Given today's extremely competitive atmosphere, how can hospitals find a meaningful point of difference? In markets where they're pretty much the same, how can they compete? Answer: the patient experience. And what is often the first experience a patient has with a hospital? The telephone call center.
While working with a client to improve their cancer center, Andrea Simon, Ph.D., President/Founder of Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC), decided to see what it would be like as an outsider trying to find out more about the hospital's options if her "father" was diagnosed with cancer. She called 20 hospitals to test the experience and was dismayed at what she found, as chronicled in her recent Fierce Healthcare article, "Boost patient experience at first point of contact: The call center."
As Dr. Simon describes it, "The typical call experience went something like this: After waiting multiple rings, an operator finally answered. I said: 'My father has just had a positive diagnosis for prostate cancer and we are evaluating his options. Could you please connect me with someone who could tell me more about how you treat prostate cancer?'"
The bad, the worse and the ugly
Upon learning that Dr. Simon's "father" was not a patient there, she was hung up on! Another hospital passed her along to call center for oncology physicians, which could not connect her to anyone who could answer questions. She was referred to their website, then to the surgery department, then to a surgeon's office, at which point she was told she had to call back at another number.
What was startling was the sorry state of the call centers
Sadly, Dr. Simon found that what was totally missing in action at the first point of contact was basic human caring. Any effort to understand the needs of a cancer patient at that crucial point was back in the dark ages. The operators, supposedly, are there to answer a call in three rings and direct the caller to where he/she needs to go. Dr. Simon would have been happy if they had, at the very least, answered the phone in less than 10 rings and greeted her with kindness.
Is it too much to ask for hospital operators to:
- Reflect the brand of the hospital in their voice?
- Utilize their communication skills?
- Demonstrate a willingness to try and find a solution to an inquiry?
While not innovative or sexy, the call center is an essential point of differentiation
How can a healthcare institution make a person's overall experience satisfyingly patient-focused and person-centered if they can't even answer the phones well?, Dr. Simon asks. And conversely, if they could create an amazing experience at that first touch point, maybe they could do the same throughout the entire patient and family experience.
"Your call center is the first contact someone has with you," she states. "You certainly don't want to go to a hospital that cannot even get the phones answered satisfactorily nor provide an operator who can genuinely engage with you with emotion and empathy. It may seem small, but really, it is huge. And healthcare organizations better start paying attention, soon."
Remember: you don't get a second chance to make a first impression.
To read Andrea Simon’s article in its entirety in Fierce Healthcare, click here.