Meeting the Needs of the Evolving Hospital Contact Center
The healthcare landscape is becoming increasingly competitive as hospitals continually look for innovative ways to engage with existing and potential customers. As the first point of contact for most patients’ hospital experiences, the contact center is more important than ever. Organizations rely on this team to deliver exceptional customer service while supporting exemplary patient care. With the help of innovative technology solutions, hospital contact centers are able to streamline their operational efficiencies, enhance the patient experience, and reinforce a positive brand image.
Contact centers, the vital communications hub of any hospital, support improved patient care by helping to coordinate efficient clinical communications. This, in turn, can ultimately boost patient satisfaction scores and increase revenues. In a continually evolving environment, it’s important to assess whether your contact center is using best practices and the most appropriate technology to maximize its potential. Incorporating or upgrading new technology into your existing contact center will enable you to increase staff satisfaction, improve efficiencies, and trim costs.
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Consolidating Multiple Contact Centers
As the number of hospital mergers continues to grow, more and more organizations are choosing to consolidate and centralize their call center operations at one site. Centralized contact centers are more efficient and cost effective. However, they are also more complex. When serving multiple facilities, operators must be able to adapt and apply a range of procedures across the multiple sites that they serve in order to provide the best service to current and prospective patients.
There are many benefits to consolidating several contact centers into one streamlined system:
- Increased staff satisfaction
- Greater efficiency when connecting with clinicians
- Improved response times to critical codes
- Enhanced security and risk management
- Improved customer service for patients and their families
Today’s agents serve as a hospital’s front line, managing a wide array of communications that are critical for the efficient operation of the entire organization. To boost the efficiency of these departments, hospitals are utilizing innovative and streamlined contact center communications systems. These platforms integrate operator consoles, web-based directories and on-call scheduling and messaging capabilities, speech recognition technology, and secure texting apps. With this powerful technology at their fingertips, agents have more time to focus on what they do best: coordinating communications and delivering excellent customer service.
Good first impressions are essential and can influence a caller’s decision to become your patient, so it is important not to overlook the role that call center agents perform as ambassadors of your hospital’s brand. Successful organizations recognize that efficient and courteous service is a highly valued asset, and they support contact centers with the right tools to reduce call volumes and assure professional, individualized caller experiences. Providing operators with up-to-date online directory information and on-call schedules available right from their consoles can significantly reduce the amount of time they spend searching for contact information, and speech recognition can provide fast transfers for routine calls. A contact center that provides excellent service is a cost-effective way to increase customer loyalty and boost patient revenue through referrals and increased participation in hospital programs.
With the diversity of mobile devices clinicians are carrying, including smartphones, pagers, tablets, and Wi-Fi phones, it can be difficult for contact center staff and other providers to know how best to reach a particular clinician, especially when physicians and nurses need to be quickly alerted to respond to patients’ needs. Innovative routing profile technology enables clinicians to create and quickly update their communication preferences and escalation protocols for normal and urgent messages. Contact center agents no longer need to rely on paper-based on-call schedules, which can quickly become unreliable or inaccurate, to determine the best way to reach the right staff. Device preferences technology not only provides clinicians control over how they wish to be contacted, but it also saves contact center staff valuable minutes by making it easy to forward calls quickly.
Coordinating emergency response and alerting staff to time-sensitive situations is crucial to patient safety. Mobilizing your staff depends on fast, accurate dissemination of critical information to the right devices. Utilizing technology that integrates with your hospital’s web directory, on-call scheduling, and operator console solutions supports timely responses by appropriate medical and administrative staff to time-critical situations. Pre-configured templates and information about the correct escalation path, based on a provider’s availability and preferred device, removes time-consuming tasks for your contact center agents such individually sending and tracking responses, and locating additional providers when primary contacts fail to respond on time. Ultimately, these technologies allow everyone more time to focus on what matters most—caring for patients.
