Call Center Collaboration

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

During uncertain economic conditions, it is critical for healthcare call centers to explore ways to bolster their revenue stream or insure their ongoing existence. One option is to collaborate with another call center or health organization towards their mutual benefit, such as a medical answering service working with a nurse triage call center. Over the years, I have been involved in many types of similar alliances, but with varying results. Here are some ways things go awry:

The Quick Fix: Most collaborations take time to produce results. Expecting an immediate payoff is unrealistic. If you pursue a joint venture as a futile survival effort, it is likely too late to do any good. Instead, seek innovative solutions while there is time to nurture them. The payoff, while not imminent, can be long-term.

Unwilling to Contribute: Too often people enter into partnership arrangements with the erroneous expectation that with little effort they will realize great benefits from the work of the partner company. This is selfish and shortsighted. Even if results initially occur, the partner will have no reason to continue doing all the work while others reap the benefits.

Having a Win/Lose Mentality: Sometimes one or both parties persist in the belief that the only way for them to come out ahead is for their partner to lose. When this occurs, the only possible outcome is that both parties lose.

Taking Advantage of Your Partner: If one party in a joint venture has a hidden agenda, their ruse will eventually be exposed. The only results will be ill will and a possible lawsuit.

Inequitable Responsibilities and Rewards: Arrangements in which one party is consistently expending a greater amount of time and resources while realizing lesser results is a collaboration that is destined for collapse. Alliances comprised of givers and takers are doomed to fail.

Lack of Agreed upon Objectives and Measurements: If you don’t agree on the target, how will you know if you hit it? How will you determine if the collaboration is working? Stating that your aim is to increase call traffic is vague and untenable. A goal must be specific and quantifiable.

There are different valid ways to measure call traffic. One is to track the number of incoming calls, while another might be to chart the number of agent minutes. Both are valid, but they are different. Introducing call automation will likely effect both measurements, but with opposite outcomes. With automation, calls could increase, while agent minutes plummet. One partner is pleased; the other is dismayed.

No Exit Plan: It is unwise to assume any collaboration will last forever. Things change. What once was mutually beneficial will one day cease to be. Lacking a clear and defined ending, subjects participants to needless confusion or frustration. Suppose that one partner needs to buy equipment, purchase inventory, or hire staff for the alliance to endure. If the venture’s future is indeterminate, there will be a reluctance to make these investments.

  • With these pitfalls in mind, here are recommendations of how to embark upon a successful collaboration:
  • Be completely honest and forthright about your expectations and contributions.
  • Pursue a mutually beneficial relationship.
  • Set specific and quantifiable goals.
  • Do your part to ensure success.
  • Predetermine a controlled, ethical, and responsible manner to end things with minimal damage to all stakeholders.

While there is much that can go awry in pursuing a call center collaboration, there is an exciting upside when it is wisely implemented. By avoiding the preceding pitfalls and pursuing these recommendations, a collaboration can be positioned for success.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

[From the August/September 2011 issue of AnswerStat magazine]