An answering service can do a lot to alleviate telephone traffic and wasted time in your practice, giving your staff the time they need to properly interact with patients in-office. However, you need to work cooperatively with call center operators to make sure they're offering the same care and service to patients that your own staff provides. If all your answering service does is take messages or route calls to a voice mail system, it's time to look for more. Here are just a few things to consider when it comes to the services offered by your call center.
When you first decide to hire outside help for fielding calls to your practice, you might not have a clear concept of how to get started logistically. Certainly you can find a reputable and reliable service, but their employees are not yours, and they're not familiar with your practice, your patients, or your preferences. How do you go about helping them to fill your needs and create positive and fruitful experiences for your patients?
You can start by gaining some insight into what others are doing as a way to determine how you want to proceed. You can not only look at competitors within your industry, but in other industries, as well, to get ideas about hours of operation for your call center (business hours versus 24/7, for example), script elements, processes for escalation, and so on.
Keep in mind that the right call center will be interested in working with you, as a partner, to ensure that representatives are prepared to serve the needs of your patients and provide positive and satisfying experiences. This is preferable not only for your patients and your practice, but for the call center operators trying to do a good job. You're hiring outside help specifically to gain expertise, so make sure you take advantage of it.
When it comes to customer satisfaction, it's important to remember that familiarity and ease of use are part of the package. This is often a concern when branding your business, but you may not think it applies to your answering service. However, when it comes to bringing in third-party help, consistency is the key to maintaining a positive customer experience.
You should start by creating a standardized greeting, so that whether patients reach your office staff or the call center, they are greeted in a familiar manner and they know they've reached the right number. A polite opening to the conversation will put patients at ease and help to set the stage for a productive and fulfilling interaction.
In addition, you need to set call center operators up for success by ensuring they're able to address frequently asked questions. Operators should be provided with a list of questions your own staff might ask to ascertain the seriousness and direction of every call. They should also have answers to FAQs and be prepared to deal with a variety of call scenarios, including everything from scheduling appointments, to requests for medication refills, to questions about fees/insurance, to medical questions, to emergency situations, so that they can properly direct calls as your own staff would.
Training operators to properly address patient concerns is a big step toward ensuring patient satisfaction with call center interactions. However, when it comes to providing healthcare services, you also want to make sure that every patient feels like they are receiving adequate care, and this requires more than just answers.
You want patients to know that you and your staff care about their experience, and this may require a level of personalization with each call. You don't necessarily want to encourage operators to exhibit too much empathy - they need to maintain a professional demeanor at all times so as not to make patients feel uncomfortable in any way. However, they should always behave in a polite and interested manner so that patients feel they are being heard and their concerns are being addressed.
In order to ensure that operators at your answering service are able to provide the best possible interactions with patients, you'll need to provide them with access to your customer relationship management (CRM) system. In order to help patients get the answers they need, operators must be able to reference pertinent patient info.
Because there are so many protections when it comes to medical information, you'll have to be careful about the access you provide. At the very least, though, your call center operators may need access to current contact information and scheduling data pertaining to patients. Having this information on hand can make for more expedient and productive interactions.
Guidelines for Escalation
Naturally, call center operators will not be able to handle every call on their own. They are not members of your staff, nor are they medical professionals. There are certain pieces of information and advice they're simply not qualified to provide.
By asking the right questions, however, they should be able to figure out how best to direct or escalate calls. Generally speaking, operators should be able to work off your FAQ list or your CRM system to deal with scheduling and other clerical tasks. What should they do if a patient has a question about a medical condition? Forward the call to your office during business hours, or to on-call staff outside of business hours (if available).
What if there is no one from your staff available or it's an emergency situation? In such cases, operators can refer callers to emergency services, perhaps going so far as to provide relevant contact information or even connect calls, depending on your preference.
You want to make sure you're using your answering service to the greatest advantage, and this means tracking and analyzing related data so that you can gain insight into trends and adjust as needed. For example, you might discover higher call volumes at certain times of day, and during these times, customers may have longer wait times on hold.
If this trend persists, you might want to double up with both office staff and operators answering calls to alleviate traffic and wait times, just for example. Creating a positive customer experience begins with understanding what patients need and then finding the tools and resources to streamline the process. In this regard, your answering service should act as an extension of your business.