Ms Joanne Sim, Senior Patient Service Associate Executive in the National Cancer Centre Singapore’s Call Centre, shares what it takes to work in the fast-paced call centre.
1. What made you join the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) Call Centre?
In 2002, two years after NCCS opened, a few of us working in Singapore General Hospital were asked whether we were interested to transfer to NCCS. I didn’t hesitate to make the change. I initially worked in the NCCS Executive Office performing administrative duties. Then, I worked at the front-desk at the Specialist Outpatient Clinics and even managed payments in the laboratory. It was an all-round training, which gave me insights into how NCCS works. So when the job at the Call Centre came up, I felt it would be a good fit for me. I applied to join the team and the rest as they say is history!
2. How have the daily responsibilities of the Call Centre team changed over the years?
In the early days, the NCCS team was relatively small and there weren’t as many staff and doctors as we have today. We just had to help patients make or reschedule their appointments, and liaise with doctors before making changes.
A walk down memory lane: Ms Joanne Sim (second from left) and the Call Centre team at the National Cancer Centre Singapore’s Dinner and Dance 16 years ago.
NCCS has grown. We have many more departments and divisions to liaise with. We regularly correspond with other hospitals over direct message or calls to get background on patients who are referred from other healthcare providers. Email enquiries have also become increasingly complex, so we have split into two teams - one that focuses on enquiries from the general public and internal departments or divisions, while the other team handles all appointment related calls, emails and faxes from patients and other healthcare providers.
3. Any unique challenges you’ve faced?
Requests have become more complicated since the COVID-19 pandemic began. We had one patient serving a 14-day stay-home notice (SHN) period at a dedicated facility and was scheduled for an injection at NCCS at the end of the 14 days. Unfortunately, the SHN period was extended to 21 days, and the patient was unsure about what to do. When the patient called us, we understood they needed assurances from their treating oncologist. We arranged the call, which helped reassure the patient that rescheduling the injection to be administered after 21 days would not have any adverse effects. We’ve noticed that the pandemic has presented added anxieties for some of our patients.
4. What kind of training do Call Centre staff go through?
The training that our staff get when they first join the Call Centre is invaluable. We orientate them so they know how NCCS is structured and the different departments and divisions, and understand the services we offer. There are cancer subspecialties that we have to be aware of so that if a memo comes in from another hospital, we know how to read it and assign the correct speciality to schedule an appointment. Staff are also given on-the-job customer service training to improve their communication skills. They listen in on calls and learn to understand patients’ requests and address their needs. Sometimes patients are unable to express themselves well, so we need to summarise and repeat what they’ve said for confirmation. Each week we test our staff on their knowledge of NCCS, medical terminology and we also review patient cases. We constantly ask ourselves, how we can show empathy to our patients who call?
No matter how busy we get, we try to empathise with patients when they call us. We know they are anxious and are calling us when they are feeling vulnerable. We have to listen carefully, without jumping to conclusions, so that we can render the help they need.
5. What do you think it takes to be part of the Call Centre team?
Teamwork is the most important thing in the Call Centre. Calls come in constantly between 8:30 am to 5:30 pm Mondays to Fridays, and 8:30 am to 11:30 am on Saturdays. We try to make sure no calls get dropped and answer all of them. We need to have enough call agents with both English and Mandarin speaking ability on duty on all shifts. With more patients using email to reach us these days, we also have to assign enough people to reply. If there is an instance where a call agent has to attend to a particularly complicated request, or there are more emails than usual, we step up to cover each other. Put simply, without teamwork and understanding, we would not be able to do our jobs effectively.
Ms Joanne Sim (far left) and the National Cancer Centre Singapore’s Call Centre team today, ready to provide assistance to patients.
6. Would you recommend this line of work?
It’s a very satisfying when we know we’ve helped patients access the care they need. Anyone who enjoys interacting with people, is patient and has empathy will really enjoy this work. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this line of work to anyone who is interested!
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