Podcast #72

Insider Tips for Optimizing Your Healthcare Call Center with Michele Santagata

To provide a positive patient experience, healthcare organizations need to consider every aspect of the patient journey, including the call center. While digital marketing can attract potential patients, having a fully-optimized patient acquisition strategy means nothing if your call centers aren’t handling incoming leads appropriately.

Episode Highlights:

 Michele Santagata: “Not to be a broken record, but the simplest thing that you can fix is, calls are coming in, am I answering them? The fixes are very simple. The fixes are, tomorrow you could go get an answering service to handle your overflow and just take the person’s name and number and let them know we’re going to call them back. Just secure that lead, retain that lead.”

Related Resources

Announcer: Welcome to the Ignite podcast, the only healthcare marketing podcast that digs into the digital strategies and tactics that help you accelerate growth. Each week, Cardinal’s experts explore innovative ways to build your digital presence and attract more patients. Buckle up for another episode of Ignite.

Alex Membrillo: What’s going on, everybody today? I always say they’re going to be fun today. You don’t just have one ray of sunshine that’s going to speak too loudly into your speaker. We’ve got you. I’m so excited to introduce you guys to Michele Santagata that she’s out of West Palm Beach. She said it’s cold this morning. It’s 69. It’s 69 down there.

Michele Santagata: 64. 64. Come on. Come on. That’s cool.

Alex: 64. It is clear now. In Atlanta, we don’t get summer outside and the winters are cold. We don’t get either. I expect you all go to New York and then come back. Michele, welcome. Guys, this is going to be really fun. Your favorite healthcare performance marketing agency. Even though we’re nearly perfect, sometimes we get yelled at from our clients.

The leads. We’re not getting enough leads. Then we start listening to the calls. It’s not that you don’t have enough leads. It’s call center conversions. Michele Santagata here with us. She runs a consulting firm. She’s got a lot of experience in call center optimization. She’s going to talk to us all about how to get more conversion out of your call center. All intakes that are coming into your call center contact center, however, you may want to phrase it, we’re going to talk about how to optimize that.

Michele, how did you end up getting into this? Did you start in this or did you find your way into health care to marketing sales? What was it? What was the journey?

Michele: For the last 13, almost 14 years now, I have been running large-volume contact centers. in the broader healthcare space, I started in hair restoration. About five years ago, I got into behavioral health. Addiction, mental health, eating disorder for the last five years, I’ve been helping healthcare companies in behavioral health apply strategies to their call centers to be able to help patients faster in the most efficient way possible, decreasing cost, optimizing and increasing revenue, all the good things. I found my way in here.

Alex: All of the good stuff. Would you say that you’ve had more experience in one healthcare vertical over another, mostly addiction, behavioral, that kind of thing, right?

Michele: Yes, more recently. I’ve worked with all kinds of healthcare companies and all different, even companies outside of the healthcare space. Mainly behavioral health is my main target right now. Yes, more recently.

Alex: Those are our favorite friends. No offense to all of our other friends, we love them. I have a near and dear with my heart with behavioral. I’m all about it. Is contact center and call center interchangeable? Am I using those correct, or you’re getting email forms in too, and call-in chats and stuff. Let’s not call it a call center. Why am I synonyms or not?

Michele: Same church, different pew. The call center, if you want to say call center, they’re used interchangeably. Anybody’s going to know what you’re talking about. When you traditionally talk about a call center, you’re talking about driving calls in. Contact center is more omnichannel. We’re looking at calls, chats, emails, SMS, the whole gamut. 2023, we’re mostly looking at contact centers. Even if you’re called a call center, you’re probably a contact center.

Alex: Because you’re getting all kinds of inbound communication.

Michele: Yes, not just voice.

Alex: Got it. Everything to track exactly into a booked appointment. All right. You get in there, they bring you in. You used to be in-house and building out the contact centers, and now you’re running a consultant firm. What are the most common things you see? I’m sure before you even engage, you’re like, “Let me take a look at what you have going on and I’ll tell you if I can help.” What are like the big, “Wow.” If so all of our friends listening can say, “I need to go look at my context and for what Michele just said.”

