In an industry like healthcare, where margins are thin and expectations high, leaders need to seize every opportunity to improve processes and create a better experience for customers.
CIOs, in particular, can’t afford to overlook low-hanging fruit. One of those examples, according to Andy Draper, PhD, CIO at HCA Continental Division, is the hospital call center, an area that has seen little advancement during the past few decades.
“We’re answering phones just like we did in the ’70s,” he said, which can lead to frustration for those on both ends of the call.
But while some may view that as a challenge, Draper believes it’s a golden opportunity. “CIOs need to come to the table with ideas to consolidate, automate, and increase the productivity of our employees, and PBX (private branch exchange) is a great way to do that,” he said during a discussion with Scott D’Entremont, Chief Revenue Officer at Parlance. By leveraging integrated voice recognition to direct calls, organizations can deploy operators to other areas.
Since partnering with Parlance, a call management solutions provider, HCA’s Continental Division has been able to offload more than half its calls to interactive voice response (IVR), while at the same time increasing customer satisfaction. It’s the type of initiative that can yield significant benefits. “CIOs need to be relentless in how we remove costs from the health system,” Draper added. “This is an opportunity to do that.”
For Draper’s team, addressing IVR was a “no brainer”; many organizations, however, may not consider it to be a top priority — often because leaders underestimate the reputational harm that comes with a poor phone experience.
The reality is that most call systems are fraught with what D’Entremont termed “fundamental challenges,” staring with push-button menus. “It’s so limiting. You have nine choices, which may be fine if you’re calling a small office, but the institutions we work with typically have thousands of possible locations to which someone wants to be transferred.”
When customers have more options, they’re more likely to be directed to the proper location. And those who do want to speak with a live person are more likely to reach someone who isn’t being rushed and can be genuinely helpful.
It’s the opposite experience many callers have with traditional phone trees, which are often structured so poorly that “the vast majority of people don’t participate,” noted D’Entremont. He estimated that as much as 80 percent of users choose to speak with an operator, despite the fact that it can slow down the process significantly. It’s also nearly impossible for phone trees to reflect the hospital’s current census.
On the other hand, Parlance’s solutions can integrate with the organization’s EHR to more accurately track where patients are located, and more importantly, help family members stay updated on their condition. “It’s a natural evolution of using technology to connect,” said Draper. “It’s faster and it can be more accurate.”
Using tools like chatbots is great for customers who engage online, he added. However, there are many who still prefer the phone. “This is a way to improve productivity and become more consumer-friendly.”
The big question is, how do organizations know whether they need to improve the call center experience? One method is to peruse online reviews, said D’Entremont, who has found that the majority of 1 and 2-star reviews are rarely attributed to the care itself. “It’s about the communication experience,” he noted. “People will say, ‘It was really hard to get an appointment’ or ‘it was hard to get in touch.’”
To that end, he advised leaders to call the main number and put themselves into the patients’ shoes. “It can be a real eye-opener.”
The first step is to select the right vendor partner. For Draper, there were two main criteria: what did the technology look like, and what has the experience been like with large hospitals. “I wanted to find somebody who had done this with a bigger and more complex organization,” he said. “That gave me confidence that it would work for us.”
Once they chose Parlance, the next priority was to identify a point person to whom all the organization’s PBX operators would report, rather than having multiple managers. This change, Draper noted, “has been great for morale and team building.”
Another critical piece is establishing a rapport, which the two organizations were able to do early on, he said. “Our team asked questions, and they listened. We had a process where they provided suggestions and we made tweaks. It’s a great partnership.”
A key element in that partnership, noted D’Entremont, is in emphasizing service as much as technology. “If you don’t blend the service with it to solve problems or figure out what’s wrong with the process or application, you won’t get results,” he said. “This isn’t something that gets installed and dropped off with a taillight guarantee.”
Both parties, according to Draper, must be willing to have difficult conversations and to remained focused on the ultimate goal of creating “a better culture for frontline employees,” while also increasing patient satisfaction. “It’s an opportunity to transform, digitize, and simplify,” he stated. “Eliminating a low-value task with automation is a great thing. I think healthcare needs more of this.”
To view the archive of this webinar — Improving the Call Experience That Patients Have With Your Health System (Sponsored by Parlance) — please click here.