Call recording technology is a valuable tool in the changing landscape of contact centers. Having the ability to capture all interactions between agents and customers allows you to document the handling of all calls from the routine, such as appointment scheduling, messaging, and physician pages, to code calls and other emergencies. In addition, an audit trail allows you to retrace a situation in case there are later disputes about how a call was handled. Contact center supervisors can access each staff member’s recorded calls to evaluate and identify strengths as well as training opportunities and areas of improvement for individual operators. Recording and evaluating how all calls are handled enables you to provide agents with the tools they need to deliver top-notch customer service every time they’re on the phone.
Finding the Right Technology
How do you assess whether your contact center is using best practices and the most appropriate technology to maximize its potential? The first step is to make a list of the functions your contact center currently performs, the internal systems that need to interface with the contact center, and what functions you would like to offer in the future. Consider your organization’s vision and mission, and seek input from staff members at every level of the hospital. You may get valuable insight about your strengths, weaknesses, and the best ways to move forward.
Consolidating Contact Centers to Reduce Costs and Improve Customer Service
According to the American Hospital Association there are approximately 5,700 hospitals across the United States and more than half of them belong to merged healthcare systems. Merger and acquisition activity among healthcare systems has accelerated dramatically as hospitals seek new ways to increase market share, reduce costs, and gain more leverage with insurers.2 In fact, between 2009 and 2012, the number of hospital mergers more than doubled, and the healthcare industry overall has gone through significant changes since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Additionally, more and more systems are comprised of multiple hospital facilities, outpatient service sites, clinics, and affiliated medical groups. These multifaceted, post-merger organizations have increasingly complex needs and often operate using disparate systems across different buildings and campuses.
The Critical Role of the Hospital Contact Center
As the first point of contact for a hospital, the contact center has the critical role of fostering and maintaining current (and potential) patient loyalty. Contact centers represent the brand of your organization to the public, and agents are vital ambassadors. A poorly managed call can quickly overshadow a carefully cultivated reputation. In addition to handling inbound calls, contact centers perform vital roles in clinical communications such as code calls.
In order to create greater economies of scale, generate cost reductions, streamline processes, and deliver more consistent customer service, many systems are transitioning to a single, multifunctional contact center solution. The infrastructure consolidation of technology is also often accompanied by a physical consolidation of agents into one location. Here are six reasons why these complex efforts are worth your while.
The Benefits of a Consolidated Contact Center
1. Increase staff satisfaction and efficiency
A consolidated contact center can help hospital systems reduce both operating expenses and call-processing time. The key is not just in the physical consolidation, but in implementing a unified infrastructure that can easily scale with changing call volumes, even if new facilities need to be covered by the team. With a central contact database and intuitive operator console, staff can quickly access the information they need, from one system. Utilizing one technology solution across the enterprise means you can manage greater call volumes while reducing operator workloads and fatigue.
2. Improve response times to critical codes
The contact center must efficiently connect the organization’s internal departments and various sites to one another, especially when issuing critical codes, because every second counts in a medical emergency. One way to facilitate these critical communications is by consolidating all emergency response sources (facilities, ambulatory, rapid response teams, etc.) and protocols into a single call center function. On the front end, this gives hospital staff just one number to call when a code needs to be launched, whether it is a fire, gas outage, or a dangerous change in patient vitals. In addition, standardizing the software that supports contact center functions (the console platform) and integrating directory contact information with on-call schedules and messaging capabilities can eliminate a reliance on paper binders, white boards, sticky notes, spreadsheets, and other disparate or manual sources.
3. More bandwidth for managing diverse tasks and responsibilities
The role of a contact center agent has changed dramatically over the years, and these professionals are now tasked with a lot more than simply answering and transferring phone calls. The time savings and more sophisticated tools allow staff to handle a wide array of requests, including inquiries about costs and insurance plans, appointment scheduling, event registration, physician-to-physician referrals, and nurse triage. Technology can also support staff providing after-hours answering services for clinics and physician practices. Another big benefit of using a single technology platform to consolidate all disparate tasks agents perform (transfers, answering services, code calls, etc.) is that it allows all functions to be repeatable and consistent.
