Hospital Call Center Software and Communications Technology

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Why Scripting for Managing Calls in a Healthcare Call Center?

Scripting can be used to guide agents or switchboard operators through the flow of a patient customer conversation. A script enables the agent to drive the dialogue with the customer, and ensures that the agent is able to complete a customer interaction to the call center’s – and the customer’s – satisfaction. A script helps agents respond to a caller’s requirements, and prompts the agent to ask – and obtain answers to – additional questions that will enable a call center to deliver a higher level of customer satisfaction.

A robust scripting application provides the ability to access all customer information appropriate to the call – sometimes acquiring that data from multiple databases, including electronic medical record (EMR) databases – and display it in a format that is easy for the agent to understand. It also provides the ability to update customer information and to collect new data that can help the call center provide superlative customer service.

Scripting in a medical or hospital call center provides a number of benefits:

· Customer Relationship Management. Scripting helps maintain a consistent quality of customer interaction, each and every time a customer makes contact, regardless of which agent handles the call. Scripting also provides an easy and efficient way to collect additional customer information that not only helps ensure the customer’s satisfaction with that call, but also enables the agent to enhance the overall relationship with the customer.

· Increased Agent Productivity. Because all of the customer information that an agent needs is presented in a clear, concise format with no toggling through multiple data screens, agents can complete a customer transaction quickly. Scripting also provides talking points for agents, so they know what to say and when to say it.

· Reduced Agent Training Time. Many agents in a call center have multiple skill sets to handle different types of calls – appointments, calls for a doctor’s office, customer service, and so on. Each type of call typically needs to be handled slightly differently, so scripts should be customized for each doctor and call type, ensuring agents get the needed information on every call. The scripts then lead the agent through different types of caller transactions with minimal training, because the script provides the correct data to handle the call and helps the agent navigate through the call flow. And, because a script can provide instructional information on handling a call, scripting can enable a call center to overflow calls to less skilled back-up agent groups more effectively during periods of peak calling.

· Enhanced Agent Effectiveness. Customers want to have their needs met the first time they make contact – they don’t want to be told to call another number, or to be transferred to another department, or to wait for a callback. Because a script can bring together information from a number of different databases, agents are provided with all of the information they need, when they need it, to handle the customer contact immediately.

Healthcare organizations can use scripting to enhance each customer’s call experience. A variety of call types, including patient information, physician referral, physician answering service, and code calls, can all be handled more efficiently, resulting in a reduction of errors using scripting for enhanced call flow navigation.

Matt Everly is the marketing director for Amtelco’s 1Call healthcare division. Matt has worked at Amtelco for over 20 years and has held numerous positions, including Southeast regional salesmanager, executive suite market development, and marketing manager.

 

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Friday, February 1, 2013

Selecting a Healthcare Call Center Platform for the Present…and the Future

When selecting a call center platform for your healthcare organization, it is important to consider a number of factors, including:

· your current needs
· internal hospital systems that will need to interface with your call center
· future needs
· additional products or services from the prospective vendors

Following are some ideas to help you evaluate the various platforms.

What are your call center needs?

Many hospitals consider the switchboard a call center, while others have a separate call center and switchboard. Make sure the system you are evaluating can perform the necessary tasks. To efficiently handle calls, switchboard operators need to access information instantly, and transfer callers with few keystrokes. If your operators take appointments or perform physician referral requests, you may need a more robust call navigation system that streamlines the question and answer process between callers and operators, ensuring the correct result.

Interfacing to hospital systems

A call center system doesn’t exist as an island in your organization; there are several hospital systems it needs to “talk to.” Obviously, your PBX or VoIP switch is important to consider. Know how the system will interface to your switch, and if it will work with your current software version. As EMR systems become a more vital part of your organization’s workflow, operators need access to patient information and other data, so a Health Level Seven (HL7) interface is another must. Other integrations to consider include paging, alarms and additional communications devices.

What future call center needs could your organization have?

When evaluating call center products, it’s important to think of the big picture and consider a number of things. First, are there other departments within your organization that could benefit by having access to the call center system? Many organizations have “home grown” small call center systems scattered throughout a facility. The call center product should be flexible enough to accommodate your organization’s structure. Second, consider your company’s history, or the possibility of acquiring other healthcare organizations or facilities. The call center system should be flexible enough to work with various telephony and healthcare IT systems in a centralized or decentralized environment. Finally, are there planned projects that will need call center services? Examples of this include implementing a nurse triage or physician referral program. Consider the call center needs of these programs when evaluating systems.

What else does the call center vendor bring to the table?

Thinking long term is a good idea, so look at everything a vendor has to offer over and above your current needs. Add-on products and modules for a call center system are important in an ever-changing healthcare environment. The Joint Commission, HIPAA and HITECH are all important factors in the evaluation process. Common additions to call center systems include enterprise-wide web-based on-call, staff scheduling tools, secure communications, and call recording packages used to maintain historical accuracy and as a training tool. Also, some organizations are adopting a “work from home” operator workforce, so make sure your vendor has products and experience in remote operator environments.

