Automating Collections Is Right Prescription for Physicians Group

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Automation of inbound and outbound customer contacts has boosted revenue and lowered costs at the call center of a physician practice group affiliated with the University of Alabama Health System.

The University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, representing 700 medical professionals in 33 specialties, instituted a predictive dialing and interactive voice response system last summer to automate its outbound calls. The organization also installed a self-service IVR system for inbound calls.

Outbound calling is used for collections on outstanding accounts. The dialer makes calls to consumers, who can respond and make payments immediately using the IVR system. The foundation uses the outbound IVR system only for accounts with outstanding balances of $49 or less. Live telephone agents still handle collections for bills of $50 or more.

The call center also handles inbound calls from customers with questions about account status and balances. Customers with billing questions are routed to an IVR system that automatically gives them information about their accounts.

Before implementing the technology, the telephone agents dialed by hand from a list of outstanding accounts. The organization was forced to assign extra telephone agents to its outbound operations at the expense of its inbound work force.

Collection of outstanding balances was a problem because 30 percent of the foundation's accounts cost more to collect than they were worth. The high cost of collection forced the organization to outsource many outstanding balances to collection agencies.

"We had high abandonment rates and long wait times," said Tom McAvoy, associate director of business operations for the foundation. "We couldn't call the people who owed us money."

The foundation has averaged a $50,000 increase in monthly revenue generated by its call center since the automation systems, provided by customer relationship management technology company Avaya, were installed last year. The organization also has cut its staff of call center agents by about 27 percent because of the automation, saving about $50,000 a month, McAvoy said.

The Avaya system paid for itself after about five months, McAvoy said.

The staff of 10 outbound agents and 18 inbound agents was trimmed by eight employees and consolidated into a single teleservices unit. All agents now handle inbound calls and do outbound calling when inbound lines are idle.

An agent-monitoring system is also part of the technology upgrades. The foundation introduced an incentive plan to reward employees for good calls as determined by a review of the tapes recorded by the monitoring system.

"It's resulted in happier employees and lower turnover, even though we're working them much harder than we used to," McAvoy said.

McAvoy said his organization picked Avaya after reviewing several similar systems. The decision was made after he saw the technology at work at an organization similar to his that is affiliated with Emory University in Atlanta.

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