4. Enhanced security and risk management
In an era of ransomware attacks and data hackers, a password-protected system helps maintain data security while still letting staff securely log on anywhere, anytime to update contact information and on-call schedules, search the directory, or send important messages. In the case of emergencies such as fires, severe weather, or bomb threats, call recording capabilities give the contact center a record of how those calls were managed. This will help your organization with situation debriefing and future emergency preparedness planning. It also provides an account of call handling details during emergency situations to assist authorities with investigations. Additionally, an audit trail of calls lets management retrace conversations if organizational disputes arise.
5. Better customer service for your patients and their families
One of the keys to exemplary customer service is creating a positive experience. Another is having the time to devote to assisting callers with specialized questions or requests. These are efficiency benefits that both technological and physical consolidation of contact center functions support. Standardizing technology and processes will save time, giving contact center staff the ability to focus on customer calls that require a more personal approach. Improved processing can give staff more bandwidth to take on complex tasks and perform a wider array of responsibilities. And having staff in the same place helps with best practice development and allows staff to call on each other for support or guidance.
6. Improve training for new staff
One of the best ways to teach new team members, or refresh the skills of veteran agents, is through real examples of well-handled calls, which call recording technology can capture. When staff are in a single location, official onboarding can include live listening and learning, team support, and more exposure to task diversity for a faster learning curve. A consolidated location also produces innumerable opportunities for unofficial learning through the ability to hear and learn from other staff sitting in the same location.
How You Can Evaluate ROI
There is a wide array of measurements an organization can use to determine ROI. Management should begin by documenting pre-consolidation service levels and determining how the organization will assess consolidation success. Factors could include FTEs, percent of calls answered within a specific time frame, percent of calls handled accurately, hold times, length of calls, training costs, and evaluation of contact center staff.
In order to meet increasing patient expectations while managing costs, you can expand your hospital’s contact center value by consolidating to one enterprise system that offers an innovative suite of technologies you can rely on to provide quality service to both internal and external callers. Transitioning to one multifaceted and efficient contact center solution will not only streamline your processes and reduce overhead, but also elevate customer satisfaction by providing efficient and professional high-quality customer service to every caller, every time.
Improving Processes to Enhance Staff Satisfaction
Contact centers represent the culture and brand of an organization, and contact center staff are vital ambassadors. Today’s agents serve as a hospital’s front line, managing a wide array of communications that are critical to the efficient operation of the entire organization. Contact center staff must not only be nimble enough to field, manage, and route incoming calls, but also coordinate emergency code responses, transfer internal calls, schedule appointments and make reminder calls, provide bed assignments, coordinate patient transfers to and from other facilities, and more. An integrated and intuitive technology system that can help them be more efficient is a must.
Operator consoles have evolved far beyond simply call-answering software. Advanced software seamlessly integrates all the resources agents need, from staff directories and paging systems, to bed tracking and room service. With everything available at their fingertips, agents can save a significant amount of time that was previously spent referring to rotary card files, paper binders, white boards, and sticky notes. In addition, tools such as speech recognition and online directories can help reduce caller traffic to the contact center, giving your staff more time for managing other responsibilities.
Speech Recognition Software
Speech recognition software can be used to cut costs, improve customer satisfaction, and increase productivity in the contact center. This solution offloads a portion of routine calls with a user-friendly experience that enables callers to speak their requests instead of keying in responses. Callers are directed without the need to involve an agent. Hospitals are using this technology to make contact centers more efficient, giving agents the ability to manage rising call volumes easily and professionally with more time to devote to handling special requests and supporting alternate services.
Online Staff Directory
An online staff directory updated by each department means contact center representatives are not spending time trying to track down an individual only to learn they’ve contacted the wrong person. With the integration to an advanced operator console, all the information agents need is right in front of them. When all employees have access to a reliable, up-to-date source for contact information, including smartphone and pager numbers as well as on-call schedules, it eliminates the need for contact center agents to transfer calls between staff members.
Online On-Call Schedules
The benefits of online schedules extend beyond just reducing caller traffic. Web availability eliminates the need for costly (and quickly outdated) printed directories. With web-based on-call schedules, updates are immediately available, helping make sure the right people are being contacted 24/7. Departments can enter and update their own on-call schedules, freeing operators from this time-consuming task. Updates are seen instantly, organization-wide, on the web-based system.
