Mayo Laboratory Inquiry: Providing clients with quality service in the name of the patient


When a client calls Mayo Clinic Laboratories with an inquiry, that call is typically picked up within 20 seconds by an agent from Mayo Laboratory Inquiry (MLI). There are no phone trees or automated menus to wade through before they reach an agent. Agents mind the phones 24/7, 365 days a year.

Mayo Laboratory Inquiry representatives are highly trained to address each client’s questions, including those that are asked most often, such as, “How much tissue or fluid (e.g., blood or urine) needs to be obtained from the patient for optimal testing? How do I best prepare a specimen for shipping to Mayo Clinic Laboratories? What test(s) should be ordered for a patient?" Representatives also can give clarification about test results and address other client concerns.

Lisa Brown, quality specialist for Mayo Clinic Laboratories Customer Service, has been instrumental in raising the bar at Mayo Laboratory Inquiry when it comes to agent/client relations.

“My role allows us the opportunity to better identify trends, and identify processes that can be improved on,” says Brown. “This also includes my colleague (Kathryn) Kat Lewis, who is involved in training our agents and working with them if there are questions or issues we can address to enhance their performance. And it’s an opportunity for Kat and our other training lead to see which agents need mentoring, follow-up training, or clarification, so we can really provide the customer with the most accurate and appropriate information for those calls. If an agent is struggling with the process, it affects the testing, the patient care, and other processes downstream.”

The practice of connecting a live agent to incoming client calls has always been in place at Mayo Clinic Inquiry in order to provide timely, personalized, and expert answers to complex medical questions. This level of service dovetails into a higher purpose.  

As a global leader in diagnostic testing with over 60 specialty labs within the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology (DLMP), Mayo Clinic Laboratories represents a critical connection between testing innovation and application to comprehensive patient care. Not only does Mayo Clinic Laboratories relentlessly innovate in-house on behalf of patients, the labs also engage in groundbreaking collaborations with other organizations aimed at discovering more individualized, effective treatments for millions of people. By addressing lab-related calls from clients, Mayo Laboratory Inquiry is vital in this effort.

Analyzing trends to improve client experience

When Brown came to Mayo Laboratory Inquiry to fill the new role of quality specialist, she brought her expertise for analyzing data and using it to amplify quality. “Prior data reports were bulky, time consuming, and difficult to analyze,” she explains. “So I used my prior experience to create dashboards with data visualizations and worked with other groups to make our data more accessible and easily interpreted. By giving our group access, we can now demonstrate data in more helpful ways than data tables. We can create visualizations that provide more transparency to our performance.”

By using more visual data, the group can, for example, break out some call volumes by time and see if more staffing might be needed to help improve the service level for customers. Or maybe more staffing is needed in a specific area because the agents’ “handle time” is extended due to the complexity of the customers’ inquiries. By creating more dashboards, Brown enables the group leaders to set thresholds and goals and conduct root-cause analysis when staffing adjustments are needed.

Lewis, a lead client solutions tech with Mayo Laboratory Inquiry, says this data “is really helpful to see if there are any trends we need to target for improvement. If there’s a trend with more than one agent, maybe we need to go back to the drawing board on how we're training them, or maybe we need to improve our overall process. We now have a better way to track any issues or trends that might need addressing.”

In response to such trends, Lewis will create learning modules for staff that offer alternative, more positive and confident ways for agents address a client’s needs. Lewis can also listen in on calls and offer suggestions in real time to an agent or decide if the agent might benefit from additional training.      

Detectives at the ready

Although there are bound to be factors outside of the group’s control Mayo Laboratory Inquiry staff are well prepared for such events.

“When we have issues such as delays, we receive a notification, and at that point, it’s all hands on deck for my team,” says Mikaela Mitchell, senior manager of Operations supporting Mayo Laboratory Inquiry. “We ascertain if the delayed specimens can still be processed without compromising integrity. And the ones that we’re not able to test, that's where we jump in, and we start making those calls to clients and asking if there’s additional samples (from the same patient) to be sent, or if we can offer alternate testing, et cetera. I would say we’re like detectives.”

Bringing in the clinical experts

Calls regularly come in from hospital labs, small clinics, and sometimes a physician who is wondering which test to order before a specimen is collected, or how to interpret a test result they have received to best guide their patient’s care. Such calls require very specific answers.  

“Many of our callers think we're just one lab and they can just talk to somebody, but Mayo Clinic Laboratories is a huge operation,” says Lewis. “So determining which one of our many labs we need to connect them with can be quite a task for our staff.”    

Further, an agent is trained to know whether a client should be connected to management from a specific lab or to a consultant, like Elitza Theel, Ph.D., who directs Mayo’s Infectious Diseases Serology Laboratory. Her lab handles a large volume of specimens that come through Mayo Clinic Laboratories. Hence, the majority of questions she receives are from clients asking about test results.  

“Mayo Laboratory Inquiry agents are able to determine when the client’s question is a consultant-level issue,” says Dr. Theel. “That's something that I really appreciate about this group. They have a really good sense of what the question is, what the issue is, and who the best individual to contact is to resolve that issue.

“I also appreciate how calm and respectful they are, especially when you have a client that might be anxious or frustrated with a test result. So when an agent calls me, they always nicely outline the situation, provide the results that the client is concerned about, and then ask if I would be willing to speak with them. And of course, I’m happy to, because our overreaching goal, always, is to provide really good patient care.”

After connecting the consultant to a client, the agent will typically stay on the line to help resolve an issue or get an answer to whatever question may come up. In short, agents are able to handle any call that comes in.

Dr. Theel continues: “They might get an infectious disease call, then the next call might be about some endocrine issue, and they're able to quickly navigate the system and figure out who the right person is to call in each scenario. That skill is quite amazing to me. Again, it goes to show how much knowledge they have about the testing and the laboratories. Because there are some complicated algorithms out there for some of the diseases we test for throughout the department, and they are pretty nimble at being able to lay out the question or issue succinctly and clearly most of the time. That's really beneficial, because then, I don't need to go in and dig through the laboratory information system. I can kind of dive right into the resolution.”

Armed to the gills with resources

On top of their extensive training, Mayo Laboratory Inquiry agents have a plethora of tools and team support at their disposal. So even if an agent doesn’t have an immediate answer to a client’s question, they know where to find it.

“We have great resources in our test catalog as well as lead line support,” says Lewis. “I'm one of the leads, and we have a line that our agents can call and ask questions and draw on the expertise of people that have been in the job longer and are in a leadership role. If an agent has a quick question, we have a chat available and can really pool all our knowledge and resources together and teach our agents how to use those resources.”

Mayo Laboratory Inquiry’s policy of always connecting a client to a human being isn’t merely to provide the best customer service; it comes down to providing the best care for the patient.

Brown sums it up this way: “We pride ourselves on being able to provide each client an answer with confidence. That way, they're able to collect the correct specimen and be confident in what they're sending to us. They can rest easy that they're going to get the right results and the answers they need for the patients.”  

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Chris Bahnsen

Chris J. Bahnsen covers emerging research and discovery for Mayo Clinic Laboratories. His writing has also appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Smithsonian Air & Space. He divides his time between Southern California and Northwest Ohio.