Some time ago we set out to study hospital call center outsourcing. We talked with many senior hospital and healthcare managers, and when it comes to outsourcing call center operations they have plenty of concerns.
The following series of articles are based on the feedback we received on these issues:
o Outsourced agents able to handle only simple patient inquiries. Too many calls are referred back to the hospital’s in-house staff.
o Call center outsourcers who charge extra for everything from adding a physician to the hospital’s referral network to completing a patient survey.
o Old or unwieldy software that prevents fast program updates and getting detailed, real-time reports.
Most of all, they feel the outsourced call center should be just as smart about their hospitals and their patients as their own in-house team is. And they feel outsourcing costs should reflect the service quality they’re getting.
But too often, that's not the case.
Hearing all this, we concluded there’s a crying need for a new methodology that overcomes the problems of conventional hospital call center outsourcing. Our approach addresses each of the major flaws, one by one.
It combines five critical success factors:
o Structuring outsourced teams of Patient Care Specialists so that they can more effectively share knowledge and are more easily monitored for work performance quality and accountability.
o Adoption of advanced, purpose-built hospital call center software that enables rapid construction of custom programs that reflect the hospital's unique business and care delivery processes. It also allows fast, easy system updates and changes – by the outsourced team leader, rather than a programmer from the IT staff.
o Building a true partnership relationship in which the hospital has ongoing communication with a contained team of Patient Care Specialists who quickly build expertise on the hospital, its care services, business model and brand. Another aspect of the partnership: Not charging extra for ongoing updates to the referral network or event schedule -- or for such activities such as specialized mailings and patient surveys.
o Timely, detailed and customized reports from the outsourcer. These reports contain critical feedback for hospital marketers designing patient outreach programs and for hospital managers seeking maximized operational efficiencies.
o Cost savings, via program efficiencies and no extra fees or surprise charges.
We took our methodology out to the field, and it’s yielding strong results.
Mark Fichera, CEO
Premier Hospital Call Center Services
Renovating Outsourced Hospital Call Center Services - I
Issue: Hospital managers have challenges with outsourced hospital call center services agents who are only able to handle simple patient inquiries. Too many calls get referred to the hospital's in-house staff.
Improving call center outsourcing starts with the patient care specialists on your team. A key consideration: How the team is structured.
A major flaw with conventional outsourcing is the shared / virtual team model. Shared agents work for several clients at once. Virtual agents work from home.
Service providers like shared / virtual because it minimizes their costs. But it undermines the service quality you receive.
Solution: The dedicated / premise-based team
There's only one program your outsourced team should work on: Yours.
And instead of working individually at home, they should work together in their own section of the call center, so that lessens learned and skills developed are absorbed within a focused, contained team.
The dedicated / premise-based methodology promotes accountability, responsiveness and knowledge-sharing. Your team quickly becomes expert on your hospital, your patients and your brand, and their expertise continually grows. And it's better for maintaining HIPAA standards.
At OnBrand24 Healthcare, we're developing outsourced call center strategies that improve service quality and lower your costs. If dedicated / premise-based sounds interesting to you, we should talk.
Mark Fichera, CEO
Premier Hospital Call Center Services
Renovating Outsourced Hospital Call Center Services - II
Issue: Extra vendor charges for everything from adding physicians to your referral network, to updating your class and event schedule, to entering completed patient surveys.
These charges are wrong for several reasons:
• It’s routine work that does not merit extra charges, which can add up to several thousand dollars a month.
• Nickel-and-diming damages a healthy outsourced partnership. And it prevents hospitals from accurately anticipating monthly fees, since the number of updates is unpredictable.
Solution: Adoption by the outsourcer of flexible, purpose-built hospital call center software that allows data updates to be completed easily and quickly, without involving the outsourcer’s IT staff.
With the right technology in place, updates pose no cost burden to the outsourcer, and turnarounds are completed in a matter of minutes/hours, not days/weeks.
Further, the outsourcer should nurture a strong partnership with the hospital characterized by trust, transparency, teamwork and mutual goodwill. Nickel-and-dime charges undermine healthy partnerships.