Enhanced Contact Center Staff Satisfaction
Utilizing an innovative and streamlined contact center communications system that integrates operator consoles, speech recognition, web-based on-call scheduling, and messaging capabilities can greatly improve your agents’ efficiencies, productivity, and overall job satisfaction. Agents will appreciate off-loading directory assistance calls, updated on-call schedules, and not having to flip through multiple paper binders. And your organization will save money on printing materials that quickly become outdated. Above all, your contact center staff will have more time to focus on what they do best: coordinating communications and delivering excellent customer service.
Solutions Benefit All Hospital Staff
The same innovative communications technology solutions that support contact center efficiencies and agent job satisfaction also contribute to staff satisfaction. Clinicians appreciate having direct access to the web directory and being able to initiate their own messages, avoiding the need to route them through the contact center. In addition, providing hospital staff with technology that integrates with their smartphones and other mobile devices enables them to use secure texting for important messages, receive codes, emails, and pages, quickly connect with their colleagues to coordinate care for their patients, and manage their status settings. All around, communications are simpler and faster, easier for staff to manage, and streamline the process for coordinating patient care.
Improving Patient Care by Connecting Staff More Quickly
With the diversity of mobile devices clinicians are now carrying, including smartphones, pagers, Wi-Fi phones, and tablets, hospitals are relying on advanced technology to manage communication preferences, especially when physicians and nurses need to be quickly alerted to respond to patients’ needs.
According to the 2014 Spyglass Consulting Group study on point of care communications, 61 percent of physicians expressed concerns about having access to colleagues and specialists, and 53 percent of nurses cited difficulties determining which physician is available. The Joint Commission’s review of sentinel event data has consistently identified poor communications as a leading root cause of serious injury or death related to patient care.
Connect More Easily With Established Device Preferences
There’s clearly a need for clinicians to be able to control how they’re contacted, particularly when they have multiple methods listed in their profile. Innovative technology offers them the ability to have a say in both how and when they receive messages while at the same time creating greater efficiencies for contact center staff and others who need to deliver messages.
Clinicians can set up their communication preferences and escalation protocols for normal and urgent messages. Profiles can be updated as clinicians’ responsibilities and schedules change. Here are some common scenarios where routing profiles can improve communication efficiencies:
- While at the hospital or during office hours, clinicians can indicate messages should go to their smartphone. If they are busy rounding on patients, they may prefer text-based messages, which use an encrypted smartphone texting app.
- While in surgery, when the clinician’s smartphone is being monitored by someone else, the provider can add a message indicating they will be unavailable during certain hours and to escalate the call to another clinician.
Routing technologies are designed to easily integrate with other contact center communications solutions including operator consoles, web directories, on-call scheduling, and secure texting, enabling a contact center to utilize just one system to access the same information. Contact center agents no longer need to rely on paper-based on-call schedules, which may be unreliable or inaccurate, to determine the best way to reach the right staff. Routing profile technology not only provides clinicians control over how they wish to be contacted, but it also saves contact center staff valuable minutes in forwarding calls quickly and efficiently.
Calling Critical Codes
Streamline Communications During Emergencies and Time-Sensitive Situations
There are many situations when you urgently need to alert a specific group of people. Contact centers initiate code calls for everything from patient resuscitation and fires to infant abductions, dangerous weather, and local disasters that can result in an unexpected influx of patients. Coordinating emergency response and alerting staff to time-sensitive situations requires fast, accurate notifications that are crucial to patient safety. You need to be able to quickly send the right notifications to the right staff on a variety of mobile devices.
Initiating code calls involves much more than an overhead announcement. Responses must be tracked, and escalated if necessary, to ensure enough people answer the call for help. Mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, Wi-Fi phones, and pagers) offer opportunities beyond overhead announcements to instantly notify responders, but they can also make reaching the right people more complicated if poorly handled. Mobilizing your staff depends on fast, accurate dissemination of critical information to the right devices. Today’s technology solves both of these challenges—reaching the right people quickly, and tracking their availability.
