Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Five Tips for Decreasing on-hold Time

A frequent complaint about waiting in the doctors office is not being able to get through on the phone or being left on hold for inordinate periods of time. Short of adding staff, the only sure-fire way to decrease the amount of on-hold time is to decrease the amount of time you need to spend with other people on the phone. Increasing the pace of phone calls does not need to lower client satisfaction or professionalism.

Here are five tips to quicken turn around time on the phone in a professional manner:

1. Directed Calls -- I hate the "Welcome to XXXX. Please press ....." but auto-answer can serve a purpose. Our office found that patients seeking appointments will hold for about 90 seconds before hanging up but referring offices will hold for only 30 seconds. As a result the administrative centre is staffed to meet those demands. Each group of operators is also prepared for the type of work they are likely to receive over the phone. One group receives referrals and another to answer patient questions. Both use off-peak time to confirm appointments.

2. Direct the Conversation: Have you ever noticed that most corporations ask for your account number as soon as they say hello? They are directing the conversation. Try using the same technique at the front desk. Do not worry about sounding unprofessional, there is a reason someone is calling the office so directing the conversation facilitates quick resolution of the enquiry. The small loss of the "personal touch" will be made up by not being left on hold.

3. Ask for an Email: For the person that needs to recount their life story before telling you why they are calling (or when there is a sizable back-story) ask the caller to put the information in an email and send it to you.

4. Go Digital: Consider a digital phone system. It allows for directed calls (depending on size) but more importantly it allows real-time measurement of call volume and on-hold times.

Measure, make a change then re-measure.

As the office grows a digital phone system can also have a CTI (Computer Telephony Interface) added. CTI allows the sharing of information between the EMR database and the phone system. It can ‘grab’ the phone number as the call enters the system and by the time the operator answers the call the chart has already been brought up on the computer.

5. Alternatives: Every fax and email saves another phone call and diverts the work to what would be down-time. Electronic alternatives level the workload on staff and decrease on-hold time during peak demand. Our office has found electronic alternatives mutually beneficial for frequent callers such as offices that frequently refer patients. As long as all of the information is included in the communication the technique saves phone time. The caveat to this strategy, however, is that many offices will not send the necessary information and a phone call will be required regardless. While the follow-up phone call can be completed during off-peak times, the over-all time required may be no different. Consider standardized forms for frequent callers to alleviate the problem.

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