2009 1to1 Customer Champion: Fran Horner, Senior Director of Patient Services, NorthShore University HealthSystem

Share:
Customer Service
Customer Service

The medical industry is typically associated with long waits, complicated forms and rules, and poor customer service. When Fran Horner came to NorthShore University HealthSystem as its senior director of patient access, much of that was the case there, as well. Call center customer satisfaction was in the 60 percent range, centralized scheduling and registration efforts had failed multiple times, and there was no benchmark for customer service. Over the past three years all of that has changed.

The changes are due in large part to creating a centralized call center that handles registration, scheduling, and other tasks that used to require transferring patients to multiple departments. "We're proud today that we routinely have call center [satisfaction] in the 97 to 98 percent range," Horner says. "Putting in the right technology and processes to support the people who already had great skills has made a difference."

Horner also attributes the high scores to training within the call center. Each agent completes a call center simulation test to see how they respond to various issues. Agents are measured on their ability to build rapport with patients, as well as the accuracy of their work. "As you can imagine, if we make a mistake it isn't like shipping an item to the wrong place," Horner says. "We can actually hurt someone, or at the very least impact a patient's care and safety."

Horner encourages agents to share their patient loyalty stories and celebrate wins during team meetings, which is designed to boost retention by spotlighting best practices. In the past three years turnover has decreased 58 percent, and performance has improved. "We want to teach the staff what good behaviors look like so they can recognize them," Horner says. "A lot of companies talk about loyalty and service, but they haven't taken those values and described them in [the form of] behaviors. Things like empathy and compassion are as important as first-call resolution."

NorthShore does track traditional call center metrics (outpatient preregistration has increased by 25 percent and calls answered in 30 seconds or less have increased 82 percent, for example), but Horner says its most important that the agents demonstrate a sense of caring. She tracks this in part by using an after-call survey with three questions that ask about accessibility, helpfulness, and likelihood to recommend (Net Promoter Score).

"Most people who work in healthcare don't do it for the money, they do it because we have a compassion for people," she says. "We have challenging customers, but we accept that because we have a desire to help."

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION