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Uniphore Executive Interview

Umesh Sachdev, Co-Founder and CEO, Uniphore

Call Centers Pivoting to Contact Tracing Hubs

Please provide a brief overview of the role contact centers play in contact tracing. 

The CDC has confirmed contact tracing is a key strategy to contain the spread of COVID-19 and prevent outbreaks. Because local, state and federal governments did not have a contact tracing workforce trained and ready to handle such emergencies, we find ourselves in a difficult situation. As a result, many states are turning to another option to help with contact tracing: call center workers. While contact tracing can be challenging because of the socio-political debates surrounding the practice, it is merely another application that contact centers can be optimized to handle. With trained agents ready to take and make calls, processes in place to effectively analyze and submit data received, call centers can be an incredibly effective tool for contact tracing.

Is it realistic to expect contact tracing to work? What are best practices to make sure call centers are doing their best to help with this effort?

While call centers have been helping with contact tracing, some states have run into issues. The issues include, the need for timely and immediate action. Previously, call centers were able to field caller questions and then have the ability to look into answers to resolve their issues, sometimes the next day. While not ideal, we can wait until tomorrow to find out if our auto insurance rate was lowered. However, when dealing with COVID-19, tracing is dependent on time, tracking and informing those who have come into contact with the virus immediately. Another issue comes with the dynamic nature of the information exchanged and the course of action to follow which is needed to quickly and effectively trace people, locations and interactions. Unlike standard call centers, which typically have established and approved responses based on policies, escalation paths and even exception processes, contact tracing is continuously being updated with the latest contacts/exposure, positive/negative testing status, and even the latest guidelines from the CDC/WHO. A final issue being dealt with is around ensuring the call centers meet the multiple healthcare compliance regulations in order to conduct their new role.

Some best practices to consider would be to align overall goals with the new processes.  Be sure to have a holistic lens, focusing on realistic timelines and be sure to properly train teams to handle such personal and private information. Next, be sure to explore a complete technology solution to help streamline these processes, meet compliance regulations, and establish effective protocols to handle the broad range of incoming and outgoing calls. There are currently machine learning (ML) and AI technologies in the market today that can work closely with call center representatives to provide agile, cost effective, and intelligent solutions (even that help coach agents on empathy and real-time response suggestions).  And lastly, make sure your technology supports continuous “learning”, just as your agents are expected to always learn and adapt. 

Most consumers do not answer their phone if they don’t know who is calling.  Why would they pick up this type of call?

Thankfully, most people want to avoid getting sick and so once they understand that it is a contact tracing center calling, they will likely engage. And that engagement may be self-driven, or they may need to be contacted. The key is to leverage conversational technology that continues to connect with people so they can understand if they’ve been exposed to the virus. This can be done via intelligent voice assistants, text or social outreach or it can be added on to existing calls people make to inquire with their healthcare provider or insurer.  The important thing is, organizations are not wasting expensive agent time waiting for people to pick up the phone. 

Another new reality was recently uncovered in a survey we sponsored in the early days of COVID. We found that an overwhelming majority of people preferred to speak with an agent, rather than have contact through some other digital means. This bodes well for contact tracing and the ability for humans to interact with technology to ensure people and families are kept safe. With people more willing to talk with agents, and with the support of advanced conversational service automation technology, contact tracing can help in the fight against COVID-19.