Illustration by Nicolas Vicent

In any contact center, an agent’s ability to communicate in an efficient, friendly manner has a considerable impact on the outcome of the call. Ensuring that agents are skilled and knowledgeable drives higher performance for the center and helps the organization to achieve its goals and objectives.

Over the years, Tufts Medical Center’s contact center has faced training challenges similar to those of many corporate centers in driving their objective to provide high-quality customer service to external callers. But with a key difference: The hospital contact center’s agents also are responsible for handling a high volume of internal emergency code calls. Their ability to quickly collect detailed, accurate information from callers is critical—and patients’ lives can hang in the balance.

“We want to provide world-class customer service, and we want to make sure that we answer the calls quickly and efficiently,” says Gene Pelland, Tufts Medical Center Telecommunications and Operator Services Director. “We receive 2,000 calls a day, but the most important calls that we get are the code calls.”

During an emergency code call, the agent communicates and coordinates an internal response of specialized personnel and equipment, depending on the type of emergency. There are almost a dozen different code types for emergencies ranging from cardiopulmonary arrest to a hazardous material spill or release. Each code has a strict protocol that agents must follow.

It can create a lot of pressure for frontline staff, which, in the past, sometimes prompted agents to skip steps, says Pelland. “They’re under the gun, so they were trying to take shortcuts. Instead of saying their name, they might say simply, ‘Tufts Medical Center,’ or they weren’t closing the call well. But we need them to speak clearly, say their name, close the call properly.”

Call Recording Provides an Eye-Opener for Staff

Two years ago, Pelland implemented a WFO system to improve agent training, call quality and overall performance (TelStrat’s Engage WFO call recording and quality management system). The system is HIPAA-compliant and able to record 100% of calls.

The ability to listen to actual calls has helped the frontline staff tremendously, he says, adding that, ”We don’t use the recordings to punish staff, we use them for improvement. We play the recordings during coaching sessions, and agents are able to draw their own conclusions. They can clearly hear that they’re talking too fast, too low, they didn’t speak clearly, or that their tone is not coming across the way they intended.”

The recordings also take some pressure off the coach. When agents can self-identify errors and opportunities for improvement, the coaching session is viewed in a positive manner and not taken as criticism.

As the main coach, Manager, Operator Services and Telecommunications Linda Antonelli appreciates that benefit, as well as the ability to delve further into call recordings to better understand individual agents’ training needs. “If I listen to a call that isn’t up to par, then I will listen to the agent’s past calls to see whether it’s a trend or a one-time mistake,” she says. “Do they need additional training or is there something else going on that is affecting their ability to give 100% customer service, as expected?”

Identifying Training Opportunities for New and Seasoned Agents

Antonelli uses the WFO system’s call recording capability along with a synchronized video recording of the agent’s desktop activity (TelStrat’s Engage Screen Capture) to improve the training process for both new and veteran agents. She can easily see whether new agents are following procedures or having difficulty finding the information they need in the system. She can then customize training for those who are struggling in certain areas.

She also checks to ensure that seasoned agents follow the protocols and use the system rather than relying on memory. For instance, when transferring a call, longtime agents often would just automatically transfer it without checking the system to see what the extension is, since they had that information in their heads. “We want them to always use the system,” she says. “When they’re training a new agent, we want them to model the right behavior—to demonstrate that using the system is the best way, because the information in your head may not be right.”

Monitoring the recordings and desktop activity also has allowed Antonelli to identify gaps in the training process and to fill those with training checklists for both trainers and agents to follow for each call type.

Improving the Process Across Departments

Antonelli has found that the call recordings more frequently show that agents are doing things right—and importantly, provide hard, cold evidence of the information that agents receive from callers.

“Sometimes I’d get a complaint that the agent didn’t initiate the right code or that they gave the wrong building or floor,” she says. Previously, with no way of proving whether the agent followed protocol, center management would err on the side of caution and provide coaching for the agent.

Having access to the actual recording allows Antonelli to review the call to check whether the agent is asking the appropriate questions. She has found that “99% of the time, the agent did everything correctly, but the person calling either did not give the right information or didn’t know the information that they needed to provide, such as the building or floor where the emergency is taking place,” she says.

“That type of insight has been valuable, and we’ve been able to reach out to the other areas to help them understand what they should say and what information they should always ask for,” she adds. “It improves the quality of the code. Seconds really matter.”

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