call center employee satisfaction and retention

Success measures: To achieve these goals, hospital and health system call centers should have managers evaluate the agents monthly for achieving the goals of the health system and ensuring patient satisfaction.

Managers and supervisors need to be evaluating at least 10 calls per agent per month for:

•  Accurate data entry, including verifying caller’s information, such as name, return telephone number, purpose of call, outcome of call, and appropriate routing and scheduling decisions, all critical measures of effectiveness
•  The number and length of calls as well as calls abandoned because of wait time
•  Using correct terminology, grammar, spelling, punctuation and diction in recording information, especially as messages are permanently stored
•  The percentage of calls ending in fee-generating appointments for services

To ensure patient satisfaction, contact a sample of callers to gain feedback on call center performance. Either through automated survey tools or manual sampling, patient satisfaction surveys should evaluate the agent’s ability to:

•  Create positive initial and final impressions
•  Practice good listening and questioning skills
•  Demonstrate empathy and courtesy
•  Gather accurate data

Updating agents with critical feedback on their ability to deliver on patient satisfaction and hospital system performance goals needs to be communicated in a timely manner to agents through the use of dashboards and reporting. Providing agents with accurate, relevant and timely performance and satisfaction data through a ‘traffic light’ dashboard encourages agents to continuously improve and meet explicit success criteria and performance goals. Additionally, managers have a consistent platform to use for agent evaluation.

Training: To improve performance, call centers need to train with both performance and interpersonal goals. At the performance level, use examples from your call center data analysis to illustrate best practices in recording and routing information. Agent training needs to both reinforce desired processes for the routine calls with exercises that emphasize standard procedures and review a few specific outlier complex cases that demonstrate non-routine thinking and encourage patient satisfaction without sacrificing performance goals.

To improve interpersonal skills, agents should routinely complete exercises around answering calls with a positive attitude, ending calls with a scheduled appointment, when appropriate, and dealing with emotional and abusive callers; doctor, nurses, and other medical professionals; and one another in a positive, collaborative environment.

Hiring practices: Performance-based hiring practices are critical to creating a successful call center. Explicit and escalating goals for new hires encourages decreased time until they have the performance and productivity achievements of seasoned employees. Hiring needs to be based on an assessment of skills required on the job, including typing & data entry, computer navigation, listening, empathy, and persuasion skills as well as grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and phone voice delivery.

Motivational practices: Maintaining morale and call center spirit is a key to motivating employees to continuously improve and meet performance goals and improve patient satisfaction. Several ideas for motivating agents include:

•  Posting a large calendar where employees can self-identify celebratory events: such as birthdays, births, perfect attendance, service anniversaries, and retirements;
•  Using a bulletin board, changed weekly, to highlight recognitions, post pictures, and publicize message center successes;
•  Planning events where physicians, nurses, and other medical professionals meet with message center personnel; and
•  Providing incentives for excellent performance, such as for each scheduled appointment that results in payment to a medical center; perfect attendance; top of class capture rate of information and other clear measures of quality as identified by call center managers and agents.

It is a modern mantra that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Given the central role that call centers can serve in promoting hospital and physician practices goals, establishing measures for call center success, both in terms of performance and interpersonal skills, and using that information to create appropriate training, hiring, and motivational practices to improve call center performance are keys to making medical call centers’ investments pay strong dividends.

By Brian Clark, MBA, TriHealth
Jeffrey Stewart, MBA, MS, Vitas Hospice Care
Julie Stewart, PhD, Xavier University

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