Call Center Lessons From an ISP

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

When searching for an Internet service provider (ISP) I entered my address into the website of the most likely supplier. Four service options came up. I clicked the first, and it said, “Service not available.” I clicked the second, and it said, “Service available.” They appeared to be the same service, but the second had more features. The third was likewise not available, while the fourth one was.

I called the support number, and the rep said, “I’m sorry, but we do not serve your area.” I explained what I found online. He checked again and then a third time, verifying the address with each attempt and muttering as he did. Finally, he said, “I guess my system’s not up-to-date. Let me transfer you to customer service. Even though you’re not a customer, they can help.”

The person in customer service didn’t appreciate me being connected to her. Full of snarky disdain she assured me all four options were available. She needed to transfer me to another department, but I never heard what they had to say. She disconnected me instead.

I intended to start all over, but then I considered the company I called. I had a frustrating encounter with them before, a relative had a string of bad experiences, and several friends complained. I couldn’t recall anyone ever sharing a positive experience about this corporation. I selected a different provider.

Here are some call center lessons we can learn from this hapless ISP:

Synchronize Data: Make sure the information available to customers (patient bills, hours of operation, appointment availability, room numbers, and so forth) aligns with what the agents see. Don’t send patients to one online resource and agents to a different one that is off line. Although it’s appropriate to provide more information to agents, make sure that what the caller can access doesn’t contradict what the agent sees.

Avoid Transfers: Aim to resolve calls the first time, by the first rep. Each time a call is transferred risks occur. (See “train thoroughly.”) At a minimum the caller needs to repeat information they already shared once, maybe twice if they had to also enter data into an IVR (such as a patient ID or invoice number) before talking with the first rep. By personal experience, the person I am transferred to is often not able, or is unwilling, to help me. At worst, they are irritated I interrupted them and treat me poorly, which brings us to…

Be Nice: The purpose of call center agents is to help patients and callers find answers and solve problems. There is no rule that you have to be nice in order to assist people, but it sure helps. Agents who are pleasant with callers are more likely to leave those callers with a favorable opinion of the transaction. Giving accurate information with a negative attitude is an example of “winning the battle but losing the war.” Plus, part of being nice is to not disconnect callers…

Train Thoroughly: Make sure agents know how to access all of the databases and resources they need to do their job – and that they have the proper login credentials. Train them in product knowledge (classes, promotions, and every new initiative) and processes (such as admissions, discharge, invoicing, and so forth). If you have a new marketing program, make sure they know about it before the campaign starts. And last, make sure they excel at operating their computer and console, including how to properly transfer callers to the right party without disconnecting them.

Apply these four principles to your healthcare call center and you will serve them well – and isn’t that the point?

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.