Red Cross Rethinks Regional Call Center Emphasis for Blood Donation

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The American Red Cross is developing a national strategy to formalize the role of call centers in supporting blood donations, though it will continue its current system of leaving telephone support at the discretion of its 38 local regions.


The telephone has been a component of donation drives for at least 20 years, bringing in 12 to 45 percent of total blood donations, according to Joyce Williams, national director of donor services for the American Red Cross, Rosslyn, VA. The remainder of donations come mainly from sponsor organizations such as companies or community organizations. Outbound calling is used to bring back previous donors, convince current donors to donate more and, sometimes, to recruit new donors.


Drives based in the workplace or in community organizations such as churches are the most common ways Americans give blood. As these organizations change due to less community identification and involvement, the Red Cross expects telerecruitment to assume a larger role in attracting donors and is examining ways to improve its use.


"We're looking to grow collections right now,'' Williams said. "This is one of the avenues where we have some opportunity if we learn how to do it better."


Each of the 38 Red Cross blood regions in the United States use call centers, but at different levels of proficiency. For instance, 14 regions use predictive dialer technology while most of the regions continue to dial manually.


For regions with less calling expertise, the Red Cross provides simple training manuals but stops short of furnishing scripts. For the last six months, it has been developing a standard system to measure results. The goal is to identify regions adept at telerecruitment and transfer that knowledge across the country.


One strategy is to pool call centers, having the ones with expertise cover more than one region. The Red Cross is testing pilot programs to determine whether an in-house or outsourcing arrangement would work best in these situations.


"I don't see us moving to one or two call centers, but I do think the time will come when we don't have centers in every region,'' Williams said. "We are several years away from making that kind of a change. Everybody is leery of messing with things that work.''


Weather is the chief factor that drives blood donations. People are less likely to give during times of excessive cold or heat or during national weather emergencies. Telerecruitment can make a difference in these situations, according to Debra Reese, co-president of Spectrum Marketing, Philadelphia, which handles call center operations for the Red Cross in the Pennsylvania-New Jersey region.


Due to mild weather in the East this year, Reese said her company has done the least amount of calling since 1990. Volunteers are more likely to donate blood without the need of a reminder during mild weather. Because of the lowered need for blood, Spectrum currently assigns to donor calls just two call-center representatives in its 40-phone center two days a week.


Local, outsourced call centers like Spectrum call donors to inform them of upcoming blood drives and to schedule appointments. Representatives ask if the donor is capable of giving blood, verify the donor's address and ask if other family members would be willing and able to donate. Questions from donors about medical conditions or medications that could prohibit giving are referred to trained supervisors or medical personnel.


Reese said it is the same 5 percent of the population that continually gives blood, which makes donation calls much easier to conduct than sales calls.


"Everybody is very receptive," Reese said. "It is a non-threatening telemarketing call, and it is very easy to get caller representatives to do it. [Calling for blood donations] is all the things you dream about in a call center. There is no apprehension and the donors are very polite.''
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