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Health Care Industry Working to Keep Up with Increased Calls

Unexpected events are guaranteed to occur in your company’s business. What do you do when more guests than invited arrive to an important company event? What about when your healthcare call center underestimated the amount of calls expected? In the summary below, writes about Independence Blue Cross’ increase in calls and what they’re doing to fix the problem:

Success is good. But too much success can leave some people grumbling.

Take Independence Blue Cross. The region’s largest health insurer anticipated enrolling 100,000 new members in Pennsylvania and through AmeriHealth New Jersey when the Affordable Care Act marketplace opened in October.

As of April 30, the company had signed up a total of 283,000 members in new plans, almost three times as many as it expected. And 89% of them have paid their premiums.

Great news, right? Well, sure, unless you are among the many people who have telephoned the company and been stranded on indefinite hold with customer service, or been unable to access the company’s website, or who didn’t receive an identification card, or were enrolled in the wrong plan.

Success to you probably feels more like incompetence.

Underestimating Call Demand

Underestimating its enrollment caused a domino effect for Independence. Difficulty getting through on the phone led to a 400% surge in e-mails that overwhelmed the website, causing a 550% increase in Facebook comments complaining about being unable to get through.

From Jan. 1 through May 2, Independence averaged 25,000 to 30,000 phone calls a day, including a peak of 40,000 calls on one day. That amounted to a 75% jump over the same four months of the previous year.

During those four months, having someone answer a call took an average of 15 to 20 minutes. Most calls are now answered in five minutes, executives said. There were some cases in those four months, Roker said, in which people were on hold for two hours. That still happens because of the length of the calls, but it’s less frequent, he said.

To help ease the backlog, Independence initially increased its phone staff by 20%. When that proved insufficient, the company added more people, eventually increasing its customer service staff to 600, a rise of 50%.

New hires go through eight weeks of classroom training followed by four weeks of taking live calls under the scrutiny of instructors. Graduates move to the call center, where they become part of a 12- to 15-member team that includes a technical adviser and a team manager.

But it isn’t just the number of calls clogging the phone lines – it’s the length.

Calls run on average 25% to 30% longer than average, Roker said, because many customers are buying insurance for the first time and aren’t familiar with the language. They need to be educated about how things work. Others are accustomed to having a human resources department handle their health care insurance issues. But, mostly, people just want to be sure they have the right coverage.

“Health care is very personal,” Roker said. “When you are talking to someone, you are talking about their fears and anxieties. What we are learning is that consumers want to talk to people.”


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