As technology continues to evolve, we see the call center transforming into something used in different and unique places throughout a healthcare organization. Make sure your vendor has the call center platform you need now, and the ability to grow with you in the future.

Matt Everly is the Marketing Director for Amtelco’s 1Call Healthcare Division. Matt has worked at Amtelco for over 20 years and has held numerous positions including southeast regional sales manager, executive suite market development and marketing manager. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

It’s a Wireless World

Someday, in the not so distant future, school children will read about the history of telecommunications and computing. They will read about how homes once were connected to the phone company, the cable TV company, and even the power company, by separate dedicated wires. They will read about how our offices used to be connected to the corporate PBX and to the local area network by other sets of wires. They will read about how we had to plug in our laptops, tablets, and cell phones overnight to charge their batteries. They will be amazed at how we could function while being tied down like this.

The world of wires is rapidly disappearing. We are breaking free from the wire tethers that keep us in our offices and limit our productivity as we move throughout our days. We are using smartphones, laptops, and tablets to access our applications, e-mails, files and network resources no matter where we are. We can work from home while sitting in our most comfortable easy chairs. We can take notes in meetings without writing them on pads of paper and then typing them into our computers when we get back to our offices. Our stacks and file cabinets full of paper are disappearing.

With the advent of solutions such as AMTELCO's miSecureMessages interactive smartphone paging solution, we are accessing on-call schedules, updating our statuses, and sending and receiving pages on our smartphones and tablets. When we receive pages, we are able to reply to the person sending the page, letting them know if we are able to respond or if they need to find another resource. What a concept, responding to a page and letting the person know we have received it. No more sitting by a phone and waiting for a return call. Who would have thought it would someday be this easy.

The final step in breaking free from our wires will be the deployment of wireless power. Wireless charging pads already are available for many of our smartphones and tablets. Imagine walking into your office or a hotel room and setting your phone on a charging pad. No more carrying chargers with us and replacing them when they get lost or burn out from overuse. Someday we won't need to plug our computers, our lighting, and our appliances into wall outlets. Our AC power will be provided wirelessly, just as our voice and network communications are now.

We are in the midst of a major shift in how we live and work. We will have less stress and will be more productive. We will be more responsive and will provide better service to our customers. We just have to embrace the change, break free from all those wires, and enjoy the ride.

(Kevin Beale is director of software research and development for AMTELCO and 1Call)

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Call Center of the Future


By Kevin Beale 


I think it’s human nature to find things to keep ourselves busy. I certainly am no exception to that rule. I always have a million things I need to be doing for work or at home. One of the hardest things to do is to take a step back from our daily regimen to plan for the future.

Occasionally, looking into the future is a good exercise. So here goes.
Predicting the future of a business segment such as call centers is not magic, it is simply a process of paying attention to trends and making calculated guesses on how those trends will continue or change in the future.

One of the constants of our industry is change. We are constantly being pushed by clients to offer enhanced services to meet their unique business objectives. Clients don’t care about the technology utilized to run our call centers as long as they feel we’ll be there when they need us. They’re focused more on the services we provide for them. That’s where each call center has the opportunity to distinguish itself from the competition.

Call scripting
 
Call centers have always guided agents through call flows. In the past, this was done by reading instructions and forcing our agents to make on-the-fly decisions. The new model for call flow guidance tends more to sophisticated scripting engines. Scripting shifts the burden of making decisions away from the frontline agents and puts it in the hands of supervisors and managers who can work with clients to determine and agree on the optimum call flow. The role of scripting will continue to expand and grow to include scripting of the dispatch process and Web-connectivity to client systems.

Virtualization

Virtual call centers will become more prevalent in the coming years, especially as an element of the consolidation that is taking place in the call center industry. Virtual call centers will be much more flexible than traditional call centers which are constrained by their locations, floor space, and physical agent positions. Virtual call centers will utilize collocated call center solutions and remote agents. Use of a collocated call center solution breaks the call center away from the physical constraints and overhead costs of a building, equipment room, and back-up power. The use of remote agents eliminates physical floor space requirements, heating and cooling, break rooms, agent computers, and, more importantly, allows much more flexible hour-by-hour staffing, greatly minimizing the biggest non-essential expense a call center faces, the overhead of idle labor.

Shared services

Many call centers are forming partnerships with other call centers with the goal of sharing client calls to form one large borderless call center. Sharing client calls can greatly expand the call volume capacity of participating call centers, allowing each call center to market to larger clients with the assurance they will have the capacity to meet the client’s traffic requirements. There are two aspects to client sharing: redirecting or overflowing of calls, which can be accomplished through arrangements with telephone carriers and can be enhanced through use of VoIP-based SIP trunking, and the sharing of client scripts and data. The use of Web scripting and client sharing tools, such as those available with AMTELCO’s Intelligent Series, can assist call centers in implementing this business expansion strategy.

