Addressing Call Center Challenges with Better Mobile Patient Engagement
Someone said something really interesting at the Becker’s Annual Meeting about call centers. A panelist in a session said that not everything that should save money is something you should do. He went on to say that they had opted to move all their ambulatory calls to a centralized call center. It would be more affordable than adding more front desk personnel and free up existing staff to focus on other things. Unfortunately, the patients hated it. Many of them knew the staff of their provider’s office and felt comfortable with them. In this case they chose experience over savings and switched back. However, call centers aren’t always the most affordable option in addition to not always providing the kind of consumer experience people want.
At a high level, call centers are known for high turnover rates, a problem that is plaguing healthcare in general. The average turnover in call centers is 18%. In addition to potentially increasing costs, staffing challenges can result in longer wait times and call abandonment. Normal call abandonment rates are about 5-10% but they can be as high as 20%.
Call abandonment is on the increase as patients shift their expectations. More than half of patients say they want the same experience in healthcare that they get in service and retail. Most people today say they won’t wait on hold for more than a minute and some won’t wait at all. Overall, wait times continue to be one of the biggest complaints patients have, from waiting on hold to the time it takes to get an appointment to waiting in the office. Patients spend more time scheduling, getting to an appointment and completing paperwork than they spend with their provider.
All of these issues–improving experience, reducing wait times, and containing costs–can be addressed by offering digital solutions for the things most calls are about. The number one reason for calling a healthcare provider is related to appointments, including scheduling, rescheduling, location, and directions. These are all things that can be done on a well-conceived patient-facing native mobile app.
Improve Experience & Reducing Wait Times Go Hand In Hand
By offering provider search, scheduling, and wayfinding through a mobile platform, you can give patients the 24/7 access they prefer.
Instant access to provider search and scheduling obviously eliminates waiting on hold. But did you know that online scheduling options also result in getting an appointment sooner? When patients call they are often offered a time, then another time. Maybe they were asked what day of the week is best, or time of day, but they aren’t being offered all the open appointments.
When patients schedule online, they usually see the next available and then can see all the upcoming openings. They may choose an appointment that is sooner than the one they would have been offered on the phone. Patients wait an average 24 days to see a provider after booking their appointment according to Merritt Hawkins but with online scheduling two-thirds of patients were able to get an appointment within seven days. The schedule gets full faster AND the patient has a shorter wait.
The same is true for Urgent Care and ED access. A mobile app can show the nearest urgent care, how long the wait is and provide an option to save a spot. The patient can see more than one option. Perhaps one urgent care is a few miles further away but has no wait time. By seeing all the options, they get in sooner and have a better experience. They feel like they had choices, but those choices were also within the health system, helping to reduce leakage.
With wayfinding and indoor positioning, patients can click to be navigated directly to their appointment from home to parking to the point of care. No need to call for directions, eliminating those calls as well.
In addition to addressing very specific use cases like scheduling or directions, symptom checkers, conversational AI and other chatbots, FAQs, condition-specific education and other tools can be added to a mobile platform, making it easy for patients to find the information they need. All available in the native mobile experience they already know 24 hours a day.
The Result: Lower Costs and More Revenue
Reducing call center use will absolutely reduce costs. The industry standard for time to handle a call is six to eight minutes at a cost of about $0.50 per minute or $3.00 - 4.00 per call. For a health system that has 4,000,000 calls a year into the call center, a reduction of even 10% in the call volume would reduce costs by $1.2 to $1.4 million a year.
These savings can become exponentially bigger as more patients download the mobile app. An app that offers a wide range of tools from scheduling to portal access to wayfinding and more that is well promoted will drive a high rate of adoption because it meets the needs of a wide range of patients.
If you manage your own call center instead of outsourcing, fewer calls can also translate into a better experience for the call center staff. If retention is an issue, and it always is, this can create a less stressful work environment, increasing retention. Replacing even non-clinical staff is costly. Just the direct costs to recruit, hire and train a new agent is $10,000 - $20,000 per agent.
You can easily figure out if a robust mobile solution could help your organization reduce call center volume and abandonment if you track standard call center KPIs like call reason and abandonment rate. List your top five call reasons and see if they are things that could be addressed with a technology solution like online scheduling or wayfinding. It may be difficult to get patients to use a point solution like online scheduling when it is on your website, but put it in a mobile app with all your other point solutions and see what the impact is. And consider this, 70% of patients who use a mobile app with their health system return to use it again.