Name: Sarah Hedayati
Web Site: http://about.me/sarahhedayati
Bio: We are advocates for providing customers the best experience possible. Impact Learning Systems is the leader in customer service skills training and consulting. Customer service is all about the positive experience you provide.
Posts by Sarah Hedayati:
- Older callers who may be ill or hard of hearing
- New entrants into the insurance market unfamiliar with insurance terminology
- Members confused by more complex benefits and changes due to health care reform
- Train your agents to have excellent product knowledge and test them occasionally to be sure that knowledge is retained.
- Provide customer service training so agents offer customer service in a consistent manner. Calls should be opened and closed the same way. Agents should learn to speak in a positive manner, telling callers what they can do, rather than what they can’t. Provide easy-to-understand instructions for agents to use in discussing enrollment and claims filing.
- Speak louder
- Speak more slowly
- Enunciate the endings of words (s, ing, d, etc.)
Did you notice an increase in call volume during your last Open Enrollment period? Most health insurance call centers did. In fact, some received such a high call volume, their IVRs couldn’t handle the load and needed to be upgraded on the spot. Based on everyone we talk to, call centers need to be prepared for an increase in call volume each year for the next few years.
Why is Call Volume Increasing?
Call centers in the health insurance industry will see an increase in call volume because of several shifts currently taking place:
Baby Boomers: Beginning on January 1, 2011, more than 10,000 baby boomers will reach the age of 65 every day through 2030. More baby boomers will contact your call center with questions about the coordination of Medicare and supplemental coverage. They may have concerns about being able to afford coverage. They may need advice about the best plan to cover their medical needs.
Health Care Reform: With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, more people will have questions about how this act will affect them. They may want to know how their coverage will change or which plan is best for their needs. They may want information on the best and most cost-effective plan.
What is the Impact of Call Volume Increasing?
The increase in call volume has the potential to increase costs, reduce customer satisfaction, and increase the number of call backs.
Increased Costs: As more calls come in, call centers need to make adjustments by hiring more agents, purchasing more equipment, and either finding more facilities, outsourcing agents, or transitioning agents to work from home.
Reduced Customer Satisfaction: With call volume going up, wait times may go up as well. Insufficiently trained call center agents won’t know how to effectively question callers to guide and control the call. Without the proper skills to get to the root of the customer’s problem or question, the number of callers in the queue will stack up.
Increased Call Backs: Call backs may increase as well due to the complexity of information. The changes that come with the Affordable Care Act will take time for agents and members to understand. If an agent doesn’t adequately answer a member’s question, the member will call back which will increase costs and stretch your resources even further.
What is the Best Way to Prepare for Call Volume Increasing?
Now that you understand why call volume is increasing and what the impact is, what can you do to prepare and respond? Training! Customer service agents need to understand products available and be trained to control the call, be patient and express empathy, and communicate in a simple and clear manner:
Control the Call: CSRs need to learn good questioning techniques. Customer service training will teach agents the difference between open and closed questions and when to use each method. Read the example below to understand the difference between open and closed questions.
Caller: I’m retiring next year and I’m also concerned about health care reform. What do these changes mean to me?
Open Question: I’m happy to help with that. What concerns do you have?
Open Questions are ones that solicit more than a “yes” or “no” or other one-word response.
Closed Question: We have a great package of benefits for you now that you’ll be retiring. Why don’t you tell me what health services you use most and I’ll let you know how our plan will work for you next year?
Closed questions are useful when you want a “yes” or “no” response or when you need specific information from a customer.
Questioning skills will help the agent hone in on what members are calling about and answer their questions in an efficient manner.
Be Patient and Express Empathy: Health insurance call centers agents need to be prepared to serve these diverse groups:
Being patient and conveying empathy for the member’s questions and concerns will help CSRs achieve customer satisfaction.
Communicate Clearly: The changes brought on by health care reform will take time for members to grasp. CSRs need to be skilled at explaining benefits in a clear and concise manner and without the use of jargon. CSRs also need to learn how to confirm that callers understand the information and explain what callers can expect next so they don’t have to call back.
Increases in call volume will take some adjustments for your call center. Plan ahead, staff your center appropriately, and train agents so you’re prepared to respond. Keep agents informed and up to date on the latest health care news so your center becomes a knowledgeable resource for its members.
First call resolution is a leading indicator of customer satisfaction, because customers want their support requests resolved immediately. First call resolution is becoming even more important, because call centers in the health insurance industry are seeing an increase in service calls as the baby boomers reach 65 and have questions about their health insurance and Medicare eligibility. Beginning on January 1, 2011, more than 10,000 baby boomers will reach the age of 65 every day through 2030. The ability to solve each customer’s issues efficiently will mean happier customers and less money spent handling repeat calls.
Managers and supervisors need to monitor the number of calls their health insurance agents close and how many of those calls get re-opened. The only way to achieve first call resolution is to meet the needs of the customer. Customers will decide whether their problems were resolved or their questions answered on the first call or not.
If you’re interested in learning more about first call resolution, take a look at some additional posts compiled below:
The health insurance industry is getting a lot of attention as call volume picks up. Baby boomers are retiring and searching for supplemental Medicare coverage, health care reform is in the air, and more members are needing assistance and support. Customer satisfaction is a key metric for health insurance companies to monitor in order to gauge which areas of their customer service are strong and which areas need improvement in order to maintain or increase their membership base.
