Interview: managing COVID-19 vaccination appointments in France and Czech Republic: challenges and solutions

Much of the current media discussion around COVID-19 vaccination focuses on vaccine approvals and supply. But there’s another major issue facing countries around Europe and beyond: how to manage the appointments process.

With millions of vaccine appointments to schedule, and millions of citizens impatient to be vaccinated, it’s a major logistical challenge for national and local authorities. All the more so when their resources, infrastructure, staff and finances are already stretched.

The solution is to outsource. At Comdata, we are using our experience in handling large-scale interactions with the general public to help national and local authorities in France and Czech Republic to manage their vaccination appointments processes.

We spoke to Aurélie Deysson, Key Account Director at Comdata France, and Adam Koudelka, Business Unit Director at Comdata Czech, about Comdata Group’s work on this and about other support being provided to national and local governments and health authorities during the pandemic.

Adam, can you tell us how you’re supporting the Czech authorities on vaccination appointments?

Adam: In fact, the story in Czech Republic started well before the vaccination programme. Back in March 2020, the Czech 112 emergency services phone line was being overwhelmed with calls asking for advice about COVID-19 – up to 500 calls an hour sometimes. This meant it was very difficult for people to get through for other emergencies such as fires or accidents. 

The Ministry of Health asked Comdata for assistance to manage the emergency lines, and we quickly put 60 agents on the project.

As a result of that work, we then managed the dedicated National Coronavirus Line in Czech Republic, answering people’s medical questions about COVID-19. Now we’re also handling inbound calls about vaccination and appointment registrations. 

What about in France how is Comdata Group helping with vaccination appointments?

Aurélie: In France, too, the story started before the vaccine rollout. For example, in May last year, we helped the City of Lyon to manage the appointments process for the distribution of PPE masks to the public. We mobilized 100 agents in a few days, and the City of Lyon thanked us for our flexibility.

Now in 2021. Comdata France has created a support service for vaccination centers.

Through the National Vaccination Number set up by the French Ministry of Health in January, calls are automatically routed to the vaccination centers, which manage the appointment scheduling themselves. However, they don’t always have the human or technical resources necessary to guarantee a quick response or efficient management of the appointment booking. 

That’s why we created our support service. We have shared it with all the vaccination centers, and for several weeks now, we have been working with two of them, handling the appointments for 14 French territories.

What are the particular challenges associated with providing these services?

Aurélie: One challenge is the speed of implementation required. It’s a difficult period for health authorities, so they need services delivered fast. Because we had a turnkey proposal prepared, we have been able to activate the solution very quickly – in a maximum of three days.

Our solution can readily adapt to variations in call volumes, and we have agents who are very experienced in scheduling medical appointments; this too means we can be up and running very quickly. We have 5000 working positions all over France, so we can activate these emergency solutions very fast. We also have very strong project implementation processes and short decision paths, so that too helps to deliver the speed of execution and quality required.

Adam: Aurélie is right about the speed of response required. When we first supported the Ministry of Health in March 2020, we were handling our first calls within a couple of hours of first talking to them – we started at 23:31 on a Friday evening! That was an intense weekend, and we were so proud of what our team achieved. And they in turn were proud to support the government at a critical time.

So, speed of execution has been essential to this work. Flexibility to adapt to call volumes as well. And control of costs. Is there anything else that public authorities should look for when seeking assistance with COVID-19 vaccination handling?

Adam: They need a customer management BPO that understands the public sector and how it works. It’s different from the private sector. With these vaccination appointment services, it’s important to understand the way the public sector works, and its specific challenges and culture.

It’s the same with all clients, in fact. Each sector and industry has its own individual challenges and opportunities, and you have to understand them. It’s why Comdata Group structures its services around industries and sectors. 

Aurélie: I agree. In France, Comdata is accustomed to collaborating with the French authorities on various issues such as crisis management or citizen relationships, so we know exactly what they are looking for.

And what about the people calling these services? You must need to understand their perspective too.

Aurélie: Yes, absolutely. With these vaccination appointments, we’re often talking to people who are elderly or very frightened about COVID-19. Also, it’s not just a case of people calling up and getting an appointment whenever they want one. In many cases, there may be no appointments left, so we have to ask them to call back in a week or two weeks. Or we may have to tell them an appointment has been cancelled or changed. Or they may not eligible. 

Therefore, it is absolutely crucial that our agents can listen and show empathy. They have to be patient and positive with callers who may be old, frail, stressed, frightened or angry. You need highly skilled and trained agents to do that.

It seems that in both France and Czech Republic, Comdata teams have stepped up to the challenge of COVID-19 and have learned a great deal along the way… 

Adam: For sure. We’ve all had to learn about the new normal and help our clients navigate it. And not just when working with health authorities. Another good example of something new for COVID-19 was that various public institutions in Czech Republic had to administer state loans for businesses but they didn’t have the customer care solutions to handle the large volumes of calls and emails that came in. We have helped out with that. We also helped SMEs handle the customer care transition when they moved from physical to e-commerce for the first time. 

The vaccination appointments, e-commerce migration, customer care – they’re all examples of the new challenges facing governments, health organizations, businesses and citizens during and beyond the pandemic. We’re here to support them. 


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