Michele: Probably going to say efficiency a lot today, but there’s usually a lot of inefficiency happening from things as simple as there’s repetitive tasks going on. We can implement some automation to make that a lot easier and not use human-time bottlenecks and processes that delay patient care. You want to get patients to care as fast as possible. That’s your highest chance of conversion rate.

It’s also going to be the best patient experience. There’s also over, staffing understaffing. You’re spending too much money or you’re wasting time, you’re wasting opportunities because you’re driving. Marketing companies are driving phone calls in. You’re missing the phone calls definitely start there. The last three years I’ve spent building a third party answering service in the behavioral healthcare space.

Missing calls is one of my big red flags. Definitely take a look there. If you’re missing calls, there’s a problem. You don’t want to waste time there. Then I see a lot of poor systems set up, poor tech adoption. There’s not a lot of tech adoption happening. When there is technology implementation, it’s sometimes set up really poorly. It’s not solving a need. There’s a lot of things.

You’ve got this robust system like salesforce, and we’re really not using it for the most that it can be used. That is a Cadillac, and we’re using it like a tricycle. There’s a lot of things that I see in that realm. Moving, especially the behavioral healthcare space, to a more intentional framework of how are we operating our call center with good intention and what are the systems we have in place and what are the processes? It’s really the simplistic people process, technology, those kinds of things.

Alex: It sounds simple. Let’s go into each one because those are the ones everybody needs to look at. When you look at over or underspend, do you look at calls, contact center investment as percentage of revenue from someone’s P&L you immediately know? If they say, “I spend 5% of revenue on contact,” how do you analyze whether the investment is correct? I feel like it would start there.

Michele: It’s going to depend on the type of operation you have. If you have something that’s very contact center intensive, I would expect more of a spend to be happening there versus you have something that’s maybe a little bit more self-service, digital. The most expensive thing you have in your call center or contact center is labor. You have humans doing things.

Labor is going to run 60% to 80% of your spend in a contact center. If you have an organization that’s more focused on digital self-service, you don’t need humans. I would expect less of a percentage of revenue to be going to your contact center. If you have a very labor-intensive model, then it’s going to be a bit more. Then how can we look at that and shift and make sure we’re doing a little bit of both that’s getting the best patient experience, but also in a cost-effective manner.

Alex: Very frustrating when no one’s picking up the phone. Labor the biggest cost. Also, the biggest thing to optimize. What are the first things you dig in scripts? Technology. Hey, what technology are you using? You’ve got sales. Is it software or is it training you’re looking at there’s–

Michele: All of the above.

Alex: Multiple choice.

Michele: [laughs] I’ll take you through a few of them. First, looking at the people. What does your scheduling look like? What are you doing? Are you missing calls? You need to be able to report, first of all, can you even identify that you’re missing calls that would go back to systems and technology? You need to be able to identify and answer those basic questions, am I missing calls?

Then if you’re missing under 5%, missed call rate is good. Under 3%, fantastic. If you’re over 5%, huge problem there. You need to be looking at that. Then we dig into what is the scheduling look like? Are you looking at your call volume and then scheduling to support that inbound call volume and the other activities that need to be happening. If you’re overstaffed on shifts, people are twiddling their thumbs doing nothing.

You’re wasting money there. If you’re understaffed, you’re missing opportunities to answer calls. Definitely looking at the staffing and then yes. What technology do we have in place? We’re talking about can you identify if you’re missing calls? Things like call tracking metrics, call rail, something more robust, like a Five9. You need to have something in there to be able to understand what’s being delivered to my agents and then what am I missing?

You need to understand that. Then platforms like Salesforce, you don’t even need Salesforce, just some CRM that you can put data in, in an organized manner that you can get out.

Analytics, metrics, understanding of what’s happening, and then maybe be able to do some follow up on the leads that aren’t converting on the initial phone call. That stuff’s going to be in there. You got to be having some CRM applications too.

Alex: What’s five-nine? Is that a call-tracking thing?

