The senior population has been a fast-growing customer segment since the first wave of baby boomers turned 65 in 2011. This year, the number of seniors topped 50 million, and the U.S. Census Bureau projects it to reach over 70 million in the next 25 years.
In a fast-paced world, where conversations can be distilled into a handful of emojis, taking the time to identify and understand the challenges an older caller may be facing requires exceptional listening skills and a great deal of empathy. These are the qualities that Robyn Morrison brings to every call that she takes. As a customer advocate with C3|CustomerContactChannels, a global provider of outsourced business processes, Morrison’s primary role is assisting Medicare members to navigate a complex healthcare insurance system and find ways to lower the costs of healthcare and prescription drugs. It’s often a life-saving service for older members with limited income, says C3 Site Director Suzette Mansfield. She adds that, for many elderly members, daily decisions often come down to whether to pay for their prescription medication or food.
It’s a job that Morrison doesn’t take lightly. She has learned that providing excellent service to elderly callers requires active listening and asking probing questions to identify any underlying needs about which the caller is often unaware. Uncovering the details and working across departments to find a resolution is a challenge on which she thrives. The opportunity to solve complex issues makes the job interesting, she says, but what she enjoys most is knowing that the service she provides makes a difference in the lives of her customers.
“I want to show each member that I care, and that I’ll do whatever it takes to solve any situation that they have—from the smallest request to problems that create a lot of frustration in their lives,” Morrison says. “Members are often upset when they call, so I try to put myself in their shoes. We’ve all been on the other side of the call. When I call a company, I’m relying on that person to help me, and I hope that they’re going to care enough to solve my situation. I try to let our callers know that I’m not only going to take care of the problem that they called about, but also solve any issues that they might not have thought about.”
The Right Attitude for Service Success
Providing a high-quality phone experience largely comes down to attitude. It’s very evident to callers whether a CSR genuinely cares about their situation and has a desire to help them, or is just trying to rush through it to get to the next call. Morrison is able to maintain a compassionate mindset on call after call by reminding herself that there is a person on the other end of the phone line, and not viewing callers as numbers or performance statistics.
In a hectic contact center environment, the urge for speed can be compelling, but elderly callers value patience, respect and a friendly attitude above all. “Many of the Medicare members that I speak with just want someone who will take the time to listen,” Morrison says. “They often will call with one specific idea of what they want help with, but it’s not really what they need.” She points to a recent call with an elderly customer who asked for help finding an orthopedic surgeon. Morrison’s questions uncovered that the caller was suffering from arthritis pain and needed a rheumatologist, which she helped to locate and arrange a visit.
Morrison finds her work both interesting and rewarding. She enjoys the glimpses that she gets into her customers lives just as much as the callers enjoy sharing their stories. On every call, “something special happens,” she says. For instance, there was the World War II veteran who shared his tale of being shot down on D Day in the English Channel. Or the elderly gentleman who had been taking care of his wife who was ill. He expressed how fortunate he felt to have such a wonderful lifelong relationship. It was a call that Morrison found touching and memorable. “It’s really getting to know people on a personal level,” she says. “They like to share their stories, and I have found that very valuable in engaging with them.”
Sensitivity Training Builds Awareness
In today’s contact centers with a workforce primarily comprised of millennials, an extra dose of compassion is required to bridge the generation—and communication—gap. C3 leaders recognize the unique challenges of working with elderly callers and they strive to ensure that customer advocates have references that allow them to empathize with those needs.
Mansfield acknowledges that working with the senior population can be new territory for many millennials who grew with the internet, texting and mobile phones. To help new advocates develop a better sense of who these callers are and what they face in their daily lives, the contact center has incorporated sensitivity and awareness training into their new-hire programs.
The center has installed an exhibit in its front lobby that displays different personas of elderly callers. Each includes the things that they may have in their homes, such as rotary dial phones, multiple pill bottles, various medications they might use, medical aids like dentures and blood pressure monitors—items that may be unfamiliar to many millennials. Also included is information about each persona’s chronic conditions, as well as the number of drugs prescribed and costs. The displays help new customer advocates to not only envision the person at the other end of the call, but also to understand the costs of prescription drugs for the elderly and the impact on their household budgets.
In addition to equipping advocates with visual aids to promote understanding, C3 provides senior sensitivity training based on experiential learning techniques. For instance, agents are asked to wear gloves or vision-loss glasses while attempting to pick up pill-shaped candies and open different types of pill containers. The experience gives CSRs a glimpse into the challenges of everyday tasks for elderly callers who may be suffering from vision loss, arthritis or loss of hand dexterity or coordination.
“They can visualize it, which helps them to understand how important it is to make this connection and to help these individuals,” says Mansfield. “Healthcare is not like any other industry. You’re not talking to callers about a cellphone or cable bill. We’re often dealing with life-saving situations.”
Daily Appreciation Is Key
The senior sensitivity training has been invaluable to her performance on the job, Morrison says. “It has laid the perfect foundation for helping me to understand how I can assist each member who calls. I wouldn’t have been able to do my job without it,” she notes.
While Mansfield sees the transfer of knowledge to new customer advocates as incredibly important in a complex industry like healthcare, she adds that leadership support of frontline staff is also key. “As contact center leaders, we need to make sure that we tell our people that we appreciate what they do every day,” she stresses. “They’re the ones taking these difficult calls, so it’s important to take the time to thank them for being here and for doing this job for us.”
Supporting the frontline also means knowing when to lighten the mood and relieve the stress of the job. Mansfield will often surprise advocates by donning funny costumes and props like oversized glasses for a welcome emotional release. “Some of the stories that they hear are heart-wrenching and I’ll see tears in their eyes as they’re talking to members. It’s very difficult at times,” she says, adding that: “They are champions. They champion what we do every day for the members.”