Case Study: AI Phone Automation (Syllable)


The Challenge

Prior to the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine being available, Houston Methodist knew they were going to have significant challenges in managing a perceived tsunami of phone calls from patients and the general public. With predictions of increased volume reaching 300-400%, Houston Methodist leadership needed a solution that would manage the flood of vaccine-related phone calls without impacting usual operations. Expanding head count in existing call centers could not be achieved in a reasonable amount of time and was financially prohibitive. Outsourcing to external contract call centers risked losing control of the patient experience and was also financially challenging. 

The Solution

Houston Methodist needed a solution that accomplished the following:

  • Dynamically scales to accommodate large changes in call volume without impacting usual operations
  • Improves the patient experience
  • Automates the delivery of information and scheduling of appointments as much as possible
  • Is fiscally prudent

Houston Methodist partnered with Syllable to create and deploy a phone-based vaccine delivery system powered by a conversational, artificially intelligent voice assistant. The intelligent solution helps patients seeking answers to their COVID-19 vaccine-related questions, initiates self-service scheduling workflows and can connect patients with a live agent or nurse when appropriate. 

The Implementation

Houston Methodist created a COVID-19 Vaccine Hotline for patients and the general public to streamline processes and eliminate confusion. They also adjusted the initial greeting for all hospital operators to enable patients to identify upfront as having COVID-19 vaccine questions, so they could be funneled immediately to the single point of contact. This insured that all COVID-19 related phone calls were directed away from front-line contact centers and preserved operational integrity for non-COVID related inquiries. 

Overall, Houston Methodist ranked #1 in the state of Texas in vaccine delivery, providing more vaccines than any other hospital system in the state of Texas, and helped Texas become one of the leading states in the nation for overall vaccine delivery. Texas Governor Greg Abbott visited Houston in early January 2021 to discuss healthcare policies in Texas and met with medical experts, all taking place at Houston Methodist Hospital.

The Results

Houston Methodist launched its solution at the start of Phase 1B of vaccine distribution. They experienced the following call volume, success metrics, and state rankings in the first month of the program (January 1st-February 1st, 2021):

  • Over 9,000 calls per weekday and 4,600 calls per weekend on average (Over 200,000 since launch)
  • 14,583 calls on a single day
  • 91% automation rate across all patient intents
  • Houston Methodist delivered over 4,000 vaccines per day across their health system

Improved Conversion:
Houston Methodist patients were presented with actionable information enabling them to make quick and informed decisions.

  • 75% of patients were able to check their vaccine eligibility and either schedule their 1st or 2nd dose appointment or “get in line” to be contacted when they become eligible in future phases of delivery
  • 9% of patients were able to source FAQs which allowed them to confirm their eligibility or learn about the efficacy and safety of their vaccine options

Increased Capacity: 
Houston Methodist was able to manage fluctuations in vaccine related call volume across the organization. 

  • 9,000+ calls per day, and as many as 3,500 calls per hour during peak time periods
  • Eliminated call abandonment by answering 100% of calls on the first ring 24-7
  • Existing agents and nurses were able to spend more time with vulnerable populations who needed help with the scheduling process as a whole because 91% of calls were resolved through the voice assistant

Cost Reduction:
Houston Methodist realized the following cost savings when compared to traditional call center models.

  • Labor costs: Houston was able to reduce their reliance on temporary staffing to manage 7,500 vaccine related calls per day average, with a peak of 14,583 in a single day, and 3,500 per hour. 
  • Hardware and seat license: By reducing the need to staff up to meet increased fluctuating volume, Houston Methodist did not have to buy additional telephony hardware or increase seat licenses with expensive telephony software vendors

What’s Next?

Houston Methodist will continue to partner with Syllable on additional use cases with their AI voice assistant to expand across the hospital system in order to help manage call center volumes and best respond to patient incoming requests.