Consider the two words that make up the phrase call center. The first is call, which implies telephone calls. We also lump other forms of communication into this, such as email, text messaging, and social media. The second word is center. This suggests a centralized location to handle all these various communications. Indeed, this is usually the case but not always.
In larger organizations, especially in the healthcare arena, calls aren’t always routed to a centralized location. Too often, each building or location has its own call center, operating independently of other location call centers. Even worse, too often each department or specialty has their own mini-call center, which works in isolation from all the other “call centers” in the organization. This situation is most pronounced in hospitals, health networks, and large clinics.
The motivation to establish call centers—as a centralized place to answer calls—was to increase efficiency, enhance management, and standardize processes and responses. However, this can’t happen when an organization’s calls route to isolated departments that operate as call silos with different intents, sometimes conflicting with other call silos.
To combat this, it’s important to reclaim the “centralized” aspect of the call center. This means bringing in isolated mini-call centers into a more efficient and controlled operation. And the larger the organization, the more challenging this effort becomes, fraught with infighting, politics, and fear over the unknown.
But it can be done. It must be done.
Powered with an MBA and an engaging enthusiasm, Elizabeth Abernathy had enjoyed a series of promotions in her early days at a major metropolitan hospital network. Then she endured several lateral moves, and she feared her career had stalled. But when she was about to give up and seek a fresh start elsewhere, she received her biggest promotion yet: director of call center operations.
Elizabeth had interacted with the call center during her stint in marketing, as well as in human resources before that. She knew what a well-functioning call center could mean for the hospital. However, she was painfully aware of the common criticisms levied against the harried staff who fielded phone calls. It wasn’t good. Even though she knew nothing about operating a call center, she was sure she could fix it. Her education and experience gave her the confidence to move forward boldly.
She settled into the call center with a hands-on attitude and a sincere willingness to learn. And there was much to learn. One by one she met with each member of the call center staff, listening to their concerns and their ideas, all the while instilling in them her enthusiastic outlook. Though she didn’t know what she didn’t know, she would learn. And as she learned, she would turn the call center into a significant asset for the hospital.
Six weeks into her job she met with an unexpected crisis. Mr. Perkins, president of the hospital, summoned her. It was like a call to the principal’s office—not that it had ever happened to her, but Elizabeth was sure that was what it felt like. She had met Mr. Perkins a few times at social events and been invited to a few group meetings, but this was the first time she met with him one-on-one, in his imposing corner office, no less.
The man was not pleased. It seems his neighbor had accosted him with a tale of woe, having called the hospital with a billing issue. They had transferred him seven times, twice back-and-forth, with each party blaming the other. The partial information he received often conflicted with what others told him. Then, when one aloof employee attempted to transfer him back to where he started, she disconnected him instead. His next action was not to call back to the hospital but to visit his neighbor, Mr. Perkins.
Perkins blamed Elizabeth and demanded she fix it. She assured him she would, but she wondered how. Maybe she needed to make that job change after all.
Still shaking over the ordeal, she set down at her office computer and begin searching the database. She could find no record of the call, none whatsoever. And her operations manager, who knew the system inside and out, couldn’t find a trace of it either.
Not knowing what to do, she called the healthcare call center consultant the hospital had on retainer. The consultant suggested checking the PBX logs, since all call center activity went through it. Elizabeth contacted the hospital’s IT department and asked for help. The tech wasn’t interested and tried to put her off, but when she told him Mr. Perkins was waiting for the information, the technician made her question his top priority. Thirty minutes later she had the data she needed. What she saw shocked her.
Though the caller had indeed bounced around seven times before being disconnected, just as he claimed, none of the touch points was in her call center. Instead they were in various departments around the hospital. Perkins held her responsible for something she had no control over.
Elizabeth shared these findings with her consultant, who had seen this before. Even though there was a hospital call center, only a fraction of the calls went through it. The rest went to a haphazard collection of departments scattered across the campus, which bypassed the hospital call center.
The first goal was to identify each one of these calling touch points.
The next step would be to develop a plan to bring each one into Elizabeth’s call center. This would require careful planning and meticulous implementation. She would need to deal with opposition from people fearful of change, political infighting, and managers wanting to protect their little fiefdoms.
Third, to accomplish this integration of disparate call centers spread across the organization would require scaling up the infrastructure at the hospital call center.
It would also produce some staffing challenges. She would need to hire additional employees to handle the extra calls and integrate some of the other departments’ call-handling staff into her operation.
Last, everyone would need extensive cross training. It would be an arduous journey. It wouldn’t be a quick fix, but Mr. Perkins wanted a quick fix.
Working with the consultants, Elizabeth drafted an action plan to present to Mr. Perkins. She shared what she learned about Mr. Perkins’s neighbor’s unfortunate experience. Without blaming others, she subtly communicated that this whole ordeal occurred outside her call center. To make sure it wouldn’t happen again she would need to bring these calls under her control at the main hospital call center. Then she outlined the plan she and her consultant had developed, along with a timetable and the cost.
She could only speculate on the savings this move would ultimately make, both in terms of time and money, for the other departments. However, she was convinced that in the end this move would provide an overall cost savings for the hospital. She also emphasized the benefits of freeing up other departments from phone calls that interrupted their other work. Last she emphasized that call centralization would allow for more consistent and controlled responses to external communications, an enhanced impression to callers, and increased efficiency—for both patients and employees.
Nervous, Elizabeth had made her oral recommendations to Mr. Perkins, along with the entire board. Though she handed out a massive report—which her consultant helped draft—only a few even glanced at it. In the end they granted her approval and gave her one year to complete it.
Elizabeth and the consultants got to work. The first step, identifying all the telephone touch points they needed to address, took the better part of a week. What started out as an informal quest ended up being a methodical analysis of PBX records to identify calling hotspots. They decided to label any area where two or more people handled phone calls as a “call center.” They identified thirty-one mini-call centers.
Next, they prioritized each one of these thirty-one entities. They considered two main criteria. One, to select ones with the biggest impact. Second, to factor in the ones easiest to do from a political standpoint. They could celebrate these as quick wins and then rollout the program.
Working closely with the consultants, Elizabeth and her team began bringing these ancillary call centers into her operation. This involved navigating a political labyrinth, scores of meetings to address employee concerns, and detailed planning. One by one they successfully moved each of these disparate mini-call centers into Elizabeth’s operation. For some they absorbed staff, and for others they hired new staff to take the added calls. Throughout it all, they cross-trained staff at each step, teaching them the information unique to each new component.
By the end of the year, Elizabeth was tired but pleased. She and her consultant had successfully integrated all the ancillary mini-call centers into her call center, nearly doubling its size in terms of staff and tripling the number of calls handled. Mr. Perkins had publicly commended her at the annual management retreat. Then came an increased budget, a nice raise, and an invitation to join the hospital’s strategic planning committee. Elizabeth was sure her call center could help take the hospital to the next level, leading the way in customer service and patient access.
Contact Call Center Sales Pro today at 800-901-7706 to learn more about merging call centers and comprehensive call center consulting. You’ll be glad you did.