Mississippi State Department of Health – Vaccine Scheduling Call Center Program
Helping the State of Mississippi schedule COVID-19 vaccinations made an impact on both ends of the line.
When the time came to get Mississippians scheduled for their COVID-19 vaccinations, the communication, appointment management, and gaps in the familiarity with and availability of the technology required for the program to run smoothly were too much for the state’s online scheduler to handle.
iostudio met a Thursday afternoon problem with a Friday morning solution. With best practices and insights gained from two decades of creating and managing contact centers—most recently an emergency call center for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency—iostudio had reps answering calls the next morning.
At first, many of the voices operators heard were frustrated. But hold times and abandonment rates continued to decrease, and scheduling an appointment became easier. Operators focused on listening—rather than completing the call—and had meaningful, gratifying experiences as they helped Mississippians fight the pandemic, stay safe and, in some cases, plan to see loved ones for the first time in a year.
We scheduled a total of 48,949 appointments, an average of 464 per day for the entire contract.
The MSDH project was truly an opportunity to utilize our expertise and make an impact.
If you had a solid internet connection and an email address, were familiar with filling out and submitting online forms, and were completely sure you wouldn’t have to cancel or reschedule, you’d have been all set with Mississippi’s online scheduler. However, everyone’s access to technology isn’t the same. According to Mississippi State University, 54 percent of Mississippians live in rural areas (versus 18 percent of Americans as a whole)—and that affects both their access to the internet and their access to vaccination sites.
Additionally, eligibility started with Mississippians who were 75 or older. While there were certainly many internet- and computer-savvy individuals in that group, there were also people who’d never had an email address and wanted to schedule their appointments over the phone.
The contact center grew from 25 individuals guiding callers through the website to 80 operators who specialized in providing certain types of solutions, such as answering frequently asked questions, canceling and changing appointments, or handling what became known as vaccine tourism.
Calls handled for entire contract
Peak average incoming calls a day
Average abandon rate for the entire contract
How We Did It
Inbound Call Center
By the first morning, the MSDH vaccine scheduling call center had to have trained operators, and the operators had to have a phone system and a script. From there, iostudio set up skills (what the operators were able to accomplish for callers) and dispositions (ways to categorize the purpose or result of each call). Operators, management and IT support also had comms that allowed them to interact during the day as needed. And, of course, reporting tracked calls so we could evaluate the effectiveness of the plans in place.
The customer relationship management platform grew with the program. It eventually included the operators’ script and a knowledgebase that held maps and other Mississippi and vaccine-related information. It also allowed the operators to input caller information and then send that data to MSDH.
An IVR, or interactive voice response system, is the helpful feature that tells you which number to press. As caller needs became more complex, so did the IVR. Some questions had to be routed to the MSDH office, and the IVR took care of that too. The expanded IVR had the capability to ingest information from callers to get them the information or resolution they needed more quickly and to inform the logistics supply chain of demand for vaccines by location—reducing waste and optimizing efficiency for each site and the state as a whole.
Staffing and Training
As the call center’s capabilities increased, the training procedures for operators grew more detailed. While coordinating staffing, iostudio focused on hiring representatives who were comfortable with working with the CRM and prepared to focus on meeting caller needs. Call length was not a concern. Kindness came first.
Decreased Wait Times and Abandonment Rates
Some days, inbound call counts reached 20,000. It soon became clear that keeping callers on the line wasn’t the answer. A call-back function allowed them to keep their place in the queue without hanging on the line. As soon as an operator was available, their phone would dial the next person waiting for a call back.
Detailed Daily Reporting
iostudio’s responsibility was handling calls. Our Analytics department tracked anything it might be helpful to know about the thousands of calls our operators answered each day, from speed of answer to the ever-decreasing wait time. Interpreting that data helped the MSDH/iostudio partnership optimize call center operations and get more people set up with appointments that worked for them.
Talk about gratifying work that really made a difference.
Our phone system wasn’t simply connecting a constituent with an operator. Frequently, it was connecting two people who were relieved to reach each other. Some of these callers had been waiting hours or days to manage their appointments—they’d certainly all been waiting months to be able to make one. The relief was audible.
The vaccine scheduling call center had started small and expanded quickly, but the caller’s experience was the single most important factor. UX was considered at every juncture. Do you have a unique challenge in front of you? Let’s talk. We can find the custom solution together.