At OnBrand24 Healthcare, we're developing outsourced strategies that improve service quality, build strong partnerships and lower your costs. If you’re tired of getting nickel-and-dimed by your outsourcer, we should talk.
Mark Fichera, CEO
Premier Hospital Call Center Services
Renovating Outsourced Hospital Call Center Services - III
Issue: Hospital managers tell us about outsourced call centers that keep them at arm’s length. Reports are infrequent, lack detail, and not customized.
This either means the vendor has something to hide, or it has old, unwieldy software that can’t generate timely, custom reports.
The costs of poor reporting are high. Besides preventing assessment of the call center program, it denies hospital marketers valuable feedback on the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns.
Solution: Implementation by the outsourcer of flexible hospital call center technology that enables detailed, customized reports produced as frequently as you want – even in real-time.
That’s what we’ve done at OnBrand24 Healthcare.
We generate reports using a purpose-built tool designed specifically for hospitals. In addition to 2,000 standard reports, we can custom develop new builds at no extra charge. Our account managers will work with you to focus on the analytics and metrics you care most about.
If you want a better window into what your outsourcer is doing, we should talk. Let's discuss a call center strategy that delivers the solution you need.
Mark Fichera, CEO
Premier Hospital Call Center Services
It’s been over a year since we signed on as the outsourced call center for a large, regional hospital (1,000+-bed) for non-clinical physician referrals and class and event registration, so we thought it was a good time to get a progress report.
We interviewed the call center manager for the hospital (which requested anonymity), and the feedback was very gratifying.
“You guys made a night-and-day difference,” she said.
She breaks down the benefits delivered by OnBrand24 into four categories:
• Improved Customer and Patient Support Services: Compared with the previous outsourced call center, OnBrand24 has reduced patient inquiries referred to the hospital’s in-house staff by 70 percent. This is a major efficiency benefit to the hospital, whose staff now has more time to focus on higher-level administrative and patient programs. It also means that patients receive more prompt service because their inquiries receive first-call resolution.
In addition, complaints from patients about call center service quality, which had been frequent, have been virtually eliminated.
This improvement reflects OnBrand24’s ability to go beyond scripted responses. Our patient support specialists are trained to communicate with patients on an individual basis and to take the initiative to research patients’ needs. Above all, our patient support specialists are problem solvers. They enjoy helping customers gain access to the resources and information they require. The result: according to our hospital client contact, OnBrand24 has significantly improved patient support service and customer satisfaction.
• Dedicated, Premise-based Team: Our team methodology represents a major area of difference and improvement. The hospital’s previous call center had a virtual staff model, with agents and the team manager working from home for a variety of clients. By contrast, OnBrand24 has implemented a dedicated, premise-based team approach. This means a relatively small team of patient support specialists and managers work together only on the hospital’s program, and they all work from within our call center facility.
This ensures strong communication, accountability and responsiveness between the hospital and our dedicated team. It also enables the hospital to know each of our team members individually. And it means our team continually becomes more expert about the hospital, its program and its brand. Lessons learned are not dispersed among agents working for other clients. Instead, they are absorbed by a contained team.
HIPAA compliance also is enhanced because patient records are handled by a limited group of agents at a single location.
Finally, because our Team Leader is dedicated to the hospital’s program, system changes and updates are a top priority and immediately put into effect – the Team Leader is not juggling the needs of other clients.
• Flexible Software and IT Infrastructure: The hospital reports that OnBrand24, in combination with LVM’s Centaurus software, quickly implemented a customized program that supports the hospital’s business processes and patient care practices.
In addition, according to the hospital, OnBrand24 quickly makes system changes and updates, such as adding new classes and changing class schedules, making additions to the physician referral network and changing drop-down menus.
Centaurus is both user-friendly and powerful, enabling our Team Leader to quickly make updates without the involvement of programmers on our IT staff. And because of the ease and speed we can make those changes, we do not impose incremental charges to hospital, helping them realize significant cost savings.
This contrasts with the previous call center, which charged extra for a wide range of tasks, such as adding physicians to the referral network, making changes to event schedules, completing patient survey, and so forth. Charges for these activities added up to thousands of dollars per month.