Michele: Five9 is more of an enterprise contact platform. Contact center platform. When you think about CTM and Callrail, those do marketing attribution tracking and then also they’re routing your calls. When you look at bigger contact centers, usually those two things are separate. You’re using something, you may still use a CTM or Invoca or something to do your marketing attribution, but then you have to have a more robust manner to send your calls to your team. That’s a Five9.

That’s Genesis Connect One, I think they’re called now. Those things are more robust. What that’s just going to give you is a more enterprise platform to deliver calls to your agents in the best way possible. Things like skills-based routing. There’s going to be speech analytics. There’s different things that you can get out of those systems.

Alex: CRM. It’s not salesforce. I know it’s the most expensive. We personally use it. I love a salesforce HIPAA compliant. Everything connects to it, but a lot of people don’t. Expensive. What else? What’s, like entry-level thing you recommend?

Michele: Zoho can be HIPAA compliant. You can get that for under $50. You need something and you need to be off the Google Sheets, folks. We got to get off the Google Sheets. We need to get in something better than that.

Alex: HIPAA compliant anyways. Getting off the Google Sheets and then so following back up with leads that didn’t come, is that people we talked to, or is that people that’s a 5% that didn’t even get the phone picked up and you want automations going out to these, what’s up?

Michele: On the 5% where we don’t answer the call, putting some contact center platform in place or I mean even again, a CTM or Callrail can do this. You need some automation to call those back immediately. If you don’t have an answering service or something happening there, you need to be calling those back.

As soon as a rep is available, it should be delivering that phone call to them to call that person back. “Hey, we just missed a call from you. I want to see how I can help.” Further down the line when I get a patient that they’re not ready to come in today. It’s not happening today. They were just asking some questions, mom’s asking a few questions. What am I doing next?

What am I following up? I really want to do some aggressive follow-up in that short-term, but I’m reaching out for seven days. I’m not getting anywhere. I’m texting, I’m calling, I’m emailing, I’m doing all sending smoke signals. Now at this point, what are we going to do now? What happens now if I’m not putting my information in a CRM and I don’t have a solid follow-up plan, do you know how many places that I see that are just jumping leads in a CRM, and then I’m like, “Okay, what are you doing?” They’re like, “We call them for two days and then that’s it.”

What do you mean that’s it? What do you mean? You already concurred the marketing spend. You spent the money to drive the lead, now you put it somewhere and you’re just going to let that go to waste. Having a solid follow-up plan, you need systems in place for that. You can use automation. You spoke about automation.

Send out automated texts. You don’t put PHI so it’s HIPAA compliant. Do follow-up emails. You can do stuff that’s not labor-intensive. You can weave some phone calls in there too. You can do things that are not labor intensive using the leads you already have in your system.

Alex: We don’t do reactivation maybe one day we’ll get back–we’ll get into more of the reactivation retention which probably should. We really just drive initial interest and then we lose our minds because we listened to the calls.

No one either picked up or when they picked up it was a really poor experience. They didn’t really find this revealable, they don’t really know what they treat. They took forever to answer stuff. Are you listening to the calls or sitting in the contact center like, “Wow, people were not trained.” You’ll build the whole training program too to get more.

Michele: Absolutely. Sometimes it’s as simple as just having a plan and a call flow of like, “Here’s the things that should happen in this order.” I’m a big proponent of address and redirect. This is something that I use with all the teams that I work with and I say it a billion times, the person asks a question, address the question and redirect to what you were going to do.

Sometimes at that beginning, it makes my head explode when I hear calls where callers asking questions and we’re just answering and then sitting back and waiting for them to ask more questions. Then we get in this Q&A period at the beginning, I’m not driving the phone conversation, the caller is–and then all of a sudden we hang up the phone and I didn’t get any information.

I don’t know what happened on that call. That’s a big thing. Listening to the calls is critical. Folks need to be listening to their calls. There’s things I spoke about speech analytics I mentioned that earlier here. Speech analytics has come a long, long way.

You can definitely get some–you can listen to 100% of your calls and understand what’s happening. Are there agents that are not converting and why? What’s going on there? Is your agent speaking way more than the caller? Because that’s not what should happen. Speech analytics could definitely be telling you those things.

