As a leader at DoveLewis, one of my main focuses is to ensure Dove employees have the tools and resources they need to perform their jobs. Over the last few years, Dove has gone through a tremendous amount of growth. That increase in patients and services has changed the job of our Client Service Representatives (CSRs). Not only did our CSRs report they felt overwhelmed, but our clients reported that the front desk seemed chaotic. The Leadership Team at Dove began to review our work flow, and part of this process was visiting hospitals in other cities so we could learn from them. We visited several hospitals in which the clinic had a separate phone room to answer calls, update records, and schedule appointments. What we immediately noticed in clinics with a phone room was the quiet and calmness of the lobby. The difference between our lobby and theirs was hugely notable.
Jenna Douglas, Client Services Manager at DoveLewis, discusses the process of implementing this change and what she recommends if you are considering a similar project.
Describe the atmosphere of the DoveLewis lobby before the phone room was implemented.
Having a phone room has completely transformed the atmosphere of the front desk. Before, our CSRs would face a chaotic scenario like multiple owners walking in with emergencies while also having to manage a multi-line phone system ringing off the hook (especially between 3pm-6pm!). We had 2-3 CSRs managing all the owners, ER/ICU team needs and specialists. Now, the phone room has taken away the noise of multiple phones ringing at once. The lobby is relatively calm and hopefully less stressful for pet owners.
What were the goals of creating the phone room before starting this project?
The idea of the phone room was crafted after touring other facilities that had success with a similar project. Our goals for the phone room were: to create a quieter lobby so owners would feel less stressed by the constant noise, and to help owners feel comfortable approaching CSRs (since they would not be perpetually on the phone). It gives our CSRs a chance to be able to step off the floor and not be in a fishbowl environment where they are literally "on stage" their entire shift. The phone room lets them listen to music, eat a snack, get administrative tasks under control, and field phone calls. As a result, CSRs working on the floor are able to completely focus on the client's needs and manage issues directly in front of them.
Were there any unexpected challenges or issues that arose during this transition?
The implementation of the phone room was certainly a challenge, and even after 6 months there are still some kinks we are continuing to work out. Our phone room, as a trial, was placed on the second floor of the building and so that posed a unique challenge to our CSRs that we are still working to manage. We had to determine what exact tools needed to go into the phone room, which required constant communication with our facilities team to plan and install those needs. There was definitely a period of figuring out what tasks should a priority for CSRs working in the phone room (ex. managing faxes, sending records, managing medical charts) and what was better suite for the front desk team (ex. taking messages for staff on the floor or taking payments). We continue to find ways to improve the room and our communication between floors, and it will continue to be a work in progress.
The other major issue is keeping it staffed to actually make it beneficial. Sometimes we are just too short staffed or busy on the floor to keep someone in the room. I like to ideally have 3 CSRs on the floor at all times with the hopes of having at least 1 CSR in the phone room from 9a-11pm. I started the CSRs on a rotating schedule, but that was a bit impossible to maintain given call outs or work restrictions. I added a part-time position to give us a boost in the middle of the day and hope to budget for one more PT person across the length of the whole week so we can always have 4-5 CSRs on the floor during peak hours. It's definitely a learning curve.
What changed after adding the phone room to DoveLewis?
The immediate change of the phone room was the obvious difference in noise control at the front desk. The silence is almost deafening sometimes when there is someone in the phone room managing calls and not a lot of people in the lobby. I love it because it brings down the stress level of the owners and the CSRs. I can tell you that when 3 triages walk in at once and there are no phones ringing at that moment that I have to handle, it is amazing. Before, I would be forced to answer a phone at the moment of STAT triage page because both of my phones were occupied and I had to put someone on hold in order to page a triage. Now, I don't have to worry about the need to manage a call on hold during a STAT situation. I can focus all my efforts on the clients. It has also given us the opportunity to catch up on administrative duties that we used to fall behind on, like chart management and forwarding faxes. It has made a significant difference in administrative work.
Any advice to other practices considering adding a phone room to their clinic?
Do your research, tour facilities that have a solid phone room implemented, and talk to your team about the benefits well in advance. As much as our ER team is adept to change on a minute to minute basis, changes at work are always a challenge and growing pains are a regular part of our work life. Open communication allowing your teams to weigh in on the project and give positive or negative feedback is NECESSARY. They are most affected by these changes and should be able to be a part of the process the whole way through.