A solid and streamlined emergency notification and incident management system can help improve communication effectiveness by automatically delivering messages, tracking responses, and escalating to additional staff.
Improved Patient Care With Dramatically Faster Response Time to Critical Events
As the type of responsibilities and level of workload for contact center staff continue to increase, software technologies are helping eliminate inefficient paper-based processes for issuing critical codes. Easy-to-navigate operator consoles and web-based directories enable staff to initiate a page with a phone call or click of the mouse, which greatly improves response time to critical events. Operators are no longer required to sift through paper-based materials; everything they need is on their screens. In addition, responses are tracked.
A full audit trail allows operators to see who has or hasn’t received a message so they can take further action or escalate the message if needed. Secure text messaging also allows users to access the web directory from their mobile device, giving users access to the staff directory and on-call schedules.
Time is critical when it comes to processing Code Blues. Technology solutions now mean nurses no longer need to leave a potentially coding patient to make a call to the contact center, which then needs to process the call and send out a notification. A nurse need only push a button at the patient’s bedside and the operators instantly have all the information they need, including the room and the details necessary for the appropriate code. The reduced time it takes to call a critical code makes a significant difference in the lives of patients.
Streamlined Technologies Support Timely Emergency Response
When it comes to launching codes and contacting key teams, some of the contact center’s most important functions, integration among the hospital’s web directory, on-call scheduling, and operator console solutions helps with timely responses by appropriate medical and administrative staff to emergency situations.
Promoting High Levels of Service for All Callers
Your contact center represents your brand to the outside world. Making sure that all communications are handled in the best way possible is very important and demands ongoing attention, which includes constant evaluation of the level of service callers receive. Call recording technology is a valuable solution in the changing landscape of contact centers and solutions can be customized to integrate seamlessly with your other contact center applications. A consistent, intuitive system for recording and evaluating how all calls are handled enables you to provide agents with the tools they need to deliver top-notch customer service every time they’re on the phone.
Benefits of Call Recording in Hospital Contact Centers
1. Assure superior call quality
Call recording captures all interactions between agents and customers and can be accessed for immediate review or archived for later retrieval. Call recording also enables you to document the handling of code calls and other emergencies. You can use the audit trail to retrace a situation in case there are later disputes about how the response was handled.
2. Quality management reduces staff turnover
Weak or poorly trained staff can lower morale, productivity, and patient and staff satisfaction while driving out top performers, which negatively impacts ROI. Call recording can support hospitals by continually polishing the skills of all staff members. In addition to being able to access stored calls, supervisors can monitor a call in real time in a listen-only mode.
3. Staff training based on real-world call scenarios
Call recording technology provides advanced agent performance evaluation tools, which provide supervisors with the ability to review, rate, and report on operator performance based on your organizational goals, and your own criteria for operator scoring. Contact center supervisors can access each staff member’s recorded calls to evaluate and identify strengths as well as training opportunities and areas of improvement for individual operators.
4. Establish accountability with an audit trail
The ability to maintain an audit trail of conversations between contact center staff and all callers both external and internal to the hospital is vital for accountability—and protects your operators from erroneous claims. Providing an audio audit trail also becomes especially important for emergency situations to review handling of cardiac arrest codes, bomb scares, etc. Having a set of standard operating procedures in place should include the contact center’s role and how the event was handled.
Call recording is a reliable business improvement tool that can enhance agent performance and optimize operations. It can also boost productivity, minimize risk, automate and simplify processes, improve customer satisfaction, and reduce costs, which ultimately can improve revenues.
Protect Your Organization’s Reputation
Today’s innovative solutions can provide your contact center staff and supervisors with the tools they need to understand how best to respond to calls and various types of conversations. Ultimately, ongoing scoring and training enable you to maintain high customer service levels while protecting the reputation of your organization.
Best-in-class recording solutions can transform data into actionable intelligence, enabling well-informed decisions that can enhance agent performance, optimize operations, improve customer satisfaction and reduce costs.