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A Healthy Response to Global Coronavirus Pandemic Through Operational Excellence in the Contact Center

By Juhi Fadia March 17, 2020

The impact of Coronavirus continues to grow exponentially, causing entire countries to shut down, entire regions to be quarantined, and public fears to skyrocket.Given the confusion regarding diagnosing and treating this potentially deadly infection, the contact centers of healthcare providers and insurance companies are struggling to manage escalating volume.

Hoping for the best is not a strategy; preparing for the worst is. What should contact center operators be doing to scale to address this worldwide threat?

We asked Sean Erickson, Managing Director at Eventus, a contact center and CX advisory, technology, and managed solutions firm based in Denver, Colorado, for his guidance on what can be done to create a more efficient means to handle the influx. And while also providing reassurance to patients who, in many cases, don’t understand how to get personalized help and information on where to be tested or how-to self-quarantine.

Erickson founded and developed one of the world’s first cloud-based, work from home contact center platforms, Cloud 10 in 2005, a company he sold in 2010 as the market for cloud-based solutions began to soar. He also drove strategy, technology, and business growth for Sitel, one of the largest BPOs in the world, from 2011 – 2016, and is one of the most highly regarded experts in disruption enabled by new technologies.

“We’ve not seen a global crisis of this magnitude, in my lifetime,” Erickson said. “This pandemic, according to the World Health Organization, presents challenges difficult to predict and seemingly impossible to control, but with the right disaster plans in place, and the right systems supporting those plans, it is possible to deliver service with care and efficiency.”

Erickson has contributed to the development of dozens of such plans and says we should expect even more focus on healthcare-related contact centers, given the rise of digital healthcare services generally (for example online or virtual visits), an aging population, and lack of capacity especially in the U.S. where only 100 million hospital beds are available at any given time.

“With the right staffing, knowledge base, training, and especially software platforms and cloud-based networks, organizations benefit from strong, front-line triage. With the right overall approach in place, agents can help identify those patients who are the highest risk, and not only provide them recommendations but literally connect them with the next best expert to schedule a test. This is all about the orchestration of not only the experience of that patient but of the providers – the clinics and hospitals and medical centers – who are themselves overwhelmed.”

Erickson explained that scaling up is much easier to do when contact center operators can tap into home agent pools, and quickly set up and train specific agents, including those in specific geographic areas, to ensure coverage.

“Take Seattle, for example,” Erickson said. “Suddenly a disproportionate number of people are infected and even die, even before Coronavirus is completely understood. And they don’t want self-help or FAQ’s, and they want to talk to a live person who can educate them on what they need to know. People will panic, and they will panic the closer they live to the latest announced infection or series of infections. Panic goes viral, too, not just the virus itself, and with quality contact center services, not only healthcare organizations and insurance companies can help society remain calm, but government agencies can as well. We can only imagine the volumes of calls coming into the Medicare agency and Veterans Administration hospitals.”

Contact center scheduling is a classic way to handle fluctuations and sudden increases in call volume and happens every year during the height of the shopping seasons, or during poor weather for travel and hospitality companies, and much more. But in order to deliver scheduling, you must have knowledgeable and trained resources in this time of high activity.

“There are many fine examples of health-related strategies including those associated with natural disasters – like floods, earthquakes, and wildfires – but this pandemic is truly next level,” Erickson said. “Callers want immediate answers from real people, but if the contact center doesn’t have the capacity or hasn’t trained agents or doesn’t present information to them to help make each call as efficient, they will fail, and the results can be disastrous.”

Erickson says Contact Center operators should “Start at the end state and work their way backward from there. They should imagine then articulate what will be needed in a crisis like a global pandemic, with local hotspots, and make sure their staffing, scheduling, desktop, routing strategy, and integration with healthcare delivery and insurance is done strategically. Communications is incredibly important in times like these, so leaders should make sure to communicate and motivate all their employees, especially agents, within contact centers, and be open to suggestions as trends change.”

“In this situation, the most enlightened healthcare companies, many whom we serve at Eventus, recognize that this is as much about Patient Experience, or PX as we call it, as it is about CX. Deliver a great experience, especially in the most challenging times, and healthcare providers and insurers will earn deep trust, loyalty, and confidence.”

Juhi Fadia is an engineer, analyst, researcher and writer covering advanced and emerging technologies.

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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