• Cost Savings: The hospital reports that in addition to achieving enhanced patient service, greater customization and overall responsiveness, OnBrand24 has reduced the hospitals monthly outsourced call center costs by roughly 35 percent.
It’s good to hear “Job Well Done” from a client, particularly one with the complex requirements of a major hospital. We look forward to continuing a successful partnership with the hospital moving forward.
Mark Fichera, CEO
Oct. 11, 2011 -- Healthcare Call Center Times magazine recently published an article on the employee titles that healthcare call centers give to staff who handle inbound patient phone calls from patients.
The article, “Here Comes the Patient Experience Advocate,” reviewed the recent history of call center agent titles – including “physician referral coordinator,” “customer service representative,” “patient care representative” and “call advisers.”
One new term gaining traction is “patient experience advocate,” which we like in some ways but not in others.
On the plus side, it points to the growing strategic focus around the customer and patient experience (see our Aug. 18 blog, “Customer Service Is Important... But ‘CE’ Is Everything”). The idea is that the patient experience begins with the first telephone call to the hospital or healthcare provider and continues through to post-discharge follow-up phone calls. That is, a patient phone call are not viewed as a one-time event, it’s part of a long-term relationship.
As the article points out, the post-discharge call goes well beyond customer satisfaction surveys but is actually a critical aspect of patient care, crucial for reducing readmissions.
But here’s what we don’t like about “patient experience advocate”: it has the whiff of inflated, marketing jargon that has the tendency to distance call center staff from the patient.
Patients aren’t thinking about having an “experience,” which sounds bureaucratic, complex and confusing. They want effective, intelligent and compassionate support services that clears away the confusion for everything from post-discharge calls to physician referral services to class and event registration.
“Patient Advocate” sounds better to us, reinforcing the idea that inbound agents are on the patient’s side, going the extra mile to give patients the support, information and insight they need.
The title that we at OnBrand24 have used to date is “patient care specialist.” This is because our employees are hired on the basis of their ability to deliver compassionate, effective support to patients. We don’t call them “customer service representatives” because we don’t think of patients as customers in the typical sense. Patients need and deserve a variety of different services – it requires a different mindset – than customers in the B2C or B2B worlds.
For now we’re going to stick with “patient care specialist.” But “patient advocate” is an interesting alternative, one that we’re going to consider seriously.
Mark Fichera, CEO
In the world of business, Sir Richard Branson means Virgin and Virgin means an enthusiastic embrace of the entrepreneurial spirit. Branson’s Virgin Group is a leading branded venture capital organization and is one of the world's most recognized and respected brands.
Virgin HealthMiles, one of the Group’s companies, provides technology-based employee health programs that align wellness incentives with healthy behaviors. The company serves more than 120 companies representing over 700,000 employees across the U.S., and relies on OnBrand24 customer service agents to be as creative, decisive – as entrepreneurial – as the company itself. In so doing, Virgin HealthMiles calls on capabilities rarely asked of an outsourced customer service call center.
“You need brains, personality and finesse to work for Virgin HealthMiles, and OnBrand24 delivers those qualities in abundance,” said Ken Ryan, Director of Member Services, Virgin HealthMiles. “We are fast-paced and innovative, and OnBrand24 fits in very well with our culture. I doubt many other inbound call centers could handle the challenges we’ve given OnBrand24. They have been a key factor in our success.”
Operational in the U.S. since late 2005, Virgin HealthMiles helps companies build a culture of prevention that delivers healthy shifts in behavior among employees and measurable business value for companies.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, lifestyle-related chronic conditions drive 75 percent of the nation’s nearly $2 trillion healthcare costs. And a recent survey by the National Business Group on Health found that two out of three workers whose employers offer financial incentives say it's motivated them to try healthier lifestyles.
The Virgin HealthMiles Pay-for-Prevention™ approach addresses these trends by rewarding personal responsibility for adopting the right behaviors while aligning participating companies’ interests with those of their employees to drive down lifestyle-related health care and productivity costs.
