Handling Unexpected High Call Volumes
Crisis management is the process that deals with disruptive and unexpected events, identification of potential threats to an organization and provides a framework for building resilience, in an organized and structured manner. Such plans assist organizations to effectively restore operational capabilities and better prepare for future crises ahead of time. The ability to approach crises in a planned and organized fashion further acts to mitigate the associated risks. The Medical Information Call Center (MICC) operations is no different than the other processes and can face umpteen situations that requires holistic planning and crisis mitigation. This case study describes the Crisis management of a sudden, unexpected escalation in call volumes from a multiple batch recall of a generic medication. The misestimation of incoming call volume resulted in a stark imbalance between available Medical Information resources and call volumes, which lead to increase in wait times and other delays. The learnings are now implemented as a part of the regular process for similar situations.
- Based on the recall notification details, the expected call volume increase was projected at 100 percent of regular call volume, which was in line with the client’s projection. This increase was within the capacity of the existing staff allocation and hence no resource reallocation was made. However, the actual call volume was significantly higher and at its peak, was 500 percent of regular call volume. Due to inaccurate expected call estimates, there was insufficient staffing resources to accommodate the surge.
- Whilst the projection was made regarding the expected call volume, MICC also received significant call volume from consumers who were on the same medication from different manufacturers which were not part of this recall. Both these issues were the main drivers for the unexpected call volume increase.
- Due to the unexpected high call volume, response to inquiries via other communication channels were delayed due to resource mismatch.
To manage the unforeseen situation the following plan was implemented:
- Resource realignment – Additional resources, matched to revised call volume projection, were deployed within a week in accordance with the call flow requirement. These resources were sourced via different means. Suitable candidates were hired on contractual basis to support the recall. A truncated training curriculum was prepared for the contractual resources. An outreach program was also deployed by management to identify employees with call center experience for deployment as interim additional resources for this project. An offshore team was also trained to manage and handle the call volume. Further, a dedicated team was deployed to handle inquiries from other communication channels including voicemails to ensure all needs are met.
- Technology deployment – An Interactive Voice Response (IVR) which allows users self service was deployed. The system facilitates appropriate triage and prioritization of critical calls such as those related to patient safety to ensure compliance with regulatory guidelines are met.
- Team deployment – To ensure calls from other clients are not affected; dedicated resources were allocated separately to manage other client’s calls. The calls related to other clients were routed only to the assigned resources.
- Stakeholder communications – Daily and weekly reports were generated to provide an overview to both the client and internal stakeholders, to observe the trend and further planning for the backlog. A recall group was created including all the deployed resources on Microsoft teams for any inquiries and real time feedback.
- Continuous assessment – After a period of 3 months additional batches were added to the list of recalled batches. However, by the time proper planning was in place and call volumes were managed with the introduced steps.
The calls volume returned to normal within six months. The increased call volume was handled and managed by deploying additional resources by contractual hiring, implementing an outreach program, and deploying offshore team, implementing IVR to triage critical calls on a real time basis and worked successfully as a “just in time” intervention to a crisis. Due to the proactive, frequent communications with the client and internal stakeholders, the call center achieved 100% compliance in reporting AE, PQCs, handling requests received via other communication channels such as email, fax and voicemails and managing the volume for other MICC clients.
The recall situation described in this case study where the call volume increased up to 500%, was categorized as a potential threat to the organization. Steps taken to mitigate this crisis has been adopted as a regular process for other similar situations. For future high volumes of unexpected calls of any cause, a robust plan based on best practice and our learnings will be deployed.