Defining the Next Generation Healthcare Call Center

Today’s consumers simply expect more. It’s not surprising: They have thousands of options at their fingertips whenever a need arises. Whether it’s ordering a pizza or booking a flight, consumers interact with businesses in dozens of different ways. Sure, they might eventually pick up the phone – but, depending on personal preference, they may also open up an app on their mobile device or surf the web to explore other options. The ease and convenience with which their need is fulfilled is a primary indicator of whether they’ll continue to be loyal to the brand.

caller frustrated with healthcare call center experienceLike it or not, the healthcare industry is in no way immune to these rising expectations. Unfortunately, however, health systems are still years behind other consumer-facing businesses when it comes to a customer engagement strategy.

Poor call center experiences are at the heart of the problem, with underlying issues such as a lack of data integration and disjointed systems leading to patient frustration and, ultimately, departure.

In fact, 26 percent of patients report having contacted a health system over the phone only to be transferred (often more than once) without resolution.

To avoid sending patients down the path to retail healthcare alternatives (such as CVS MinuteClinic, Walgreens, and others), health systems need to take a hard look at their customer engagement model and recognize that they’re no longer the ones in charge: It’s the consumer who holds the reins. The entire patient engagement system must be reformatted to meet consumers exactly where, when, and how they want. It’s not an easy transformation, but it’s critical – and phase one of this process is to align the call center. Marketing and Call Center give consumers the first impression, serving as the virtual “front door” to the health system.

Let’s take a closer look at the concept of the “Next Generation Healthcare Call Center” and discuss a few solutions and tactics to get your organization closer to achieving a holistic, innovative patient experience.

The Problem with the Traditional Healthcare Call Center

Think about the last time you made a phone call to schedule an appointment with a new provider. Chances are, you went through a confusing and lengthy phone tree, and were then made to wait on hold for at least a few minutes. When you finally spoke to a representative, he or she asked for a litany of demographic information before addressing your request – information that you probably already provided either online or to a different provider in the same health network. Or perhaps you wanted to inquire about a seminar you’d seen advertised on the health system’s website, but the call center agent was unaware of such an event. Your call was transferred to a different department, where you eventually gave up after another several minutes on hold.

Not only is this experience frustrating, but it’s also incredibly alienating. Consumers who reach out to health systems tend to be highly motivated: they know something is wrong, or that something hurts, and they want to get help as soon as possible. In this sense, healthcare is much more easily able to “convert” its prospects than just about any other industry – so long as health systems provide a level of personalized service that makes consumers feel heard and understood.

Yet the traditional call center repeatedly fails to deliver this type of experience, and it all comes down to the following core issues:

  • Fragmented data, which leads to a disjointed customer experience (the call center operates in a silo)
  • Lack of integration with strategic initiatives (marketing operates in a silo)
  • Multiple entry points, none of which are clearly defined
  • Single-purpose calls, which fail to broaden patient awareness of other potentially relevant services
  • Agents incentivized on speed and transactional efficiency rather than first call resolution
  • Heavily clinical language (agents aren’t speaking the language of the consumer)
  • Reactive rather than proactive operation

How can health systems resolve these issues? Start by changing the way they think about the customer experience. Once the big questions have been answered – “Who are our patients?” “What do they want?” and “What do they need?” – they can begin to take action by adopting better technology, eliminating silos, and aligning marketing initiatives with the call center.

transcend touchpoints with call center webinar

Redefining the Patient Experience

As it stands, customer experiences in healthcare are not improving. While many health systems have begun to adopt the technology – such as an HCRM or marketing automation tool – that enables better marketing outreach and, therefore, better experiences, they’re not using them holistically. The Next Generation Healthcare Call Center starts with an in-depth analysis of the existing patient experience, where unique personas are identified and preferences understood. All of this must happen before technology is implemented and marketing-call center tactics are deployed.

cross-channel patient journeyPatient journey mapping is an excellent tool that healthcare professionals use to sketch out those individual personas, recognizing that each department may have a different perspective on what that journey looks like.

When evaluating the patient experience, remember that their journey stretches far beyond the clinical encounter. Where the clinical journey is generally straightforward and linear, the overall patient journey is non-linear, crossing multiple channels and touchpoints over a period of months, years, or even generations.

