Steps to set up an inbound call center

Learn the steps to set up an inbound call center. This is not an exhaustive list, but helps you get started on things you need to plan for.

First – set up proper expectations. A call center takes months to build from scratch (we are not talking about the technology part here). Plan for a minimum of 6 months and if the initiative is large enough, plan for more than a year (from planning to going live).

Why?

Because setting up phone lines is the easiest part of an inbound call center. 

Starting a healthcare call center is not a “side project”. It needs your (or someone’s) full attention.

The main components? People, processes, technology, location, facilities.

People

Your agents will make or break your call center initiative.

Call center leads (quality assurance, team leads etc) your hire will make or break your agents.

You will have patient access director(s) / management will make or break your call center leads.

Hiring these key people will help you ensure a smooth transition to a centralized call center. A healthcare call center is a tad different from other call centers. We are sure you recognize that as well. 

Customers are patients. Your agents need to be high on empathy. Your KPIs cannot be based on “number of dials” or “number of new appointments made” alone. 

Make empathy part of your culture. Hire people with empathy – even if they don’t have enough experience.

Empathy is crucial. We cannot stress on this enough.

Recruitment

Recruitment is key and not to be underestimated.

Call center is a high attrition and high burn out business. You will need to set up a good talent pipeline and be competitive in your local market. On top of this, you always need to have a “bench” created to address absenteeism while still meeting patient needs.

Training

Training is another very big aspect – we cannot stress on this enough.

Set up your recruitment and your training by experienced folks. 

Hire dedicated trainers with enough experience in your industry.

Quality analysis and quality assurance is a constant process (usually daily). You can offload some of this to the latest and greatest artificial intelligence software, but not all of it.

Hire quality analysts that are experienced in your industry.

Without them, you will never know the quality you team is delivering to your customers (patients).

Location

Where you locate your call center is pretty important in many ways.

First of all, it has a direct impact on your monthly rental / real estate cash outflow. 

It also governs the talent pool you will have access to.

When you want to compete in a good talented pool, you will also have stiff competition. Be prepared to pay premium prices. But, like they say – you get what you pay for.

If you choose not to locate your centralized call center in a competitive place, be prepared to have a much longer training period. Also, expect to have to train a large portion of your employee base.

Having your office located close to public transportation is quite important as well. If you run a 24/7 call center, you also need to start thinking about good parking facilities.

Location plays a big role in employees choosing you as an employer as well. Keep that in mind.

Facilities

Once you have nailed down the location, you need to be prepared to spend a pretty penny on making good facilities available for your call center. 

Keep in mind that call centers are high stress environments. You need to think about making slightly higher facilities available for your agents.

Software developers might revel in working out of a garage. That’s never going to be the case for a call center team.

You need to plan for break rooms, meeting rooms, recreation rooms etc as well. As we mentioned, this is a high volume, high stress environment.

Treat your team well and they will treat your customers as you want them to.

They are representing your brand. Invest in them.

Processes

If you are to be successful in this venture, you need to have rock solid processes set up. More often than not, we find that healthcare customers do not even have their existing workflows documented. 

If you do not document your workflows, how do you transition them to another team?

Some customers we onboard do not have KPIs (key performance indicators) set up for their front desk. They recognize that they have an issue they need to fix. “Something is going wrong”. But they do not have specific goals set up nor a framework set up for them to determine what is “right” or “wrong”.

We are usually VERY careful before onboarding these customers. Unless KPIs are established and documented, we do not even get started with these customers.

Why?

KPIs and SLAs

Because if they do not have KPIs, what are they going to judge us against?

What service level agreements do we need to adhere to? Are those SLAs even achievable?

What would make the customer happy?

If you do not what would make you happy, then take some time to document what your expectations are.

Once you document your expectations and your current workflows, you are in a better position to start transitioning these activities and workflows to your call center team.

Questions you need to have solid answers for:

  1. What happens when the phone rings or the website chat starts or the whatsapp chat starts? What are the expected SLAs?
  2. How about when the call is finished? What after call work needs to be done?
  3. And when the call is on? What if the agent cannot provide resolution on first contact?
  4. How about escalation points? What are the escalation channels?
  5. What are the resolution channels?
  6. Think about what to do when the patient asks a billing question?
  7. What to do when the patient asks a medically advanced question?
  8. How should the agent handle a payment if the patient wants to pay on the phone?
  9. How are those charges posted each day?
  10. What happens when the patient has a pharmacy question? How is it escalated? How is it resolved

Map out all the processes your front desk follows at the moment. Then, map out how they will be transitioned.

Technologies

Traditionally, call centers have operated via PBX. Call centers were not the first ones to accept VOIP or cloud based options.

A large part of call centers did finally take the plunge towards using VOIP solutions. Even then, they were not always comfortable placing their entire call center in the cloud.

However, over the last few years, there has been a shift towards acceptance of cloud based call center infrastructures.

Our cloud contact center of choice has been Amazon Connect Contact Center from AWS.

Minimum list you need to start with

At a minimum, you are going to need to plan for:

  1. Inbound phone numbers that you provision via your carrier or a VOIP provider.
  2. Extension set ups or direct inward dial (DID) numbers for each team member.
  3. Computers,
  4. Headsets
  5. Physical phones if that’s how your call center will operate
  6. Soft phones (not all soft phones are alike)
  7. A rock solid, reputable call center software
  8. Automated call distribution capabilities
  9. Skill based routing capabilities
  10. Call queues and routing profiles capabilities
  11. CRM – how else would your agents look up patient data or enter their conversation details
  12. Call recordings – Audio file storage facility (cloud or otherwise)
  13. IVR set up (it should not take you weeks just to set up your IVR)
  14. Reporting and analytics software
  15. Voicemail set up if you need it
  16. Web based chat software if you support that channel at your call center
  17. Software to enable patients to text your call center
  18. Whatsapp support software if your call center supports that channel
  19. Facebook chat if you support that channel
  20. iMessage software if your call center supports it as a channel
  21. HIPAA controls and audit software
  22. SOC2 compliance controls and audit software

This doesn’t cover the entire list of things you need to think about, but at least it gives you good introduction to things you should be thinking about when launching your inbound healthcare call center