Patient Access Growth & Retention 101: Fundamentals of a Scheduling Call Center

Scheduling call center staff play an increasingly important role as a part of care teams in our consumer-focused healthcare environment. We’ve laid out seven fundamental ways to support their success.

1. Centralized Tool Sets

Provide access to standardized scheduling processes & tools. The call center experience is vastly different from clinical operations, and staff require different skillsets. Call center agents are expected to meet patient needs quickly based on a voice or chat connection as opposed to clinical staff, who interact with patients face-to-face. While the nature of patient engagement might vary, all staff should use standard scheduling tools for shared access to all available appointments across the system. This centralized access maximizes efficiency by also allowing clinical staff to help patients schedule their next appointments, rather than directing them back to the call center.

2. Workforce and Absence Management 

Support staffing stability and retention. To construct an appropriate staffing plan, call center managers must understand the ebbs and flows of call volumes. Seasonal trends like flu seasons or medical awareness campaigns, behavior patterns of specific patient demographics, and more. Accuracy in forecasting and accounting for shrinkage can improve your employee experience and ensure staff maintain a work-life balance. When these conditions are in place, agents are less likely to experience burnout or leave.

Recruitment of qualified candidates is vital to maintaining a robust team and retaining your staff. Managers must have a strong relationship with recruitment teams to maintain the requisite 90% of positions filled. Additionally, an accurate forecast can be accomplished through careful tracking of attrition. The complexities of healthcare scheduling increase the need for highly trained and loyal employees who are familiar with the unique needs of both physicians and the patient communities you serve. Without question, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of understanding employee needs and pairing them with what your call center can offer: a comfortable workplace (often with a remote-work option), appropriate workloads, and perhaps most important, the opportunity to align and embrace your organization’s values, mission, and goals. These will all lead to higher staff satisfaction, higher quality work, and overall efficiency.

3. Interval and Intraday Reporting

Track daily staffing patterns and mitigate high-volume intervals. Call center staffing is dynamic by nature. In fact, the level of staffing needed can vary greatly depending on the time of day. The ability to use trends to forecast staffing needs in 15-minute intervals makes it possible for managers to employ strategies like:

  • Shifting staff to cross-cover during peaks on a specific service
  • Using an overflow service to take additional calls
  • Employing members of an internal float pool
  • Implementing a queue optimizer to level call volumes

These strategies ensure staff members are calm and comfortable and that patients receive prompt care.

4. Quality Assurance and Quality Management

Establish a quality assurance program through consistent and constructive feedback. A successful call center employee requires not only technical accuracy, but also people skills. Your organization’s training program should ensure staff members have the skillset to extract all necessary information, while maintaining a professional and empathetic demeanor. A quality assurance program quickly provides feedback to agents, tracks quality scores for the team, and helps managers determine where to focus training efforts. Quality management takes quality assurance to the next level. It establishes targets and expectations that increase incrementally as agents become more comfortable with receiving feedback. Managing with consistency, honesty, and understanding is critical for ongoing quality management.

5. Disease Management Discussions

Add clinical expertise to your call center team. We find that anywhere between 25% to 33% of calls coming into a patient access center require clinical knowledge and expertise. Embedding clinicians directly in the call center is a great way to address this need and to help your agents learn to respond to crucial details surrounding a patient’s questions and needs. Workflows must be established to utilize resources effectively, while promoting first call resolution. Establishing a recurring touchpoint between agents and clinical leaders across the service area of the call center is critical to the success of clinical call outcomes. These forums also allow members of the clinical team to connect with the agents and create a strong team dynamic. Healthy dialogue can create mutual understanding of the clinic’s model of operation along with the call center’s tools and techniques to support it.

6. Agent Performance Dashboard

Provide metrics around performance. Managers must ensure agents understand the tremendous impact of their individual work on the healthcare call center’s performance. A metrics dashboard is an excellent tool to help agents assess their performance. Ideally, this dashboard contains the vital KPIs at the individual, team, and department level. This report can bring more transparency to your executive leadership team and provide insights on where your organization is performing well and where you may require more support to bring a better patient and clinician experience to your organization.

Managers should hold weekly meetings with front-line teams  to discuss performance measures, such as accuracy within tasks, soft skills, and quality assurance. Managing an agent’s expectations and always aligning their performance to the vision of the organization promotes buy-in and decreases ambiguity surrounding their role. These meetings also promote consistency and trust between the team and management. Communication about difficult topics becomes routine, ensuring that fairness and equity are the norm.

7. Employee Engagement and Activities

Implement regular morale-building practices. Taking call after call can be monotonous. Fun must be had in the call center! Positive reinforcement, rewards, and recognition can be given for your staff’s acts of kindness, compassion, and advocacy. Managers should promote humor, education, communication, and team building. Promoting team engagement and bonding will help agents develop a stronger connection to their work. Now that many scheduling call centers have shifted to a work-from-home model, this may require some extra creativity. One way to get the ball rolling is to form a fun committee and engage agents in planning regular diversions and morale-building activities. Here are a few ideas:

  • Seasonal celebrations – sheer “fun” days like May the 4th Be with You!, as well as celebrations centered on cultures, cures, and more. Check in with your human resources team on what is appropriate.
  • Employee resource groups, like special interest group chats about nonwork-related topics such as cooking, gardening, pets, or entertainment recommendations.
  • Regular recognition events for those achieving success.
  • Small gifts of appreciation like thank-you notes and gift cards in small denominations.
  • Service projects such as card making for patients who are hospitalized during the holidays.

Now that you have a sense of what a successful scheduling call center entails, are you interested in matriculating? The right training for call center managers improves staff skills, confidence, and job satisfaction, leading to better customer service and a more positive environment for everyone.