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Labor shortages, digital transformation—oh my! Turn healthcare contact center challenges into opportunities

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The healthcare contact center industry is undergoing rapid changes marked by a shift to digital channels, remote work adoption, and greater member needs and expectations. In a webinar hosted by AHIP, “The State of Member Experience and Management” TTEC’s Val Farlow, senior vice president of healthcare global operations, and Clay Heinz, group vice president of healthcare, outlined the opportunities for healthcare providers and payers to transform and leverage those changes into better member experiences and meaningful engagement.

Understand the pain points

When it comes to interacting with a healthcare organization, “the biggest complaint that we hear from all consumers, and this is across payers and providers, is that it requires a lot of effort,” Heinz said. Navigating through different departments and channels before getting the information that you need are common issues, he noted.

In regards to the preferred channel, although younger generations such as generation X and Millennials are open to using mobile apps and SMS text, speaking with a human over the phone continues to be the preferred means of communicating with payers and providers. According to a healthcare survey conducted by Avtex, a TTEC Digital Company, “71% of all consumers prefer to talk to someone [about their healthcare],” Heinz said. “The voice channel is still the predominant channel.” However, voice is the most expensive channel, he added, as it requires human interactions and agents need adequate training and resources to ensure they’re providing an excellent member experience.

Rethink the employee experience

At the same time, contact centers, which already struggled to hire and retain agents, are even more hard-pressed to attract enough staff to support customers, much less expand preferred channels like voice. “It’s an employee’s market, folks are considering numerous job offers at one time,” said Farlow. “As we look at contact center jobs—healthcare in particular, which is more stressful and requires a certain degree of knowledge and training—this creates incredible competition for top talent.” Attracting highly qualified contact center agents without inflating the spend for healthcare clients has challenged outsourcing partners like TTEC to reexamine all aspects of the employee experience from recruiting and hiring to training and coaching. “The first step in an exceptional member experience has to be not only the right hire but an exceptional employee experience,” Farlow said.

For example, a key pain point for healthcare contact center staff is stress. When call volumes increase, agents are quickly overwhelmed and burn out from handling highly emotional and often complex member conversations. AI-powered virtual assistants can go a long way in lightening an agent’s load and reducing stress, Farlow explained, by taking on redundant tasks or locating information.

Pay more, spend less

Meeting wage expectations is another factor. It’s critical to “match the wage to the skill sets that are required,” Heinz said. TTEC helps clients find the funds to offer competitive wages by increasing cost savings. For example, shifting seasonal roles combined with digital innovation creates an optimal employee and member experience in addition to being cost effective. “We think of it as pay more, spend less,” Heinz added.

When a peak-season ends, shifting those associates to handle similar tasks at another program where only minimal training is needed reduces seasonal ramp spend. It also enables associates to keep their skills fresh and handle calls more efficiently and quickly, leading to a better member experience. And even if agents must undergo a long training period, such as six months, investing in the training during the offseason will enable them to enter the peak season with greater tenure and confidence. These innovations to seasonal staffing have reduced attrition and the cost of training, ultimately allowing clients to increase wages.

Digital tools, such as TTEC’s intelligent desktop monitoring tool, also helps to keep costs down while increasing efficiency and productivity. The monitoring tool records an employee’s keystrokes and helps identify areas that could be automated. Comparing an associate’s performance to top performing associates also helps managers provide more effective coaching to further speed up proficiency. “Digital capabilities are going to be really important to being able to take what is an entry level employee and bring them up in the organization to handle those complexities,” Farlow said.

Short- and long-term changes will continue to shake up the healthcare contact center industry, but knowing how to bolster gaps with the right technology tools, labor models, and best practices will enable healthcare organizations to turn those challenges into opportunities.

Watch the full webinar, “The State of Member Experience and Management,” on-demand.