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Call operators assist Veterans as “Voice of the VA

Charleston VAMC’s dedicated call operators often serve as a Veteran’s friendly first contact with VA. Photo by James Arrowood.
Charleston VAMC’s dedicated call operators often serve as a Veteran’s friendly first contact with VA. Photo by James Arrowood.

Answering the phone with a smile, listening to a Veteran’s need and accurately transferring that caller to the appropriate office may seem like a simple task but try completing that action upwards of 500 times during a bustling day shift at Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center.

The facility’s 10 call operators serve as the “Voice of the VA,” providing 24/7 service to more than 40,000 callers each month as they contact the VAMC for information or assistance. Collectively, the operators answer an average of 1,700 calls per day, Monday through Friday, and nearly 300 calls on weekends, with an average speed to answer of just six seconds and an average talk time of 27 seconds. More amazingly, the average time a caller spends on hold when calling Charleston VAMC is just 14 seconds.

“Our call operators are the first people the Veteran hears when they contact us,” said Health Administration Service (HAS) Chief Jeffrey Vollum. “Their interaction with the Veteran sets the tone for their entire experience here and they provide a very important service for our patients.”

The call operator team covers three shifts to provide non-stop daily service and one operator is also always available on weekends.

Call Operator Britton Turner, an Army Veteran, came to work for VA to give back to his fellow Veterans. He works the overnight shift while he completes his degree at The Citadel during the day.

“I really see us as the first line of defense,” Turner said of himself and his fellow call operators. “We have the power to intervene on issues and make sure the Veterans get the help they need the first time without being transferred to the wrong person multiple times.”

 In addition to accurately assisting callers, the operators are also responsible for managing and broadcasting routine and emergency overhead announcements throughout the hospital. Recently, a collaboration with HAS, Information Technology and Quality Management, implemented unique tones for each type of announcement to avoid confusion. Routine announcements have a four-tone intro while emergency rapid response calls are now identified by a doorbell tone and a “rapid response” voice recording.

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