Listening to what’s happening on those calls is absolutely critical. Missing the call first off, like “Yes that’s crazy.” Then listening and seeing that there’s no clear plan of how these calls should go and we’re just winging it. Nothing makes me more crazy than understanding you’re spending dollars in marketing to drive phone calls in and then what are you doing in the call center? It’s off the chance.

Alex: Address and redirect. That’s interesting. It’s like in our own sales we want to lead the conversations, not be waiting for the client act like we’re supposed to be the doctor writing the prescription. Why am I asking? I once went in for an ACL tear and I went to the orthopedic surgeon and he said, “What replacement for your ACL do you want?” I said, “Are you serious? What? You didn’t tell me.”


That’s what you want the agents leading every conversation. You’re looking at the balance of talking one or the other and then conversion rates I guess for every agent sitting with them to get them to convert more. Speech analytics you’ve mentioned they also looking–I find we use a tool called Lime, Callbox, Callrail. Lime we find is the most innovative partner-wise.

Speech analytics are really good so much that they give you all the reasons for not booking, which I find really they didn’t take Humana. It took forever to pick up. The location’s not where I want, we’re targeting the wrong area. Look up all the reasons they’re not booking I think will help your marketing and et cetera and help your contact center.

What else? Really specific things. What’s a that drives you crazy that you see in a contact center that you wish everybody would go fix right now? Is there anything we have that’s an easy thing?

Michele: It is all the things we’ve mentioned. Not to be a broken record, but the simplest thing that you can fix is, calls are coming in, am I answering them? The fixes are very simple. The fixes are, tomorrow you could go get an answering service to handle your overflow and just take the person’s name and number and let them know we’re going to call them back.

Just secure that lead, retain that lead. That’s better than nothing. You could literally contract with an answering service tomorrow and solve that problem while you figure out how to internally staff because you don’t want a lot of calls going into an answering service. You want to be able to handle the most you can internally, weighing out the cost-benefit of that.

That is such an easy fix.

I see 50% of calls going unanswered or going to voicemail. Come on, it’s 2023. We can do better than this. We can do better than that.

Alex: When I call my PCP, I’m not going to say him because he’s awesome but I call him, it’s a little local practice. I get the voicemail every time and they sent me to collections for $100. I said, “You need to pick up the phone.”

Michele: It’s patient experience. The first you have one opportunity, you’re talking about you guys just driving in that first contact. You’ve got one shot. If you don’t answer the call, if you don’t address their questions and move them down your process, they’re moving onto the next place.

If you make it difficult, you go online and you’re trying to schedule an appointment and it’s taking you to 87 pages and making it super difficult for you to do something, you’re moving on. I don’t have time to give you all 16 pieces of demographic data online to be able to just get through to somebody. I’m not interested. Moving on.

Alex: What’s your group ID number? What’s your–

Michele: I have no idea. I just need to know is my leg broken? Just help me. [laughs]

Alex: What do you usually say when the practice is small and growing, is it better to have all calls coming in? What’s the size? Is it, you should have it internally your contact center or are these outsourced things good at size but not– what’s the mark going next?

Michele: Here’s the thing, I think a blended approach is always good depending on the size. It’s the best-case scenario. If you could just, all things aside, if you could have your internal team answering all of your phone calls all the time, that’s always going to be the best because nobody’s going to know things better than your internal staff members.

Nobody’s going to know how your operations work. Nobody’s going to be that much in touch with your organization as your internal team.

All things aren’t perfect all the time. Making sure that you are going to have the calls answered before it just rings for two minutes straight. Experience that before you got to have something. Now, in answering services is better than that and having an answering service that’s specific to your niche is going to be better. Completely outsourcing things. It could be–again, you got to do a cost-benefit analysis and understand I’m going to get some degradation in my conversion.

Is the cost savings offsetting that? Does it make sense? When people outsource things, I always say in answering service, whatever you’re going to do, you have to be connected with that. You can’t just set it and forget it and be like, “We’re going to outsource all this and then just sit back and then be mad when the results aren’t what you want then.” You have to be working with your partner, whether it’s an answering service, marketing company.

You need that collaboration. You can’t just think, “Oh, I’m just going to have somebody else handle it and it’s going to be magical.”