With Virgin HealthMiles, employees get the motivation and tools they need to get and stay physically active. Participating employees earn “HealthMiles” for increasing their daily activity and reaching key milestones that trigger financial rewards, such as gift cards to major retailers, cash to spend as they choose, health insurance premium discounts, HSA credits or other incentives their employers choose to offer.
For participating companies, the benefits of Virgin HealthMiles are far-reaching. The HealthMiles program helps employees make sustainable behavior changes, such as increased physical activity levels, which can help to prevent the onset of costly chronic conditions that drive the majority of healthcare costs today. With HealthMiles, employers get the tools and data they need to measure and manage their healthcare cost-savings strategies.
Evidence-based science supporting physical activity and its positive effect on health is the cornerstone of the HealthMiles program. The program is designed to guide members to the right amount and frequency of physical activity, and allows them to focus on the activities they enjoy with the assurance that they’re getting the right amount to be healthy. Activity milestones built into the program are aligned with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Service’s recommended daily activity minimums, which are defined as approximately 7,000 steps or 30 minutes of moderate activity, 5 days a week. The tools of the program capture and track activity, and members know at a glance if it’s enough to meet these health recommendations.
With its high number of members, the extensive detail involved in the program and members’ use of technology, Virgin HealthMiles places a premium on quality customer service. Members frequently have questions about milestones and rewards, and how close they are to achieving an incentive. They also ask for assistance uploading activity data from their pedometers into their online Virgin HealthMiles account.
This is where OnBrand24 comes in. The call center’s customer service agents are educated in all details of the program, and they are trained to deal with members in a positive manner that motivates them to remain engaged with the program. OnBrand24 agents understand that they not only represent Virgin HealthMiles, but they must also be highly regarded by the company’s members and clients. And they need to make sound, fast decisions when helping members.
“When you work for Virgin HealthMiles, don’t look for a script or a rulebook,” said Mark Fichera, CEO, OnBrand24. “It’s a non-bureaucratic culture, you have to handle customers with humor, creativity and enthusiasm, and you have to make smart, knowledgeable decisions on your feet. This is an elite customer service program, so we recruited and trained a team that best represents the Virgin HealthMiles brand and reflects its culture.”
OnBrand24 handles about 12,000 calls and emails per month. The call center’s agents draw on their detailed knowledge of the program and its technology, along with their intuition. For example, members sometimes ask for HealthMiles to be credited to their accounts for exercise that their pedometers don’t pick up, such as swimming.
“Swimming is good physical activity, and we want to reward members for doing the right thing,” said Jamie Sharp, Member Services Manager, OnBrand24. “Because a pedometer isn’t the best activity device to use in capturing swimming data, we’ll credit members’ accounts with a best estimate for the HealthMiles they deserve if they’re not able to use another program compatible activity tracking device, such as a Polar™ heart rate monitor.”
Web-based technology is a cornerstone of the Virgin HealthMiles-OnBrand24 partnership. The two companies share a common computing platform via CITRIX, providing the call center’s agents remote log-in access to Virgin HealthMile’s IT environment.
To improve responsiveness and cut costs, OnBrand24 created and continually expands an FAQ (frequently asked questions) section on the Virgin HealthMiles website. Utilizing Intelliresponse technology, the FAQ program has reduced member phone calls and email inquiries by 20 percent.
In addition, OnBrand24 generates detailed monthly reports that include metrics on call volume data, average call resolution time, email volume and response time, as well as data on the issues and questions raised by Virgin HealthMiles members, information that enables the continual evolution and improvement of the customer service program.
To monitor OnBrand24’s performance, members are regularly surveyed on the customer service they have received. Approximately 100 Virgin HealthMiles members are surveyed daily regarding OnBrand24’s trouble-shooting capabilities, communications effectiveness and overall responsiveness.
The results: OnBrand24 is graded “Good” or “Excellent” by 95 percent of those surveyed.
“Our partnership with OnBrand24 is strong and productive,” said Ryan. “We even invite them to join us on sales presentations. They understand our program and our members. Most of all, they understand our culture. They are a big part of our team.”