Eric Crews

Navigating the New Normal in the Contact Center

by Laura Clemons | Apr 29, 2021

In the blink of an eye, every person in the world had their world turned upside down by the pandemic in 2020. From virtual school to work at home models, every business and family found themselves living in a new normal.

As business closed or reduced capacity, healthcare companies needed to not only press on, but increase and expand the number of transactions being handled by their contact center.

How can healthcare companies continue to balance the need to manage all types of transactions, prioritize the member experience, and navigate this new normal?

We have some ideas and best practices based on what we have done to support clients this year.

Technology and Security

The call center industry was highly disrupted in 2020 as well, during a time when the world needed this industry the most. The industry had to respond to disruptive global lockdowns in an urgent and meaningful way. As a consequence, we witnessed the acceleration of digital transformation efforts, with a greater focus on Self-Service Technologies (SST). 

Contact Centers that were invested in the latest technologies were able to maintain service levels, while pivoting to offer new solutions. At TLC Associates, we invested early on in a host of critical on-premises software applications. The real game-changers were having cloud-based technologies in place to empower agents to work from anywhere. This is now table stakes for all contact center operations, particularly in healthcare.

Compliance and security are front and center in healthcare patient/member communications. The chaos borne of the pandemic crisis created potential vulnerability as teams quickly pivoted into new at-home environments. Ensuring that all Omni-channel unified communications are secured by systems that meet all compliance requirements, with 24x7 monitoring and offsite back-up are just 'doing the basics' in this new normal. As such, it is critical to frequently inspect every aspect of the system to ensure that all access points are fully protected.


Business Continuity Planning

Companies, perhaps like never before, were tested in terms of their ability to continue to provide services in 2020. Armed with the reality of what occurred, companies are now keenly aware that there are opportunities to improve Business Continuity Planning (BCP). There were many lessons learned, and companies are truly rethinking strategies to better prepare for the unknown.

Just ask those who failed during the pandemic. Patient/member demands spiked, and those who underinvested in infrastructure over the decade leading up to the pandemic were hard pressed to pivot. This was especially true in the conversion to various offerings, including work-from-home, leaving many unable to support their patients/members during a time when they needed them the most.

This continued increase in patient interactions via digital and voice channels is not going away any time soon. Early in the pandemic, healthcare call centers found themselves with limited resources trained and in position within existing contact centers, leaving providers and insurance companies having to prioritize transactions based on either value or impact. 

The adoption of Self-Service Technologies— website, IVR, mobile app, in-office/store kiosks, and chatbots—alleviated some pressure to provide fast and accurate service to members/patients. But, as volumes increased, it was not enough to relieve the strain on the contact center for some. Moving forward, patients and members expect to receive timely communications with their providers and insurance companies, and those who keep pace with such demands will surge forward in any future situation that may arise. Those who remain stagnant with this adoption will be left behind.

Flexibility to Easily Expand

Call center managers, with a keen understanding of the resources available, are constantly challenged to meet the demands of internal and external customers. Often, the organization does not have the elasticity to flex to meet increased demand. Managers are forced to make tough decisions in planning their game plan. In many cases, companies simply cannot get to all the work.

When faced with more work than one can handle, a higher priority is placed on the inbound contacts to which companies must react. Conversely, outbound calling is a proactive service that is planned based on resource availability. Outbound calling is an engagement channel where one initiates a call with your patient or prospect to let them know about a new service, schedule a revenue-generating appointment, or perhaps collect important survey data. When one cannot initiate calls of this nature, revenue opportunities are missed. There are two potential solutions for companies. They can add fixed costs in the form of more contact center employees or seek a variable cost solution from a trusted third-party contact center provider.

As an example, TLC Associates was called upon by a major healthcare company to supplement its efforts. The company focused on its core business and prioritized inbound calling as its top priority. We were tasked with providing outbound engagement services to contact individuals who qualified for proactive healthcare checks. Our role was to inform the patient and schedule an appointment as needed. Each completed appointment generated revenue for the company. Without key support from a third-party like TLC Associates, the company would not have been able to capture this revenue, connect with current patients, or establish a relationship with new patients.

Outbound dialing solutions can also serve as a proactive channel to notify patients of protocols or changes in the facility or connect with members/patients on important information relative to their continuum of care. Being able to flex resources as needed to add additional calling capabilities is part of the ongoing best practices that all contact centers, particularly those in healthcare, will need to embrace.

Lessons Learned, Never Forgotten

As companies forge a path for the new future of CX, we encourage a thorough review of business continuity planning (BCP), the adoption of SSTs, and establishing a healthy balance between Work at Home and in-office employees. Having an outsourced solution as part of the overall patient/member experience strategy makes BCP more robust and builds in a plan for situations like what we have experienced during the pandemic. It also provides variable-cost elasticity in operations empowering providers and insurance companies to do more, while elevating the overall experience by benchmarking results and driving KPI improvements that support the enhancement of the entire patient/member experience.

While we are all hopeful that 2020 is behind us, the lessons learned will- and should- stay with us for many years to come.

About the Author

Thomas (Tom) L Cardella has been a pioneer and successful entrepreneur in the Contact Center industry for 30 years. He has two successful start-ups behind him. His first company, Access Direct, founded in 1995, grew to 2200 employees in five years, and was sold to Interactive Corp (IAC) in 2000. Access Direct was #8 on the Inc 500 list in 2000, and Tom Cardella was an E&Y Regional Winner in 1998. Tom was an E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year Award finalist in 2011, 2019 and 2020.

After selling Access Direct, Tom went on to lead PRC LLC, one of Interactive Corp (IAC) companies, with 15,000 employees around the world. In 2007, he founded TLC Associates. While Tom is the only investor in TLC Associates, he issued over 33% of the company stock to the initial leadership team and other employees. 

TLC Associates operates BPO centers in seven communities in the United States, and also maintains international operations in India, The Dominican Republic, and The Philippines. The Company employs approximately 3,500 team members globally supporting Fortune 1000 clients. 

Tom completed his Executive MBA at the University of Iowa. He is actively involved as an Adjunct Professor at The University of Iowa College of Business. Tom also actively supports and is involved with charitable organizations such as Ronald McDonald House, Special Olympics, Big Brother Big Sisters, and other organizations.

Popular Tags