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With 40 years experience in managing medical out-of-hours telephone calls The Answering Service (TAS) has built a reputation of accuracy, reliability and efficiency. Previously known as Cambridge Medical Answering Services Ltd, TAS evolved from a co-operative involving a large rota scheme where off-duty family doctors were radioed and chauffeured to emergency call-outs. TAS expanded the service offered by its call centre in Cambridge, and now boasts a large a commercial arm, providing over 200 different out-of-hours answering services and, most recently, disaster recovery plans.
TAS' range of customers also includes veterinary surgeons and companies providing a 24-hour callout service such as 3COM. Call handlers answer the telephone on behalf of each customer taking down the messages and then triaging them according to the customer's specification. In the case of emergencies the messages are then delivered either verbally or by SMS and then "tracked" to a successful verbal conclusion.
TAS operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Its predominately paper-based call handling system was reliant on the knowledge acquired by call handlers. Managing Director of TAS, Judy Fella explains, "Remembering all the idiosyncrasies of each customer and their needs was manageable for staff who had been with us for many years. However training new staff could take up to six months, many finding it difficult coping with our philosophy of 'getting it right first time' and efficiently dealing with any situation presented to us. This is something that our customers had come to expect."
"We were in a position whereby we were beginning to hang ourselves," she adds, "by offering such a good service that when it grew, it became impossible to train new staff and to cope with the volume of paper being generated."
The inaccuracy of a paper system was evident when invoicing customers. TAS noticed that the number of calls received and messages passed on did not tally, as the call handler wouldn't always remember to note all the relevant information. Up to 10% of sales were being lost when billing clients, a considerable loss of revenue.
In addition to inaccurate invoicing, the time-consuming nature of the paperwork involved resulted in longer calls as agents looked for the right form or message pad whilst on they were on the telephone. Another six hours was spent every night logging messages into a spreadsheet for billing purposes. Some nights the job wasn't finished at all, and had to be completed by the day staff.
TAS also operates a Lone Working Scheme, where its acts as a vital communication link to protect individuals working in isolated or vulnerable conditions. Their whereabouts are monitored via regular telephone contact and reported back to the parent company so that the appropriate emergency services are contacted if a situation occurs. Whilst providing a valuable service, considerable pressure was placed on staff to manually record every detail accurately and to raise the emergency services at the right moment.
A solution was required that would enable the knowledge of the most experienced call handlers to be rolled out across the call centre, standardising the quality of service, reducing call times through efficient call management and therefore creating capacity to manage higher call volumes. Finally, they wanted to improve the quality of call reporting eliminating the reliance upon paper, so that billing could be accurate.
TAS visited the US to research how similar message handling bureaus managed calls, but could not find affordable software that would easily maintain the very personal touch it had become known for. An attempt to write a simple in-house message pad program was met with resistance from staff who wanted to remain with pen and paper. TAS realised that to develop the program with features which would cover everything they wanted was going to be time consuming, costly and perhaps prohibitive. The decision was then made to employ sister company FROG Systems, an IT company, to source a solution and the customer interaction management software, Synthesys™, from Noetica was chosen.
"We needed to become even more efficient, a paperless office, and in doing so retain the flexibility of the excellent personal service that we had always offered our customers, and also provide us with plenty of room for expansion," explains Fella.
The brief given to Noetica was to automate the whole business with the least amount of change to the procedures TAS had in place for both the business and its customers.
During the implementation of Synthesys, Noetica provided on-site training. After five days spent with the Noetica team, TAS team leaders were then able to author and amend the intuitive callflow scripts, which the call handlers use to manage calls.
Using Synthesys™, when the handler takes a call, they are automatically presented with an appropriate callflow to manage the interaction, via a Windows-based GUI. Based on the responses given by the caller the callflow automatically branches to the next appropriate response, ensuring the handler records the correct information at the appropriate point in the interaction.
"Synthesys™ sits at the heart of our business," Fella clarifies, "eliminating our reliance on paper-based reporting and intensive data entry. The ability to adapt callflow scripting for all our campaigns, thorough testing before going live, to taking on outbound campaigns in the future and the accuracy of logging call information, all contributed to TAS choosing Noetica."
"Time and cost has been the major saving since the implementation of Noetica Synthesys™," Fella states. "Training staff on our old 'memory' based paper system would take weeks for part timers, and up to six months to understand every clients needs. Synthesys will dramatically cut this to a matter of hours for 80% of our clients. It enables us to take on new projects which require short term staff levels."
Accurate recording of messages and call logging now enables TAS to charge correct fees to customers, and gets the right message to the right person faster than the old system. Previously, call handlers would need to write the messages down and remember details before manually dialling the appropriate recipient of the message. Now handlers can click a button and Synthesys dials straight through, providing customers with an almost instantaneous service. When the Lone Working Scheme is in use, Synthesys™ enables TAS to accurately monitor the amount of time a person is in the vulnerable situation.
Synthesys incorporates Crystal Reports at TAS to instantly create call log reports, something that had previously taken TAS a whole night shift to update. The accurate call logging information means customers are charged correctly for the service TAS provides for them. Reporting now takes seconds as every piece of data collected by Synthesys™ at each stage of the call is processed immediately.
"Although our invoicing has been computerised for years it was in a fairly basic format and took several days to complete. Now with the reports being generated automatically we can have the monthly call logs produced at a click of a button, together with the invoices, and the results "squirted" into our accounting system for management accounts," Fella adds.
"Noetica Synthesys™ has created a paperless, fully supported, automated and instantaneous environment for The Answering Service, cutting a three month training period to a matter of hours, increasing accuracy of call logging by up to 20% and reducing invoicing from several days to seconds. It has opened a window of opportunity to expand into outbound campaigns for magazines and customer surveys, which would have been near impossible with our old system," concludes Fella. "Most importantly, Synthesys™ enables TAS to retain the personal touch upon which we have made our name."