Care Coaching Requires a Transformative Approach to the Contact Center

SYKES Enterprises provides care coaching programs to help people quit smoking, manage weight, and adopt healthy exercise habits. Working with people to create long-lasting behavioral change is a very personal undertaking reliant on the relationships built with clients. It’s much more involved than answering a billing question or providing technical product support which are common transactional services provided in a business-driven contact center environment.

Care coaching requires personnel with a depth in professional expertise in social work and medical training and certifications, but it also requires a strategic approach that’s different from the operations in a traditional contact center.

Supporting and Staffing for Dedicated Coaching

Providing each person with a primary coach who works with them throughout the program requires a different structure. Rather than working to support the volume of inbound calls, administrative support is required for client intake, as well as scheduling sessions with their coach.

Recruiting and hiring coaches for these programs requires finding people who are naturally inclined to be empathetic and helpful. Most of our staff have developed specialties in counseling, such as addictions and smoking cessation. SYKES then layers on training in motivational interviewing and additional skills to help the staff make the transition from a clinical environment to a remote coaching environment.

Nurses will choose to make this transition for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they have developed physical restrictions, such as a latex allergy. Or maybe they have a desire to reach people beyond the local community. The knowledge sharing that happens between clients and coaches is very rich and an experience they can’t get in a hospital environment.

Nurses and social service workers also like the comradery of the team environment that exists in care coaching programs. In a private practice or working on assignment there’s a lack of collaboration that is compelling to many in health services. Coaches are also registered health coaches who are trained in professional interviewing skills.

Measurement Shifts from Contact Center to Care Coaching

In a business-driven contact center, average handle time (AHT) is rated based on speed—the shorter the call, the better. In a care coaching environment AHT is used differently. Due to the nature of the calls, they will be longer. If the call time is shorter, it may be a sign that the coach isn’t doing enough to help the client.

For programs that are run for government, the requirements revolve around aggregate data. This includes the number of people counseled and the number of calls completed. Customer experience metrics are also included such as the number of calls enquiring about the program, the number of referrals from physicians and hospitals, and the number of enrollments into the program.

Occupancy is based on case load rather than the ratio of staff needed to cover an expected volume of calls. In a care coaching environment, staff are responsible for additional duties beyond phone-based coaching sessions for the cases assigned to them.

Operational Shifts from Contact Center to Care Coaching

In a business-driven contact center, many of the processes and workflows are standardized, dictating the best way to solve a customer’s problem based on the most common call drivers. In a care coaching environment, each client is provided with a custom plan that fits their situation and goals in relation to the program. While the motivational interview questions may be standard, the responses will be unique to each client. This requires a skillful and personalized approach by the coach in relation to each case under their care.

Additionally, based on the structure of the programs provided there is also administrative work, such as:

  • Calling back clients who have enquired to complete intake into the program
  • Answering emails for the “Ask an Expert” program
  • Chat sessions to answer questions from potential clients
  • Moderating forums related to the types of programs underway, such as the QuitNow website for smoking cessation sponsored by The Lung Association
  • Posting on Facebook pages related to the programs
  • Hosting teleseminars, such as Tobacco Free Tuesday where the staff calls in and provides a presentation about quitting smoking, making a quit plan, or sharing tips about how to get started
  • Feedback loops to let referring doctors and hospitals know that the person they referred actually enrolled in the program.

The team shares all of these duties on a rotational basis, as well as carrying a case load of 60 cases per week. This removes the volume scale that can happen within contact centers designed to handle inbound customer service calls.

The variety of the duties helps to inspire coaches, as well as to give them insights that contribute to the development of new services or new approaches to services in progress. SYKES is focused on continuous improvement in all the services it provides, care coaching is no different.

Cultural Fit Contributes to Care Coaching Success

The staff in a care coaching program works very closely together, collaborating on the program design and execution. When recruiting new members of the team, care is taken to ensure that a cultural fit exists. This includes behavioral interviews that use scenario-based questions to confirm that the answers from candidates fit the care coaching culture in relation to how a candidate would handle different situations.

In contrast to a business-driven contact center, attrition is not a problem. Longevity in staffing exists because they love the culture and the work. SYKES values the front line and includes their perspectives to ensure each one feels ownership and is vested in part of something bigger than them. Due to the inclusive operational style, every staff member wants to see the programs be successful.

Contact center operations are focused on successfully handling each call and request for support. Care coaching is predicated on the success of the longer-term relationships established with each client that result in long-lasting behavioral change.

Marni Mezger, SYKES, Operations Manager is a Registered Nurse with 19 years of experience. She is dedicated to enhancing healthcare service delivery and access. With a Lean-Six Sigma mindset, Marni is innovative in program development and management and has successfully overseen the implementation of several new counselling service programs. Marni has been with the company for 11 years in various management roles and is skilled at evaluating ‘end to end’ business to streamline processes and add customer and client value with a fulfilled workforce. Marni currently leads our CareCoach team, who specialize in behavior change, self-management and motivational interviewing.  Marni is currently pursuing her designation as a Certified Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse CFMHN(C) through the Canadian Nurses Association.