Many healthcare organizations have embraced the contact center model, where key office functions such as appointing, messaging, nurse triage, and refill management are centralized. As contact centers evolve, managers are striving to optimize staffing levels based on call volumes and patterning. In this model, a successful contact center meets its performance metrics without deploying excess staff.
Unfortunately, this approach fails to take into account the contact center’s effectiveness in serving its patients. Even a perfectly staffed contact center is probably spending too much on labor if patients must call multiple times to get their questions answered and their appointments scheduled. To reach the next level of efficiency and financial responsibility, leadership teams should evaluate contact centers based on the number of calls received per scheduled clinic activity (e.g., appointment, diagnostic test). This metric allows leaders to measure two important aspects.
- The patient experience: A successful contact center takes a patient-centric approach and makes communication with the care team easy and convenient. Reducing the number of calls and interactions required saves patients time and frustration.
- Cost effectiveness: Call volume is the primary work driver of most inbound contact centers. Decreasing call volume reduces the burden on staff and allows leaders to spend budget dollars elsewhere.
The discussion below demonstrates the importance of this metric to a contact center’s success, offers strategies to improve outcomes, and provides benchmarks for contact centers to meet and exceed.
How Do Contact Centers Perform Today?
Regardless of the age, maturity, or scope of the contact center, leadership teams tend to concentrate more on reducing staff than on reducing calls.
Some patients are calling their clinic as many as five times per appointment scheduled. Although this includes nonappointing calls, such as clinical questions and refill requests, the volume illustrates contact center inefficiency.
Organizations differ in the number of calls received per appointment by as much as double, independent of the services offered. In the table above, Organization Three could be spending twice as much on staffing as Organization Two. Not only is Organization Three spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in excess staffing costs, but also its patients are likely encountering a poor experience calling into the contact center this often.
Contact Center Benchmarks
Based on ECG’s proprietary research, contact centers working at best practice levels achieve a call per scheduled activity mark of less than 2.5.
The reason this number is not one call per appointment is because most calls to a contact center are nonappointing. On average, about 30%–40% of incoming calls to an outpatient clinic are to schedule an appointment. As such, even contact centers with best practice workflows and a breadth of communication technology will not be able to schedule services on more than half of their calls.
Strategies for Contact Center Call Reduction
Using a combination of refined workflows, added services, and supplemental communication channels, contact centers can reduce their incoming calls to best practice levels.
Contact centers should strive for one-call resolutions. Most calls can be resolved immediately, or even prevented, given the proper tools and workflows. These can include:
- A robust internal knowledge management system that allows representatives to answer patient questions and schedule appointments without messaging the clinic.
- Open appointment availability and patient access with minimal scheduling restrictions to avoid contacting the clinic.
- Documentation of results and communication from the clinic to patients, so when patients call back, the contact center can effectively relay the message.
- Strong relationships between the contact center and the provider care team.
By simplifying workflows and empowering agents to resolve calls, contact centers can reduce the instances of patients calling a second or third time about the same inquiry.
Offer Value-Added Services
Most contact centers begin with appointment scheduling and care team messaging and graduate to advanced services over time. Advanced services reduce the number of calls to the contact center and clinic by handling multiple inquiries with one call. Contact centers can add more services such as:
- Diagnostic imaging scheduling
- Marketing and find-a-doc
- Nurse triage and advice
- After-hours answering service
- Referral coordination
- Prescription refill support
- Outreach services
When centrally located, these services can be offered simultaneously, allowing patients to complete all of their health-related needs in one call.
Provide Multiple Communication Channels
An omnichannel strategy can have a profound effect on reducing a contact center’s call volume. Health systems are moving away from telephone communication and toward internet and video channels. Communication methods such as live chat, patient portals, automated messages, and e-visits can be centrally maintained and administered.
Consider the patient who encounters a new symptom and needs to talk to his care team (below). Instead of spending time on the phone, this patient’s care journey involves a live chat, the patient portal, and an e-visit; no calls were made to the contact center. Given the technology and support from clinics, patient-centric communication can reduce incoming calls drastically.
What Will These Improvements Mean for My Organization?
Calls per scheduled activity is an underreported metric that will help improve contact center efficiency and productivity. Consumers will recognize and appreciate the improvements when fewer calls to the office are required and they are empowered to take more control over their own care.
As their contact centers mature, leaders should focus on providing patients with avenues to communicate with their care team on their own terms. Strategies that incorporate workflow optimization, value-added services, and multiple communication channels will also save contact centers on staffing costs.
Building the Contact Center of the Future
Leadership teams of contact centers should begin exploring the strategies discussed to reduce their calls per scheduled activity to 2.5 and below. In doing so, contact centers will enhance the patient experience, promote efficiency and productivity, and reduce costs.