Alex: I found some work answering service, so that’s good. Internal, as long as you can but someone picking up the phone most important, our own answering service. I mean, they’re terrible. I don’t like it bound call leads like “Why are you calling me out of nowhere?” Instead of saying I’m selling professional stuff–

Michele: You have to train them but having a solution that actually deteriorates your brands is not a good solution. Finding the right partner and the right solutions. Sometimes it’s a mix at a smaller–you have a smaller practice and you’ve got two people, you don’t have a lot of calls. You guys can handle it, that’s fine, or you can do a blend.

Alex: My PCP needs to outsource it. They can’t pick-up that. One more question for you, looking at the future, we’re pushing a lot of clients to book online. To implement an online booking system and we’re– this is 15 years before enough groups have it integrated with EMR. It’s actually working. I feel like that’s what every generation’s going to want. Old and young. Old’s getting very modern.

I’m loving my standards. Is that going to impact call contact centers at all? The push online booking while we still need them? Is it going to change anything? How do you see it?

Michele: I have been hearing for as long as I’ve been in this industry call centers are going away. They’re going away. They’re never going away. It’s never going away because we look at things like there was recently Frontier Airlines, they got rid of their customer service department. Everything was online. It’s like when something is frustrating, you turn to the phone.

I don’t care how old or young you are, you just want to pick up the phone and get somebody to handle it now. When you reduce those opportunities for people to contact you, you’re going to lead in the degradation of customer service. It’s never going away.

It also depends on what provider you are. If I just need to make an appointment for an MRI, sure I can do that online. If I’m trying to get my 18-year-old son into treatment because I just found out that he is using drugs, that’s a different conversation. I might not just want to book an intake online because I have questions. It’s understanding what levels we’re at, what type of environment we are in, and where it’s appropriate.

Booking those appointments online, what follow-up is happening there? What’s your no-show rate? How are you getting, how are you increasing that show rate? Do you have availability to book today and tomorrow for highest show rate? Is your call center following up with those ones that don’t show who’s charged with that? Not just because it’s my profession and passion, but I don’t think they’re going away anytime soon.

Alex: They’ve been saying SEO is dead first since I started to become.

Michele: No, really?

Alex: I see your point entirely. That is what we do when we get frustrated. GEICO has a wonderful online experience and there’s no individual rep, which would usually tick me off. But you can do everything online, back call. They do correct it quickly if they did not be from the state or State Farm. I see what you’re saying and I think the kid going into treatment, that’s the perfect example. Dude, I’m not booking that on an online book right form when I need to. I’m just going to drop

Michele: I’m just going to drop my kid off at the door and I don’t know. I need to call someone, I need to speak with somebody. There needs to be that human connection.

Alex: The robots are coming guys, but they’re still only here to assist in making us more efficient. You should be using them. Chat GPT just innovated again. Today, it’s March 15th it’s even better than it was in the last iteration and it’s great, but the robots still cannot take our jobs entirely.

At least have a few more months of this. Michele, this was really fun. I learned a ton. This is not something I know about, but it’s a frustration all of our clients have and it’s a frustration every agency has. Where do people find you? Don’t maybe say your email because it’ll be on the blog, but LinkedIn maybe?

Michele: Absolutely. Connect with me on LinkedIn you can follow for tips. I usually am posting weekly things that you can learn from. If you want to get a little bit more knowledge about call centers, contact centers, and how you can create efficiencies, definitely follow me on LinkedIn. You can reach out through there as well.

Alex: All right. This was fun. Thank you. Thank you, thank you. Later this year guys, we’re going to have a summit. It’s called Scaling Out the Healthcare Performance Marketing Summer for Marketers Only. If you’re not like– probably you can’t come or whatever, but Michele, we’re going to have– I’d love to have a session there on how to convert more leads and this would fit right in. This would be perfect-

Michele: That would be awesome –

Alex: -attention to it. We’ll be seeing each other later this year. Thank you, Michele.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to this episode of Ignite. Interested in keeping up with the latest trends in healthcare marketing? Subscribe to our podcast and leave a rating and review. For more healthcare marketing tips, visit our [email protected].

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