The healthcare contact center has been impacted by COVID-19 more so than virtually any other industry. In the early days of the pandemic, organizations were caught in a difficult balancing act. Given the critical services that the sector provides, they had to ensure care continuity while also protecting their own employees from contagion.
“Doctors and nurses are soldiers on the front line so business continuity was critical. But we could not compromise the health of our own employees either,” said Elias Farah, chief executive officer, Medfar. “We knew we had to quickly shift our agents to work from home. We were able to do it within 24 hours without missing any of our SLAs, even as we experienced a 30%+ increase in support tickets.” Medfar was able to accomplish this because they were using a cloud-based service from Talkdesk.
This was the topic at the healthcare roundtable at CCW 2020 (“CCW at Home”), where a number of health and health services-related organizations discussed the new norm for the contact center. Led by Jon Arnold, principal and founder of J Arnold & Associates, and Elias Farah of Medfar, the conversation revolved around leveraging technology to take advantage of new capabilities, developing best practices for managing remote agents, and forging a new path forward for the post-pandemic era.
Enabling new business capabilities
No one could have foreseen the sudden and dramatic impact of COVID-19. About 70% of all in-person visits to healthcare providers were abruptly cancelled and providers scrambled to replace them with telehealth visits. In fact, the percentage of Americans who have had a virtual visit increased from 11% prior to COVID-19 to 46% just a few months later. It was a decade’s worth of technology adoption being squeezed into just one quarter. “It is unprecedented and it’s an example of how digital transformation is forced upon the healthcare industry by an external force,” said Arnold.
“We didn’t think work-from-home (WFH) for our contact center agents was possible. But luckily, we were on a cloud-based system that enabled us to shift quickly,” said Farah. “Even as technical support calls soared, we were able to monitor our team to make sure agents were responsive. It’s healthcare, so there is no margin for error.”
To rapidly accommodate the increased volume of calls, Medfar shifted its sales team, already well trained in its products, to answer support calls. Farah went on to explain, “Getting the reps used to the contact center system took only about 15-20 minutes because it’s so easy to learn and fully integrated with our Salesforce CRM. And advanced reporting helped us ensure that we maintained our SLAs.”
Arnold indicated that Medfar’s experience was far from unique, though perhaps not many organizations were able to be quite as successful. “The pandemic is pushing us to build new processes in a way that we never really used before and probably would not have happened without COVID.”
Best practices for managing remote agents
“Many companies are not even aware that agents can be remote. With the right tools, training and workforce engagement capabilities, there is really no need to be sitting in a call center,” said Arnold. “There are distinct benefits in this, both from a cost structure and from an employee perspective.”
In fact, once Medfar’s agents moved to WFH, no one was ever late for work and there has been zero absenteeism. This is a trend that has been validated by dozens of other Talkdesk clients as well. “Our agents no longer sit in traffic and they are much more relaxed,” added Farah.
New best practices for managing remote agents are emerging and constantly evolving. To ensure agents and contact centers can successfully shift to remote, organizations should focus on the following best practices:
- Communication: build and maintain open communication channels and document policies in an easily accessible format.
- Training: train employees on the system, and more importantly, on expectations and the new business processes.
- Workforce engagement: ensure that supervisors are able to easily and consistently engage with and optimize the workforce.
- Security and compliance: security and compliance are as important in a remote environment as they are in the central office. Train the team accordingly and conduct regular audits.
- Technology: instead of being limited by clunky Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), harness the capabilities of modern, cloud-based systems. Ensure that the system:
- is easy to use
- provides 100% uptime SLAs
- is secure and HIPAA compliant
- creates opportunities for patient self-service
- easily integrates with a wide variety of other tools (CRM, EHR, etc.)
- offers advanced reporting and analytics
- delivers advanced workforce engagement capabilities
- scales easily to accommodate an increase in agents (e.g. during open enrollment)
- Simplify processes: help your agents and your customers by simplifying their experience using artificial intelligence. Virtual assistants can deflect calls while agent assistants can help you answer questions more quickly.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Some organizations will shift to a hybrid remote agent model, with staggered in-office shifts to ensure distancing while others will embrace a fully remote environment.
“Most of all, understand that everyone is stressed out right now. Customers are stressed, but so are our agents. For us, by letting them work from home, we help them manage their lives better,” said Farah, before adding, “It was an eye-opener for us, we can trust our agents to work from home. For the future, we see no choice but to continue to have our agents work from home.”
Reimagine your contact center
Providers, payers and life sciences organizations must proactively consider how to reframe the patient experience and position themselves to navigate the post COVID-19 era. “Now is an opportunity for healthcare organizations to really think about how they can reinvent their processes and do things in a smarter way that ultimately benefits patients. Technology is definitely the enabler here,” said Arnold.
In the new normal, the contact center will be a key point of care for many organizations. Patients themselves are now reforming their expectations of what the patient experience should be. Processes that in the past were only used by the early adopters have now suddenly shifted to the mainstream. Patients, providers, and even payers and governments, are rapidly accepting the use of mobile technology, telehealth, mail-delivery pharmacy, etc. to continue access to care. As patients become used to these new capabilities, they will not accept a return to the old ways.
From providing better access to driving down costs, Talkdesk for Healthcare can help you reimagine the contact center. Learn more about how we rapidly deployed our cloud contact center at a Fortune 100 healthcare organization to ensure business continuity.
Managing security in the healthcare and life sciences world
Designed to help leaders in IT, security and contact center operations:
Evaluate their current state of security
Understand HIPAA, GDPR, CMS and other compliance requirements
Consider where to make strategic improvements