It Sucks to Work in the Call Center
Have you ever looked at the schedule and seen mistakes? Heard patients say they couldn’t get through or make an appointment? Had a call incorrectly transferred to you? At the clinic I worked at, I remember repeatedly thinking, “well, if only the Call Center would….” You can fill in the blank.
Here’s the thing about working in the Call Center—it sucks. And that is mostly due to those of us who work in the clinic. Why is that?
- We have complicated schedules that equate to pages and pages of rules and regulations. It’s as if you need to go back to graduate school to obtain a degree in how to schedule for Community Health Center XYZ. And these rules seem to change all the time, which makes it hard to schedule correctly. So, of course, there are mistakes.
- We have processes that keep patients out (like triage, complicated schedules, or inefficient processes in the clinic). This means Call Center agents spend most of their time telling patients some form of “No.” No, we don’t have a spot today; no that provider cannot see you at 10 am; no that doctor cannot do that without you having an appointment first; no, no, no. So while we are trying to control our day in the clinic (often unsuccessfully) by putting certain patients in certain slots, we impede access for our patients. We also set up our coworkers for failure. They come to work in Community Health to help people, and we force them to constantly tell those people “No.”
- We haven’t addressed the root causes of these problems. Instead we blame the Call Center for our bad day, when the real issues include lack of preparation for the patients we are going to see, inefficient processes in the clinic, and poor communication. These clinic issues lead to poor access, low productivity, and an overall bad experience for those working in the clinic.
How do we fix it?
- Simplify the schedule. I know that it’s tough to let go of your Doctoral thesis on how to properly schedule for Community Health Center XYZ. But in the spirit of Dr. Phil, I ask… “How’s that working for you?” In most of the clinics we see, even with all the scheduling rules, there is still chaos. So, it turns out the rules are NOT the ticket to a better life. Decrease the chaos and make your schedules simple. The rules weren’t helping you anyway.
- Address the root causes of issues instead of blaming the Call Center. Start by reducing No-Shows. Simply making Robust Confirmation Calls can drastically reduce your No-Shows, which improves access and makes for a more predictable day. Need more? Check out the Principles of Redesign for how you can start to improve.
- Give the Call Center a break. Pamela Weisse, FNP and redesigner extraordinaire, is famous for explaining a fractal—a repeated pattern of sorts, mathematically speaking. This, too, is a fractal. The same patterns of miscommunication and inefficiencies are repeated and sometimes magnified in the Call Center. So instead of playing the blame game, work together as a big team to make your work life better for yourselves and your care better for your patients.
- Invite Call Center staff to join your Patient Care Team Huddles! Like learning a language, the Call Center has no better way to understand your medical, behavioral health, or dental jargon than daily immersion. Call Center staff can join virtually or in-person for a quick 10-15 minute huddle per day to learn more about what patients need when they come in and how Patient Care Teams document reasons for visits. A bonus: the team starts to get to know each other and build trust to eliminate that ‘blame game!’