Finally, remember that each persona is in a different state of consumerism, and, therefore, has different beliefs and preferences in how they want to interact with the health system. Some patients still prefer phone calls because they desire a “personal touch” and are reassured by the ability to talk to another person. Others may not want to be on the receiving end of multiple calls because it doesn’t fit in their busy work schedule, in which case digital channels are the more effective mode of contact.

The Solution: The Next Generation Healthcare Call Center

Only after taking a hard look at their patient experience model can health systems begin to understand how marketing and the call center must work together, hand-in-hand, to enact a holistic patient journey. Next comes the technology and the tactics:

The Technology

From a technology standpoint, a CRM-enabled call center solution that’s integrated with the marketing technology stack via the HCRM breaks down the data silos that exist in a traditional call center setting. To take steps towards “Next Gen”, call center agents need to have access and visibility into marketing and consumer data in the HCRM. Remember a consumer doesn’t differentiate between the “marketing” department and the “call center.” The consumer recognizes it as one and the same. This is why it’s absolutely critical to implement a centralized hub where marketing and the call center work together to manage multiple channels of engagement. At Evariant, our solution to this technological challenge is known as the Engagement Center.

Rather than a limited clinical snapshot, the Engagement Center provides a comprehensive, 360-degree view of patient data – including all past interactions with the health system, demographic and clinical data, and engagement activity with marketing campaigns (for instance, downloading a brochure or registering for a community event). Armed with this information, along with strategically built scripts, agents immediately identify the caller and provide a deeply personalized experience from the get-go.

Engagement Center technology also enables cross-selling and up-selling opportunities. By providing greater visibility into the caller’s stage along the patient journey, including any recent screenings or potential comorbidities, agents schedule consultations or set up additional appointments during a single phone call. No longer are call center agents blind to caller intent, interest, and online journey – instead, the call center becomes a proactive engine that drives conversions and builds loyalty by offering patients exactly what they need, exactly when they need it.

The Tactics

Once your agents are armed with the tools to deliver personalized experiences that exceed consumer expectations, marketing can kick off strategic campaigns that use the call center as a strategic touchpoint. The large majority of patients are scheduling appointments via the phone – plus, when call center agents are trained and equipped to provide excellent service, a phone call reinforces the trust-based relationship between patient and health system.

Healthcare marketers typically see an increase in call conversions when marketing and the call center are aligned. Simply updating calls-to-action on key website pages to say something like “schedule a complimentary consultation” rather than “schedule an appointment” can be highly effective. Click-to-call, paid search ads, intelligent retargeting, and interstitial pages (that collect a visitor’s phone number) are examples of other useful but frequently underutilized tactics.

Marketers need to rethink their campaign strategy to establish loyalty with those patients who live in a digital-first world. They can employ an interoperable mix of channels that support each unique phase along the patient journey: For one persona, this might mean creating a digital and social-based nurture pathway during the research and consideration phase, a phone-based outreach plan during the scheduling phase, and an email campaign to support post-discharge and rehabilitation. Call backs should be incorporated throughout, especially when a patient is likely to disengage.

Regardless of the tactics chosen, always track conversion rates. If a particular strategy isn’t getting patients on the phones, act quickly: Either make an adjustment or try something else.

Final Thoughts

In order to thrive in a consumer-driven market, health systems need to unleash a customer engagement model that challenges those of disruptive brands in retail – think Trader Joe’s, Delta, and Amazon. The healthcare call center should be the centerpiece of this new patient engagement system, serving not only to fulfill the administrative needs of the organization, but driving conversions, nurturing leads, and reinforcing patient loyalty. And in order to do so, the call center must integrate fully with the marketing department so that both branches of the health system’s customer-facing operation are working in unison, supporting rather than undermining one another.

The Next Generation Healthcare Call Center is entirely within reach. All it takes are the right tools and technology, a new approach to marketing and call center integration, and a few unique tactics that keep patients engaged proactively throughout their entire healthcare journey.

transcend touchpoints with engagement center

Marti Van Veen

Marti Van Veen

Marti Van Veen is Vice President, Engagement Center & Practice Leader at Evariant. Previously, Marti was System Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Physicians Regional Healthcare System (CHS affiliates). Prior to her 5+ years with CHS, Marti was with HCA, serving in several roles over her 17 years with the organization.