For a caller in crisis, the idea of picking up the phone to discuss a topic as sensitive as addiction treatment can be intimidating. The right words from a call handler can mean the difference between someone receiving help or hanging up the phone in frustration or panic.
Indeed, call handling is a delicate process; having a script in place for your facility’s intake calls will ensure a caller sticks with you through the verification process to receive the help he or she needs.
I sat down with our client success manager and resident call handling expert, Jacob Alonzo, to gather the basics on call handling success.
Kelsey: Hi Jacob! For those who are unfamiliar, can you explain what a script is and why it’s important to have one in place for call handling?
Jacob: So, a script is basically another term used for screening. A script is used for building rapport and keeping the call in a forward moving motion in order to collect all of the information needed to determine if the caller is qualified (financially and with the proper insurance) and eligible for your program. There will always be some sort of variance in a script, which most of the time is ad-libbed; however, the fundamentals of a script will help you gauge if the person is a good fit for the program.
It’s also worth noting that many times the callers will be in crisis and overwhelmed, making it easy to fall off track. This is a time sensitive process, so the script essentially helps with keeping the caller engaged, and reminds them that you have a job to do, which in the end is helping them.
Kelsey: So true that time is of the essence when handling a caller in crisis. What prompts should be considered when developing a script to make sure you get the most important information from the caller in a time-efficient manner?
Jacob: The most important part of this process is developing the script particular to your program. What are the most important details to know about somebody that can help you gauge their appropriateness for potential admission? Before implementing a script (and after of course), I would also encourage you to have team exercises addressing and working through potential objections or challenges faced when speaking to your callers.
Kelsey: Speaking of potential challenges from callers, what tips do you have for ensuring the conversation stays on track?
Jacob: This has a lot to do with developing your script outline. What sorts of things do you need to know during the first call to determine if the person is a good fit for your program? Keep in mind the order in which these questions are asked. The order of your questions can also help build rapport. For example, some call handlers make the mistake of asking a caller if they have insurance right away. This should be avoided since it will make the caller feel as if that’s all you care about.
When a caller is getting off topic, it should be a habit to redirect them back to the script by saying something like “I know this is all very important information, but in order to understand how I can best help you I need to ask you a few crucial questions. It will only take 2 minutes.”
Kelsey: You mentioned that asking about insurance right away is a mistake. Can you expand on that and provide a few other examples of common mistakes call handlers should avoid?
Jacob: Of course – showing too much interest in insurance or money in the beginning of the phone call is definitely a mistake. I understand that it’s something the admissions person needs to know, but in my opinion there are other important questions that can be asked first during such a sensitive call. It’s helpful to put yourself in their shoes.
Another common mistake I come across is when the admissions person argues with the caller during the first call. Don’t argue about anything during the first call. The point of the first call is to plant seeds for treatment and gather background information needed to overcome potential objections. Once you know they are qualified for your program, you can focus on overcoming objections later based on the information you have collected on the first call.
Kelsey: Alright got it – the first call is all about the basics. So let’s say we’ve nailed the intake call using your tips – how do we make sure the caller will answer our follow up call?
Jacob: The best way to go about this is for the admissions person to remind the caller what comes next in the process, step by step. It’s important for the caller to know next steps because you want them to be on the same page as you and know that he or she is your priority. I’ve even found it helpful sometimes to give them a task to work on during the time the insurance is being verified. This task could be calling their loved one or support system to fill them in on where they are at with finding help.
Kelsey: I love the idea of giving the caller a task during the verification process! Very smart. So now it’s time for the follow up call – do you have a script in place for the second call?
Jacob: I don’t think it’s necessary to create a script for the follow up calls. However, taking information from the first call into the follow up call will definitely be an important element in admitting the person to your program. For instance, if the caller is using heroin and is only looking for outpatient because they are fearful of losing their job of 15 years, how will you encourage them to agree to your recommended 30 day inpatient program? In this case, a little bit of education on the Family and Medical Leave Act while speaking from the heart can really help the person make a much better decision.
Kelsey: How else do you utilize information from the initial call to encourage admission?
Jacob: If you find that the caller is potentially qualified for admission to your program during the first call, it’s super helpful to find out what motivated them to reach out for help. What do they care about? Who are they doing this for? What are their fears? Based on this information, you’ll have a better idea of potential objections or challenges you might face during the follow-up. You can look at the answers as “ammunition”, in a sense. Overall though, I’d say don’t focus on turning the caller into an admission. Instead, focus on caring about who the caller is and how you can help them get their life back on track.