Call forwarding

One-number call forwarding has been gaining popularity for several years. This trend will continue and will pick up steam in the years ahead. The driving factor for this shift is cost savings, both in terms of telephone carrier costs and potential tax savings if proposed surcharges (new taxes) on phone numbers are enacted. One-number call forwarding allows call centers to eliminate the vast majority of DID numbers by keying on the calling number, called number or forwarded number of each call. Call center systems that can read any of these call fields on a client-by-client basis, provide big benefits to their owners.

Disaster planning

Disaster recovery has become a major focus of the call center industry across all vertical markets. This trend will continue. Disaster recovery solutions may be put in place by call centers within their infrastructure to provide redundancy of essential call center components. It may also be implemented by partnering with their vendor on hosted disaster recovery solutions. A recent example of the power of partnering with a call center vendor for disaster recovery is the situation that occurred at a Midwest call center that lost all telephone connectivity for several days when a major cable was cut by a construction crew. The call center worked with its phone carrier to quickly redirect calls to an emergency backup system at AMTELCO’s corporate headquarters in McFarland, Wisconsin. This kept the call center in business during a situation that stretched into days and could have been catastrophic. Every call center should be making such disaster recovery plans.

VoIP technology

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) will continue to become more prevalent in the call center industry. The growth of VoIP will benefit call centers looking to expand on their use of remote agents, by providing low-cost audio connectivity that is available virtually anywhere. Over the next few years, we’ll start to see VoIP take hold on the trunking side of the business. Call centers will begin replacing their existing PRI ISDN spans with VoIP-based SIP trunks and will find them to be cost effective and reliable. SIP trunks provide many benefits to call centers, including cost savings, nationwide local numbers, and more flexibility in overflowing calls to partner call centers and rerouting calls for disaster recovery situations.

Soft Switching

There is an emerging trend towards software-based switching in the telecom industry. Software-based switching utilizes a computer’s central processor to manage switching functions rather than CTI board-based processors and DSP resources. One of the challenges of software-based switching has been to match the scalability and reliability of hardware-based switching. This is still a work in progress with open-source PBX’s such as Asterisk leading the way. While we may not see mainstream call centers banking their entire business on soft switching for quite some time, we will see call centers utilizing soft switching for specialized functions and applications. These software-based switching solutions will continue to advance and become more prevalent in the call center industry.

Soft Agents

One soft switch-related opportunity for our industry will be the emergence of switch independent soft agents, such as AMTELCO’s Infinity Soft Agent, that are capable of integrating with any third-party PBX or ACD system. This will give call center owners much more flexibility in selecting their switching platforms and will open up the opportunity to connect directly to client PBX’s and ACD’s.
Change is inevitable and not to be feared. It’s one of the exciting things about the call center industry. We are constantly forced to reshape our businesses to meet ever changing client demands. I guess that’s why we like what we do so much.

(Kevin Beale is director of software research and development for AMTELCO and 1Call)

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pro Show Provides an Easy Way to Remind Patients About Upcoming Appointments and Eliminate “No Shows!”

Healthcare organizations must constantly contend with patients who miss their scheduled appointments without notifying the physician’s office. These “no show” appointments cost thousands of dollars in wasted resources and staff. 1Call’s Pro Show Automated Appointment Reminder application helps healthcare organizations be proactive by reminding patients in advance, saving time, saving money, and increasing staff productivity. Pro Show is available as an on-site or remotely hosted solution.

1Call’s Pro Show can remind patients via home phone, mobile phone, e-mail, and text messages. Pro Show can send reminders instantly when the information is received, or they can be scheduled to be sent 72 hours, 48 hours, 24 hours, or any amount of time prior to the appointments. In addition to reminders for patients, Pro Show can also be used to remind physicians and staff members about upcoming meetings, events, classes, and for virtually any type of notification service needed. Pro Show offers multilingual capabilities, helping healthcare organizations ensure they can use it for even more patients, physicians, and staff members. Since Pro Show is automated, staff members that were assigned to call patients to remind them of their upcoming appointments can now work on other needed tasks in the organization.

Pro Show features built-in flexibility, efficiency and convenience, ensuring that it meets the specific needs of each healthcare organization. The types of notification, and number of attempts can be customized for each recipient. The time of day, and the days of the week that Pro Show can send reminders can also be customized for each recipient, eliminating late night, early morning, weekend and holiday reminders. For children’s appointments, Pro Show adjusts the prompts to be geared towards the patient’s parent or guardian. Pro Show keeps track of the outcomes of each notification attempt, giving healthcare organizations the data needed for accurate reports and statistics.
Healthcare organizations are currently using Pro Show to make thousands of automated appointment reminder calls, text message reminders, and e-mail reminders each month. These organizations have reported a significant reduction of patient no shows. Since patients who miss their appointments typically need to reschedule their appointments, an added benefit of Pro Show in these organizations is a considerable reduction in the number of people being placed on waiting lists.

1Call President Tom Curtin said, “Pro Show helps healthcare organizations keep their waiting rooms full, keeping their employees more productive while also increasing revenue for their organizations. Because of this, using Pro Show keeps both administrators and physicians happy.”