Running a medical answering service is hard work. A big part of it is operations—providing communication services to your clients—but there’s also a technical aspect, accounting, sales, marketing, and administration. Few medical answering services excel at all six of these areas. Most struggle in at least one or two departments, and many could make significant improvements in each area.
There are three approaches to deal with this. First is the bootstrap method where you seek continual improvement to address weak areas and turn them into strengths. This is the least costly but also the most time-consuming option.
Next is to hire an experienced department head—one with a proven record at a different answering service—to come in and revitalize a struggling department. This is expensive and doesn’t always produce the desired results, but if results occur they usually happen faster.
The third solution offers the quickest results and produces the biggest change. Interestingly, it’s also a cost-effective solution. This solution is to tap the expertise of a call center consulting firm with experience in dealing with medical answering services.
Jennifer Rodrigues set in her car, dumbfounded. She didn’t trust herself to drive home, not yet. It’d been a rough day, a really rough day at Mercy Medical Answering Service. The morning was typical for a Friday, which meant she focused on putting out fires for the approaching weekend. But after lunch, Mr. Walker called her into his office. For the next three hours he told her how disappointed he was with the answering service’s performance. He pinned the fault squarely on her shoulders, as its general manager.
She tried her best to receive his words as constructive criticism, nodding to show she was listening and making detailed notes. But inside she roiled. He didn’t understand the pressures she faced trying to provide a high-quality service at an affordable price, while keeping clients happy and holding costs down. It was a no-win situation, but he blamed her for not meeting his impossible expectations.
Then came the kicker. He gave her six months to turn things around or find another job. Frankly, making a career change felt like her only reasonable option.
Back in her office she attempted to organize her six pages of notes. She categorized the problems by department: operations, technical, accounting, sales, and marketing. Though administration was Mr. Walker’s responsibility, he even included some of its issues in his rant of disappointment.
Usually organizing a problem would help move Jennifer toward a solution. But not this time. There were too many issues in too many areas. She didn’t know where to start. She numbly shuffled to her car and there she sat.
Finally, she trusted herself enough to drive. She’d go home, have a good cry, and attack it fresh on Saturday morning. She’d find a solution. She’d have to. It would be a difficult weekend.
Jennifer spent all day Saturday and well into the evening trying to form an action plan that had a chance of working. Every idea fell short. Sunday morning she began emailing industry colleagues who she had met over the years. As discretely as possible she explained her dilemma and asked for recommendations. Though the responses came quickly, they weren’t helpful: Several empathized with her. Two said they had the same challenge at their service. And a couple more had no answer. One offered her a job.
Then came an email from her longtime friend, Tom. His message offered a glimmer of hope. He suggested she contract with a call center consultancy that had experience with answering services in the healthcare industry. She studied every page of their website and felt they could provide the solution to help her turn around the answering service and save her job. She filled out the request-for-information form and hoped she’d hear back on Monday. Instead they responded by email a couple hours later and before long she was on the phone with them planning what they would do next week.
The big problem Jennifer faced was that Mr. Walker wouldn’t want to pay for a consultant. Fortunately, the consultant had a plan to address this. They would start their work focusing on the billing of existing clients. They would do a thorough, detailed rate analysis for each client and determine those who were being under charged. These clients would receive rate adjustments to make their accounts profitable. The amount of these billing increases, which provided additional month-after-month revenue, could then go to pay the consultant.
The consultant coached Jennifer on how to approach Mr. Walker with their idea. To her delight he accepted it in concept. Then she introduced the consultants into the process, and they sold Mr. Walker on their methodology. Though Mr. Walker would have to write a check to the consultancy, he would receive additional revenue because of their work. The planned rate increases would cover the consultant’s costs.
The next step was for the lead consultant to visit Mercy Medical Answering Service in person. She would analyze every aspect of the business from a fresh perspective, looking for areas needing improvement. After a couple days of intense investigation, she had a follow-up meeting with Jennifer. The consultant compared her observations with the concerns Mr. Walker had given Jennifer. There was much overlap but also some underlying issues Mr. Walker had missed.
Just as Jennifer had done, the consultant grouped the problems by department. Then they prioritized them. Although some of the initiatives that would offer the biggest return would take longer than six months to accomplish, there were several significant opportunities that they could complete within six months.
Jennifer took this list of short-term corrections to Mr. Walker. He agreed that if she completed these (along with the consultants’ help), he’d be pleased to continue her employment beyond the six-month ultimatum he had given her.
The three key short-term issues to tackle were providing better operator training, correcting technical problems with the answering service system, and improving billing accuracy. Of course, there were secondary issues to address that would also provide marked improvement, but the three key issues took precedence.
The consultants worked with Jennifer and her trainer to overhaul operator training, both for new hires and ongoing instruction—something they had never done before. The consultant’s engineering team began addressing the equipment and software problems that Mercy Medical Answering Service faced. Last, the consultants worked with the billing clerk to increase the accuracy of invoices, but when she quit abruptly, the consultants took over billing responsibilities. Not only could they do a better job than the billing clerk, but they would do it for a fraction of the cost.
After six months, Jennifer and the consultants had achieved phase one of their turnaround plan. Not only did they complete it on time, but they exceeded Mr. Walker’s expectations. He rewarded Jennifer with a raise and the consultants with an ongoing consultancy agreement. Now they were able to work on their long-term recommendations that would produce even greater results. These included moving to a cloud-based platform, outsourcing the technical maintenance of the answering service, and implementing a proven sales and marketing process from the consultants. This would supplement the sales work of Mercy Medical Answering Service’s own staff.
After three years, Jennifer continues to work with the consultants. Their ongoing improvements have turned Mercy Medical Answering Service into a leading healthcare answering service in their community, for their state, and across the country. They’ve grown their business, increased profits, and won quality awards. Now they’re considering a strategic acquisition, with the consultant’s help, of course.
As for Jennifer, she’s received another nice raise, a promotion to vice president, and is on an incentive program that will allow her to buy a minority stake in the answering service. She’s so glad she resisted the urge to look for another job and worked with Call Center Sales Pro instead.
Is your healthcare call center struggling to meet expectations? If you can’t give your call center two thumbs up, then maybe it’s time to seek some expert guidance to help turn disappointment into excitement. Contact Call Center Sales Pro today at 800-901-7706 to help make for a better tomorrow. Your clients, staff, and boss will thank you.