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A Clinical, Educational and Proactive Approach to Customer Service

by Jonathan McDevitt, VP of Customer Operations

In honor of Customer Service Week, we’re pulling back the curtain on one of athenahealth’s unsung hero departments, the Client Support Center, or CSC. The CSC is made up of over 240 athenistas (athenahealth employees) in our Belfast, Maine office. This hale and hearty crew is available Monday through Friday, 7:30am – 9:00pm ET, rain, shine, sleet or snowstorm — this is Maine after all.

Here at the CSC, we receive roughly 3,000 calls a day from our client practices on topics ranging from password resets, to building accounts receivable aging reports, to clinical template changes. Here’s how we approach this responsibility and our idea of customer service.

Every day in the CSC we get the chance to demonstrate to our clients that we are present, attentive and knowledgeable, precisely in their moment of need as an athenahealth network user. At the core, we focus first on being teachers and learners, a topic that Jonathan Bush, our CEO, touched on in a recent article. In many parts of the company, teaching and learning is seen in our technology, our design, and our process. In the CSC, teaching and learning manifests itself not in a revised process, an automated workflow, or a beautiful user experience, but rather in the conversations that we have with our clients. We teach them what we know, and we learn from them as well. Most important, our CSC athenistas are there for every caller with an expert voice, ready to learn the details of their issue, and to teach them how to solve a problem or improve. In 2012 the CSC fielded over 600,000 calls, spending more than 165,000 hours talking to clients, using our cloud-based network (athenaNet) exactly as the client does.

Because we’re sharing a single instance of our software online, in the cloud, we can see what our clients see, and we can do what they do. We have unique situational awareness that allows us to understand what is going on with the user and the practice—just as the network allows the caregiver to see what is going on with a patient.

The CSC is sort of the canary in the coal mine at athenahealth, often spotting trends before a significant problem emerges. If we listen well, on every call we have the opportunity to identify preventable errors and avoidable negative trends, and can proactively learn how both we and our clients can do better.

We build further trust with our clients simply by being responsive. More than 80% of the time, we answer the phone in 50 seconds or less and resolve inquiries in an average of 15 minutes. It would be faster and easier to quickly resolve a problem on our own and move on the next call, but that is not who we are. Our motivations and goals are centered on providing the most appropriate resolution.

For those questions that can’t be resolved in one phone call, our internal partners stand at the ready with a higher level of specific knowledge. The CSC has formal liaison programs with most operational and technical groups, forming tight connections that make us better every day. Through this highly collaborative approach, we solve problems together.

2013 has been a transformative year for the 240 athenistas of the Client Support Center, as we have taken steps to better harness our technology and knowledge through initiatives such as Click to Call, which allows us to know exactly who is calling and what page they are on in athenaNet before we pick up the phone. We have big plans for 2014, and look forward to more proactivity, better technology to increase resolution rates, and more creative ways to leverage the tremendous asset that is our athenahealth knowledge.

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