Can you recall a story that took you on an emotional roller coaster ride and ended with an essential motto or lesson? Over the past decade of providing call center coaching and training, my observation has been that trainees will recall a story I’ve told or an example provided in a story format versus any slide-based PowerPoint presentation. In fact, cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner suggests that we are 22 times more likely to remember a fact when it comes in a story format.
As a trainer, I always try to impress on my class the need for active learning when it comes to new information versus the attitude that “I’ll eventually get it,” or “I’ll ask my neighbor how to do it when the need arises.”
A Story Can Provide the “Why” Behind the Training Need
I can recollect an example from a couple years ago when I found it difficult to engage trainees in the learning process for looking up a caller’s medical procedure code coverage using our internal system.
First, I broke down the steps into digestible segments for the trainees, such as first navigating to the page, searching for the procedure and navigating to the business rules. But as soon as the rules showed up, it was like reading source code. It was brain overload.
I then spent time breaking down each rule procedure code by segment, such as the member’s benefit plan, accompanying modifiers, emergency codes, etc.
The majority of the class gave up.
I knew I had to find a way to engage the class and motivate them to learn this process, so I added a story before showing them how to look up a procedure code.
This is the story I now tell my classes before I get into the process of searching for a procedure code: My friend was handling a call and came to a point where she was stuck. Her caller wanted to know if a specific procedure code was covered. Usually, the agent would ask her questions in the call center’s chat channel, but being late in the day, there was no one available to assist her, except for me.
I turned my chair to face the agent’s desk and first directed her through the steps of navigating to the page, searching for the code, and then going to the rules page. At this point, we spent time breaking the procedure code into segments and assisting the caller with the code lookup.
I’ve noticed that using this simple story to inform trainees that a procedure code lookup is a common call inquiry encourages them to put in the additional effort to learn this process. The classes now ask me for more procedure codes to gain more practice.
“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world.” —Robert McKee, business storytelling consultant
After introducing a topic, I often enjoy telling a short story that follows a problem-and-solution format. For instance, the importance of a prior authorization (PA) matching up with the medical claim. Here, I give the example of how I helped an agent identify the reason for a claim’s denial: First, I look at why the claim was denied. It says, “PA not on PA Masterfile.” At this moment, I am developing an understanding of where I need to navigate in the system. I ask the agent to go into the PA system and look up PAs for the member, date range and procedure code. Three lines of approved PAs show up. They look fine on our initial glance—the procedure codes and modifiers match up and are within the date range of the claim.
After placing the claim and PAs side-by-side, I noticed that the claim was billed with a date range from the first of the month to the end of the month. The PA was approved in three date segments, the first segment ranging from the 1st to the 14th, next from the 15th to the 21st, and last from the 22nd to the 30th. We found our solution: The provider had to submit the claim to match those date segments.
A few days later, the provider called back and was able to connect to the same agent again. She thanked the agent for the insight and let us know that the claim went through.
Creating Impactful Stories
Here are a few tips that have helped me create stories to provide impactful learning:
- Create a story repository. When you help an agent find a solution, hear stories from the floor, or even create stories that explain a concept, write these down, or put them in an Excel spreadsheet and organize them by topic.
- Timing is crucial. Use a story after, before or even while discussing a point with the class. You don’t want to tell a story about the importance of empathy while discussing how a member’s other insurance can impact a claim’s pricing.
- Problem and solution. Some stories help explain a topic, but those that make a more significant impact start with a problem and later reveal the solution.
- Happy ending optional. We all enjoy a happy ending, but not all my stories end that way. One of my stories is about an agent who wasn’t paying attention to the caller and kept switching the caller’s son to the wrong health plan and even corrected the plan selection agent. The agent still placed his son with the wrong plan. After reviewing the call, I ended up calling the member and making the correct selection for him.
I’ve observed, trainees will remember the stories you tell them. It seems to add value to the topic or point you need to convey. Further, telling stories relevant to your topic keeps trainees engaged, especially for those long, boring presentations where instructions need to be given before you can move to the hands-on part.