Surveying Healthcare Contact Centers

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

In healthcare, contact center agents provide vital care and assistance over the phone, helping patients, scheduling appointments, and making referrals, thereby saving callers time, addressing concerns, and enhancing overall care. As in all sectors, contact centers help lower customer acquisition costs, increase customer retention, save money in the provision of personal customer service, and increase marketing effectiveness. Recently, ContactBabel released the third edition of their The US Contact Center Operational Review. The following is a summary of their findings relating to the healthcare vertical:

Customer Satisfaction: Of the healthcare contact centers surveyed, slightly less than half (49%) of their customers gave them a maximum customer service rating. This is in contrast to the average for all contact centers, where roughly two-thirds (66%) of their customers awarded them with the highest customer service rating. Interestingly, the insurance vertical was by far the highest at 86%; healthcare was second lowest, followed only by the travel and transportation segment at 46%.

Complaint Calls: Overall 14% of all calls made to a contact center were complaint calls. Notwithstanding the preceding low customer service rating for the healthcare vertical, healthcare contact centers enjoyed a much lower than average percentage, with only 2% of calls being complaints. Of these, one out of five related to the contact center itself (such as a rude agent or failure to follow up), with the bulk (80%) being complaints about the greater organization. Although a one to five ratio seems like good news for the contact center, healthcare had one of the highest percentages of complaints directed at the contact center, tied for second place. When considering all contact centers, 11% of complaints were about contact center issues; 89% were about the greater organization.

Training Time: Healthcare had the lowest training time of all segments, taking 4.0 weeks for agents to be productive. The average training time for all contact centers was 6.9 weeks, with the insurance vertical being significantly longer than all others at 16 weeks. (Recall that insurance had the highest customer satisfaction rating, suggesting causality between training length and customer satisfaction.)

Training Costs: Even though training time was lower than average for the healthcare segment, the cost for their new agent “induction course” was nearly 50% higher ($3,000) than the overall average of $2,016. Interestingly, the insurance vertical was about the same as healthcare at $2,950, even though their training time was four times longer. Across all segments, training induction costs showed a dramatic 62% decrease from the 2008 survey.

Coaching Time: The amount of time spent per week on agent coaching for healthcare contact centers was 2 hours, only slightly lower than the overall average of 2.1. Again, it was the insurance segment that stood out at 3 hours (tied with the transportation and travel vertical for the highest).

Agent Activity: For all contact centers, 59% of agent time was spent on calls, 15.2% on wrap-up, 10.9% on administration and training, and 14.8% being idle. For the healthcare segment, 45.2% of agents’ time was spent on calls (the lowest of all verticals), 21.1% on wrap-up (the highest of all verticals), 12.6% on administration and training (third out of ten), and 21.0% idle (the highest of all verticals).

Call Length: For all contact centers, the average service call lasted 5.6 minutes, with the average sales call at 6.7 minutes. Calls were shorter for healthcare, at 3.5 and 3.0 minutes respectively. The report noted what every contact center manager is painfully aware of; when calls are cut short, the result is decreased customer satisfaction, lower first-call resolution, and less time for cross-selling and up-selling. As such, there should be less attention given to call length, especially regarding misguided efforts to decrease it under the guise of saving money or increasing efficiency.

Call Abandonment: For the entire contact center industry, the average call abandonment rate was 6.1%. The healthcare segment was nearly half that at 3.1%.

Speed to Answer: Healthcare contact centers boast the second fastest average speed to answer at 13.7 seconds; this is less than half of the overall average of 29.1 seconds. Answering quicker results in fewer hang-ups, so call abandonment rates track with speed to answer.

Call Transfers: For healthcare contact centers, 14% of calls were transferred (second highest). The overall average was 7.6%. The report notes that this is skewed by switch board activity, whose task is to transfer calls.

Multi-Location Operations: Of the survey respondents, 87% of the healthcare vertical had multiple contact centers; this was the highest of all market segments. Insurance was a close second at 85%. These two verticals significantly led all other segments, with the next three tied at 50%; the average was 43%.

Caller Identification: For healthcare contact centers, half (50%) of all calls require that the caller’s identity be ascertained (59% overall). This is usually accomplished by the agent and takes 30 seconds (23 seconds overall).

IVR: Of the respondents in the healthcare segment, all had touchtone IVR (only 75% overall) and 50% had speech recognition (24% overall).

Inbound Email Interactions: For healthcare contact centers, only 1.1% of incoming interactions were via email; this was in sharp contrast to the overall contact center average of 11.6%.

Self-Service: Thirty-three percent of the healthcare contact centers surveyed provide self-service options (40% overall). Six percent of all healthcare contact center calls were handed via self-service (9.2% overall). An estimated three times as many (18.3%) could have been handled via self-service.

Agent Attrition: Healthcare contact centers enjoy the lowest agent attrition rate at 13% (24.2% overall). The top three reasons for healthcare contact center attrition were 1) the wrong person for the job, 2) excessive pressure or stress, and 3) lack of promotion or development opportunities.

Agent Absences: In healthcare contact centers, short-term agent absences were 8.2%; this matches the overall average.

Salaries: New agent salaries were highest in the healthcare vertical. Although still greatly above average, healthcare salaries did not lead all verticals for the other job titles of experienced agent, team leader, or center manager.

More Information: The focus of this summary was on the healthcare vertical. Areas that did not include a healthcare breakdown were skipped. A summary of these contact center results appeared in the September issue of Connections Magazine.

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 October/November 2010 issue of AnswerStat magazine]