Digital Front Door or Revolving Door? Best practices for an effective digital strategy
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For most healthcare organizations, their call center is their first line of defense when it comes to fielding patient inquiries and resolving any challenges patients might be experiencing. Patients who call in are often dependent on the agent on the other end of the line, and a single negative interaction can easily send a patient into the arms of a competing healthcare provider.
Therefore, it’s incredibly important that call centers run efficiently and provide excellent service. We’ve put together this list of healthcare call center best practices to help you get started.
Healthcare Call Center Best Practices
By closely following these healthcare call center best practices, you can deliver the kind of experience patients expect and increase overall patient satisfaction.
Carefully Follow HIPAA Security Protocols
For healthcare professionals, violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) can be costly — and not just financially. In addition to hefty penalties, which you can see in the graphic below, HIPAA violations can also cost you patients’ trust, sully your organization’s good reputation, and even result in jail time.
With so much at stake, you can’t afford to fall short of HIPAA compliance, which means you must do everything within your power to ensure that electronic personal health information (PHI) is stored securely, including any PHI gathered during call center interactions.
To ensure secure communications in your healthcare call center:
- Only permit authorized users to access your private communications network;
- Encrypt all communications according to NIST standards
- Implement message lifespans that remove PHI from an authorized user’s computer after a designated period of time
In regard to this last item, be careful not to completely erase PHI prematurely — covered entities are required to retain documentation for six years or longer, depending on state-specific regulations.
Hire the Right People
Good help can be hard to find but it’s well worth the search. When scouting for talent, look for agents with prior healthcare call center experience, as they’re more likely to have received HIPAA training. Structure your interviewing process to test candidates’ capabilities in real-life scenarios, so you can ensure that applicants have what it takes to respond calmly and compassionately in even the most high-stress situations. If you don’t have the time to interview individual applicants, consider outsourcing your call center needs to an experienced healthcare call center company. In either case, the more experienced your agents are, the more likely your organization will remain HIPAA compliant.
Offer Multi-Channel, Multilingual Support
Patients come from all walks of life and all backgrounds, which means you need a healthcare call center team capable of adapting to different customer segments. Consider hiring multilingual agents so patients have the option to communicate in the language most comfortable to them. It’s also important that you provide patients with multiple ways to reach out, including email, live chat, text message, and social media, and that you provide a consistent, high-quality experience across each one.
Monitor & Analyze Healthcare Call Center Metrics
Metrics provide valuable insight into the overall performance of your healthcare call center, however, it’s important to know which ones to track. There are so many possible key performance indicators to monitor so, to prevent yourself from drowning in data, start by focusing on the following metrics:
- Average Response Time: As its name would imply, this metric indicates how long it typically takes an agent to respond to a patient’s call. It’s imperative that agents attempt to respond to patient inquiries in a timely manner to avoid any undue frustration on the patient’s part.
- Average Wait Time: Closely related to average response time, this healthcare call center metric indicates how long patients typically spend on hold waiting to be connected to an agent.
Being placed on hold can be frustrating for patients, as it eats up valuable time and is often an obstacle to getting the answers they need. As a result, the more time a patient spends waiting to be connected, the more likely they are to abandon a call (more on that momentarily). With that in mind, healthcare call centers should make every effort to ensure that their average time in queue is as low as possible.
- Abandonment Rate: This refers to the rate at which patients hang up the phone before they’re connected to an agent. As you can likely imagine, the abandonment rate is closely linked to average response time and average time in queue. To calculate your abandonment rate, divide the number of calls abandoned by the total number of calls received and multiply by 100. For example, if your healthcare call center received 1,000 calls and 100 were abandoned, your abandonment rate would be 10%.
- Average Call Time: Again, this metric is relatively straightforward in that it measures the average amount of time patients spend on the line. This can include both talk time and administrative tasks. The longer a patient is forced to wait on the phone (or whatever their preferred mode of communication), the more of their valuable time is wasted. Healthcare call center agents should make an effort to resolve inquiries expediently and efficiently.
To calculate your call center’s average call time, divide the total time spent on calls by the number of accepted calls. For example, if your agents spent a total of 300 hours on the phone and received 600 calls in that time, the average call time would be 30 minutes.
- First-Call Resolution: Speaking of resolution, first-call resolution, also known as FCR, refers to a healthcare call center’s ability to resolve a patient’s inquiry in a single interaction. FCR has a direct effect on customer satisfaction: According to research from the SQM Group, for every 1% improvement in FCR, there’s a 1% improvement in CSAT.
To calculate your FCR rate, divide the number of calls resolved on first contact by the total number of calls and multiply by 100. So, if you received 2,000 calls and resolve 800 of them, your FCR rate would be 40%.
- Average After Call Work Time: Average after-call work time, sometimes abbreviated to ACW, refers to any post-processing activities, such as logging the contact reason and outcome, scheduling follow-up contacts, updating coworkers, and so on. The more time agents spend on after-call work, the less time they’re able to spend fielding incoming calls. A high ACW can point to hidden inefficiencies in your healthcare call center, so it’s important to look for opportunities to optimize ACW wherever possible.
