This month, Business Intelligence, an industry award group, announced that Blue Shield of California (BSC) is the recipient of this year’s Excellence in Customer Service Award. It is the first time Blue Shield has won a customer service award in its history.
BSC’s customer service team is comprised of 1,250 employees in six call centers. They are responsible for fielding roughly four million member calls annually on people’s insurance, often troubleshooting complex issues surrounding members’ care.
“Our customers are our priority, and we are dedicated to delivering exceptional service on every call,” said Vice President of Customer Service Betty Blakeman. “We are a humble, honest, and human team, and we have the mindset that every member is like family.
“Unlike retail customer service, where many transactions can be anonymous and impersonal, health care customer service must be customized, informed, and empathetic. People’s health can’t be placed on hold.”
Business Intelligence’s award comes in response to a dramatic shift in Blue Shield’s member satisfaction. In 2017, Blue Shield looked at data from more than 100,000 surveys after customer calls and decided to make some changes. Between 2018 and 2020, the company invested time and resources to improve member experiences. This resulted in a 13% increase in member satisfaction with their customer service agents, as well as over a 40% increase in member likelihood to recommend Blue Shield to others.
Blue Shield made changes in three key areas.
The first initiative was to recruit and hire customer care managers who knew how to use coaching as a tool to improve performance. “We want managers who have a passion for people and who get excited to empower our staff,” said Blakeman.
The second initiative was to revamp Blue Shield’s training. Customer service team leadership shifted from a model that involved 90% classroom training and only 10% on-the-job training to a model that offered 60% classroom training and 40% on-the-job training. Soft skills training was added for new and existing employees through interactive learning labs. These labs taught frontline agents how to acknowledge the caller’s issue, build trust, and gain the caller’s approval of the actions taken toward resolution.
The third initiative was to promote empowerment and appreciation. Managers were encouraged to hold bi-weekly one-on-ones with customer service agents to discuss customer call quality and coach them around their soft skills learned in training. Managers and agents alike were then recognized regularly for improved performance.
Not only are Blue Shield’s members happier with customer service quality improvements, but employees are too. In 2017, only 75% of customer service agents said Blue Shield was a great place to work. However, by 2020, that number shot up to 90%, with employees saying managers enabled growth and development through coaching, support, and guidance.
“The survey data is inspiring, and we’re humbled that our members view our customer service positively,” said Blakeman. “This award gives us hope that we are moving in the right direction, but it’s not the end of the story. We will always seek ways to improve our members’ experience and live up to Blue Shield’s north star to create a healthcare system that is worthy of our family and friends.”