Fewer CIS Results in Greater Impact

A Review of the American Cancer Society’s National Cancer Information Center and it’s recent restructuring efforts.

The American Cancer Society’s (ACS) National Cancer Information Center (NCIC) began taking calls from the public January 1997 as a nationwide cancer help line offering compassionate assistance and support for anyone affected by cancer.  Although similar services were in existence at the time, ACS’s service was and still is the only nationwide cancer information service available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week assisting patient or caregiver concerns throughout the cancer journey.

The help line was staffed initially with ten Cancer Information Specialists (CIS) and one Oncology Nurse.  To meet increased demand over the years, staffing grew to more than four hundred specialists.  CIS completed extensive training to become familiar with cancer information, patient programs and services and community resources.  Delivering accurate cancer information has always been a significant focus at NCIC. From the very beginning CIS calls were focused on delivering general cancer information to patients, caregivers, family members and the public.  Today, services are provided via phone or online chat in English, Spanish, and more than 200 other languages through a translation service.  NCIC staff also help support Society fundraising efforts, volunteer requests and various social media tools.

Because of the shifting and multifaceted needs of our cancer patients, NCIC embarked on the development of a new operating structure in 2016. Cancer information delivery continued to be a core service at NCIC, however internal numbers showed only approximately 20% of all CIS calls were constituents seeking only cancer information. The clear majority of calls received were calls for our patient programs and other related services.  To provide information seekers a more tailored experience to their specific requirements, strategic leadership was tasked to improve in several areas at NCIC.  Transformational goals were developed including: improving constituent experience, more engaged cancer conversations, the ability to serve more patients and the most efficient use of staff expertise and resources. The new structure resulted in dedicated teams that specifically handle cancer information, programs & resources, patient services, fundraising and volunteer support.

NCIC’s new operating model was developed in part to enhance NCIC’s customer experience and to reduce operating costs.   We were especially interested to assess the success of the dedicated cancer information team as compared to our previous operating structure. In the previous model, 172 CIS provided cancer information along with answering every other call type ACS received to the Help Line.   In the new model, only 40 dedicated CIS provide cancer information allowing them to focus on providing the highest level of service to their customers.

NCIC’s overall customer experience score (CXI) had been strong in past studies, and still rose from 85 to 87 in the 2016 survey following the introduction of our new operating model.   Significant increases were also seen in constituents seeking information about cancer, treatment, coping and prevention. CXI scores rose from 83 in 2015 survey to 87 in 2016.  In fact, the information provided by CIS has been very well received. Most respondents in the 2016 survey indicate that it increased their knowledge about cancer and made them more confident talking to their doctors and making decision about their cancer care. Of note NCIC specialists scored higher in understanding the constituent needs and communicating solutions to those needs in a clear and concise manner.   2017 YTD numbers continue to remain strong.

Click here for the full ACS 2016 Customer Experience Survey results.

Submitted by:  Agnes Beasley, Director, Cancer Information Delivery; American Cancer Society