Improving the call center function for a company in the healthcare industry that serves patients in multiple locations throughout multiple states. While total team members are nearing the 10,000 mark, this particular project was focusing on only a fraction of those employees. A small, but critical department owned the ever-important last impression of the patient experience.
The department that was the focus of the project was a team created primarily to help answer patient billing questions once services are completed. Unfortunately, the department was not able to adapt and keep up with company growth. Instead, they remained stagnant, and eventually spiraled into a situation where they were, at times, actually doing more harm to the patient experience than good.
A snap shot of the issue:
Key metrics from Q1, several weeks prior to the beginning of the project:
- Calls handled percentage – 39%
- Percentage of callers abandoning – 25%
- Average answer speed – more than four minutes
- Percentage of hitting service level goal – 9% (answering calls within 30 seconds)
- Percentage of calls hitting the automatic de-queue after 9:00 wait – 35%
After the wait, the patient is told that all agents are still busy and they will be called back in the order the call was received.
The Root Cause:
Through a culture of intimidation, created by a former employee and department leader, the department had lost sight of its primary purpose – to advocate for its customers. Instead, a culture of working on special projects or escalated issues became the norm instead of answering the phones. On the surface, they were in a hole, and they were not able to dig themselves out with the current structure. After a deeper dive into performance metrics, it was discovered that the average team member was in a “state of not available” 55% of their shift time. In a role where speaking to customers on the phone was their primary responsibility, their focus had shifted to other tasks and behaviors.
*Related – Call Centers are dead
Complaints about the department on a daily basis were being escalated to the highest levels within the organization. Patients were unhappy with the wait time, only to find that their questions could not be answered once they did get through. To begin, we had to find a way to stop the bleeding, and then create some process improvements that could scale with the organization.
Step 1 – Start by reinforcing the importance of the department. This small group of employees in an organization approaching 10,000 was actually making a tremendous negative impact on the brand and the overall patient experience. They needed to know how important they actually were and the positive impact they could actually have, as opposed to only hearing about all of the problems that existed.
Step 2 – Learn to be empathic. We needed to have this team become less transactional (call after call) and instead put themselves in the patient’s shoes. In this case, the organization had created training materials focused on understanding the patient and where they might be coming from for future training. We knew that this team needed these tools first, even before the company-wide rollout. Here is some more information for building empathy in your organization.
Step 3 – Define their value and reinforce daily. It is hugely important that the team understood that we were creating a cultural change, not just focusing on a one-time initiative. This message needed to be delivered by leadership, and delivered consistently. Team meetings or huddles were used as a great way to deliver key messages. An interim leader was named who made sure the team knew their value to the organization, and was able to answer questions that would have previously seemed difficult. The interim team leader made it her mission to effectively reinforce the importance of the role everyone played in the organization as well as hold team members accountable and continue to educate the team.
Step 4 – Map the Customer Experience Journey. After training the team on empathy, compassion and the organization’s Service Vision, everyone attended a half-day workshop focused on the most common and crucial patient interaction points. After an overview of the process, we broke the team into smaller groups to focus on each interaction point and discuss three very important topics.
Those topics were:
- What are our service defects (the things that can and do go wrong)?
- What are the experiential standards we can add to the interaction (using the patient’s name, for example)?
- Where can we go above and beyond for customers, when time permits?
The workshop helped to frame what would become the consistent standards that each and every Team Member delivers to patients during every interaction they have. Today, each member of the team is trained and is very knowledgeable of these standards, ensuring that all patients are receiving a consistently excellent experience from the team.
Step 5 – Focus on becoming Zero Risk. We started by identifying the difficult “no’s” the team was dealing with so that teams are better equipped to deal with them. Once we had increased empathy, reinforced their value, and created consistent standards, we were now able to focus on developing answers for those difficult patient questions. What were the questions they had difficulty answering? What are the questions they cannot answer with “yes”, and what solutions can they offer as opposed to just saying no? Again, the team worked together with leadership to identify those issues and identify the areas where continued training and education were required. The most important outcome of this exercise was confidence in the team being able to effectively do their jobs, being a remedy to the patient. In addition, tools and systems were created as a resource for the team to access information and answers, when needed.
Here is where we stand five months after beginning the project, at the end of Q3:
- Calls handled percentage – 97%
- Percentage of callers abandoning – 1.9%
- Average answer speed – :12
- Percentage of hitting service level goal – 91% (answering calls within 20 seconds, a goal lowered by :10 from the previous mark)
Overall, an outstanding transformation in only 5 short months! And, the story gets even better when you learn that this project was successful with almost the exact same team that was in place at the beginning of the process. A true testament that the roadmap outlined above is a pathway to success!
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