Laura Clemons

Case study: How Northwestern Medicine boosted morale for call center employees during COVID-19

by Laura Clemons | Mar 22, 2021
At the start of COVID-19, Gina Minas, director of access at Northwestern Medicine, was faced with some daunting numbers: Each year, her call center team handles 7.6 million calls. She has 260 agents. With only 20 percent of her staff already working from home before COVID-19, she had only seven days to transition 80 percent of her staff to a WFH environment.

You’d be surprised at how many agents feed off the energy of other agents when they’re in the service center,” Minas said. “We needed to figure out a way to keep that energy going remotely.

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But at the beginning of the pandemic, she said most employees were thrilled to go home. Nobody called in sick anymore, people came back from their lunches and breaks on time,” Minas said. “Especially during a lockdown, there was nothing else to do, except work. We were thrilled, but knew this couldn’t last.” 

Keep up the momentum

Minas follows this adage: “The way your employees feel is the way your patients will feel. And if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your patients.”

She sees the call center as the front door to the hospital. She wants her team to feel empowered to serve patients, even if they happen to be taking calls from their dining room table. Here are a few ways she does just that:br />
  • Keep score: Each day, Minas sends out a virtual scorecard with everyone’s names on them. It keeps track of how many calls they’ve received, how quickly they’ve wrapped up the call and AHT (average handle time).
  • Make your schedulers feel like part of the practice: “If a physician feels like they have a team, they’re less likely to yell and complain,” Minas said. “In a typical call center, a physician doesn’t know who schedules for them. That’s why we’ll do virtual meetings to introduce our physicians to our agents. It’s all about creating teamwork.
  • Embrace recruiting remotely: Because of COVID-19, Minas can hire more part-time employees and college students. Instead of in-person training, she’s re-vamped virtual training slides to be more interactive with tests and quizzes at the end of each session.

The art of giving virtual appreciation  

“You never want to stop complimenting your team,” Minas said. 

But instead of just saying “good job,” she shows employees how much they are appreciated with gifts, celebrations and much more. Here’s how:

  • Special t-shirts: If a team member earns three verified compliments, Minas gives them a t-shirt that says, “I give phone hugs.” Minas said, “We have some people that have received more than 50 kudos. Pretty soon, I’m going to have to start giving away cars.
  • And the survey says: Ask your team for feedback. Share the results. Act on their suggestions. “It can make a huge difference if employees feel like their voice is being heard,” Minas says.
  • Create a virtual monthly coffee or lunch: Minas was skeptical that employees would log-into her 7 a.m. virtual coffee, but moste employees did. It was a great opportunity for her to connect to her team on a personal level.
  • Host daily huddles: Employees might feel stressed and isolated when they work at home, but daily huddles allow employees to vent about “crazy” calls or troubleshoot problems. Pro tip: In these huddles, observe which employee is mentoring or answering the most questions from their colleagues and keep them in mind for future promotions.
  • The beat goes on: “Anything you can do in the office, you can still find creative ways to do it remotely,” Minas says. The team does virtual meditation, plays bingo and trivia, and hosts virtual recipe exchanges. The fun doesn’t stop there — the team also still celebrates birthdays, engagements and baby showers. 
  • Call Center
  • covid

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