- Average Handle Time: Average handle time, or AHT, refers to the total duration of a patient’s healthcare call center experience, from when a patient initiates a call to when their issue is completely resolved. The more effective agents are at doing their job and the more operationally efficient a call center, the lower its AHT.
In order to calculate your AHT, combine average wait time, average call time, and average after-call work time, then divide by the total number of calls taken.
- Customer Satisfaction: This metric quantifies how satisfied customers — in this case, patients — are with a healthcare call center’s overall performance. The easiest way to gauge customer satisfaction is to ask patients for feedback, often in the form of a survey.
To calculate your call center’s customer satisfaction rate or CSAT, divide the number of positive responses by the total number of responses and multiply by 100. For example, if you received 300 hundred positive responses out of 400 total responses, your customer satisfaction rate would be 75%.
Unlock New Insights Using Natural Language Processing
Natural language processing (NLP) is a branch of artificial intelligence that uses machine learning and linguistics to analyze and interpret text and spoken words. The benefits of NLP for healthcare call centers are twofold:
- First, NLP technology can make chatbots more sophisticated, enabling them to more closely replicate human speech patterns and have lifelike conversations. With call volumes on the rise, healthcare call centers can utilize NLP-enhanced chatbots to more evenly distribute work, reducing agents’ stress levels and allowing for more efficient issue resolution.
- Second, healthcare call centers can apply NLP to call recordings and transcripts in order to conduct sentiment analysis. Sentiment analysis — also known as opinion mining — “identifies the emotional tone behind a body of text” or a recording by zeroing in on phrasing, inflection, tone of voice, and so on. By performing sentiment analysis, call center managers can highlight frequently asked questions; monitor agents’ performance; draw correlations between language, tone, and customer satisfaction; identify opportunities for service improvements, and enhance agent training.
Always Be Compassionate
Patients don’t contact healthcare call centers because they want to, but because they have to — often due to a pressing medical issue. As a result, they’re already under a reasonable amount of stress, and the last thing they need is an unpleasant experience with a call center agent. Instruct your agents to be patient, attentive, and, above all, compassionate when helping address the challenges your patients are experiencing. In a much-maligned industry, a little kindness goes a long way.
Say the Right Thing
How call center agents communicate with patients matters just as much as the information they’re communicating. Agents are, of course, expected to be professional at all times, but they can get additional mileage out of each interaction by being mindful of their phrasing. Advise agents to do the following:
- Avoid negative language. Look for ways to reframe negative statements as positive ones. For example, if a patient called in to schedule a surgical consultation but the doctor’s appointment calendar was full, rather than say “I’m sorry, but the doctor doesn’t have any availability this month,” an agent could say “The next available appointment is on [Date]. I can go ahead and book that for you.”
- Be authentic. Call scripts aren’t meant to be read verbatim; encourage agents to use language that feels organic to them (so long as it’s appropriate, of course). By being true to themselves, agents can create a more relaxed atmosphere and build stronger patient relationships.
- Provide specific instructions. Agents should clearly communicate whether patients need to take additional action after they get off a call and, if they do, provide specific instructions on how to proceed.
- Escalate when appropriate. If an agent lacks the expertise to assist a patient, then they should escalate the patient’s request accordingly. Make sure your agents have a clear understanding of when to escalate and who to escalate the issue to. Also, rather than just put a patient on hold and transfer the call, an agent should explain to the patient who they’re being transferred to and how that person can help.
- Always be optimistic. An agent should never figuratively throw up their hands and tell a patient that there’s nothing they can do. Even if an agent can’t satisfy a specific patient request, they can still look for other ways to provide an exceptional experience.
Make Things as Easy for Patients as Possible
Remember, at the end of the day, healthcare call centers exist to serve patients — specifically, to keep them happy and in good health — so it’s important to eliminate as many barriers as possible. Technology is an ideal way to not only fill in essential gaps in the service your call center provides but to optimize the patient experience, as well.
For example, you could implement quality monitoring software in order to automatically monitor key metrics or artificially intelligent chatbots to field low-level patient requests, so live agents can focus on more complex inquiries.
Take Steps to Prepare for the Future of Healthcare Call Centers
Call centers are only just the beginning — in today’s increasingly digitized world, patients want the ability to submit inquiries and get support through their preferred channels, whether that’s email, text or SMS message, online patient portal, or something else entirely. In order to accommodate this demand, healthcare call centers need to evolve into digital contact centers capable of fielding omnichannel requests and adding new forms of communication in the future.
Healthcare call centers looking to kickstart their digital contact center transformation would be wise to invest in a comprehensive customer service solution that:
- Empowers patients to find answers to their own questions using online self-service patient portals
- Enables agents to leverage actionable insights, intelligent case routing, and workflow automation in order to enhance productivity
- Leverages AI and other innovative technologies to personalize the patient experience and proactively recommend service improvements
- Seamlessly integrates with their existing computing infrastructure and services
- Allows for customization through the use of low-code development tools
- Utilizes advanced security measures such as biometric authentication and intelligent fraud detection to safeguard patient privacy
Finding the right solution to implement these and other healthcare call center best practices and transform the patient experience can be a challenge, but Hitachi Solutions can help. Contact us today to find out how we can help you find the perfect solution for all of your customer service needs.