According to statistics, businesses will increase profits by 25 to 125% by retaining an additional 5% of customers. It’s also proven that it costs ten times as much to attract new customers as it does to retain current customers.
Achieve Customer Satisfaction and Gain Loyal Customers
Companies that have achieved satisfied customers will achieve loyal customers as well. For example, imagine a member calls your center with a question about insurance coverage and an agent provides outstanding service—service that far surpasses the member’s expectation. That customer will be much more inclined to renew coverage with your company than move to a different insurance company not knowing whether they would receive the same level of service.
Provide Consistent Levels of Service
Customers tend to stay with companies that provide a consistent level of customer service even if they are not the least expensive, the most convenient, or have the most features in their products.
Resolve Issues on the First Call
Train agents to achieve first call resolution. Because of the technical nature of health insurance, this will include steps like confirming that the customer understands the benefits that the agent described and telling members what to expect in order to avoid call backs. According to an article by Rosanne D’Ausilio, when an issue is resolved on the first call, only 3% of customers are likely to go to a competitor.
New Customers Need TLC
Health insurance companies often give prospective members the most attention. Once prospects become customers, what does your company do to retain them? The sad truth is that many times companies put their best resources into the acquisition of new members, sometimes at the expense of what is needed to retain them.
Remember, loyal members are the best form of advertising. They talk to each other at work and at retirement meetings. They compare notes during open enrollment. So come up with ways to show members you appreciate their business and want them to become members for life. Read this blog post to learn more about the importance of retaining members.
Teach health insurance agents how to build rapport with members and how to show empathy. Members need to believe the agent understands their situation and is actively working to answer their question or remedy their problem.
Provide Channels for Customers to Reach You
If satisfied customers are the goal, create channels for members to communicate with you. Complaints are an essential part of customer feedback. If a customer is unhappy, you want to be aware of it so you have an opportunity to improve. It’s been shown that members who have had problems resolved quickly and professionally are more loyal to their insurance company than members who have never had a problem.
The easier you make it for customers to complain, the more likely they will be to give you a chance to save them as customers. According to the article by Rosanne D’Ausilio, 68% of customers with unresolved issues are at risk for defecting to another company.
Listen to Feedback and Act
Once you’ve given members an opportunity to voice their concerns, do something with the feedback! Customers feel validated when the companies they do business with take their suggestions seriously enough to incorporate them into their products and services. If you can’t make product changes, at least acknowledge that you received the feedback and let your staff know what you intend to do with it.
If you want more satisfied customers, listen to them and act on what they tell you whenever possible!
Customer satisfaction is a goal that benefits both you and your members. Whether the members are new or have been loyal for years, make an effort to communicate with them and let them know they’re valued and that their feedback is important to you. Happy members mean more business for you.
Employee retention has become a common topic in call centers as the economy starts to improve. According to a 2011 survey included in an article written by Calabrio, 70 percent of Generation Y contact center agents are contemplating leaving their current role when the economy improves.
In addition to agents leaving for higher paying jobs, Gen Y is motivated by better perks and benefits and more opportunities for advancement.
If you’re not already convinced your efforts need to lie in employee retention, consider this: the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employees aged 25–34 stayed on the job 3.1 years on average compared to baby boomers who stayed 10 years. Are you prepared to retain your top Gen Y talent?
Below are top strategies to get employee retention efforts rolling:
Get to Know Gen Y
Every generation has unique characteristics in the way they view the world and how they operate. Below are Gen Y characteristics to help you adjust the way you manage this group:
Gen Y Wants Frequent Communication: According to a survey of Gen Y, 35% want to communicate with their manager several times a day. The report from this survey says, “They seek managers who are willing to let them figure out their own strategies for getting the job done while at the same time being approachable and available to provide advice, assistance, and support.”
Gen Y Needs to Feel Valued: Gen Yers are just starting their careers and they want to know they have the skills to succeed and that their work matters. This generation is used to constant feedback, so they will crave it from their manager.
Gen Y Wants Mentors: Gen Y wants to learn from their managers. They want their manager to share their knowledge. Are there quick tips you can share on a weekly basis?
Employee retention takes getting to know your staff.
Appeal to Gen Y Strengths
Now that you’re a little more familiar with Gen Y, uncover strengths you can use to the company’s advantage. According to an article from Melissa Kovacevic, Gen Y employees have high integrity, the ability to prioritize and deliver results, and technical skills. How can you make the most of these strengths? What additional tasks can you assign Gen Y employees?
For example, if an employee exhibits strength in understanding the software you use in the call center, empower him or her to mentor new employees. This will reduce your work-load training new agents and make current agents feel like valued members of the company.
Create a Flexible Work Environment
The work environment is extremely important to the morale and productivity of employees. What factors can you adjust to help Gen Y to be successful? According to the survey of Gen Y, “Workplace factors that are most important to Gen Y are working with a manager they respect and people that they enjoy, and striking a balance between personal and work obligations.”
Understanding these aspects is the first step. The next step is to see what you can do to help employees create their ideal work environment. Encourage employees to get to know each other. Try pairing two employees to take a lunch break at the same time. This may be an opportunity to start a mentorship program.
Offer Company Perks
Many perks come at a minimal cost to a company, but speak volumes to employees. What kind of perks would appeal to your Gen Y staff?
“Employee of the Month” – Gen Y likes to feel appreciated as mentioned in the “Get to Know Gen Y” section above. Start an “employee of the month” program to spotlight top performers.
Tuition Reimbursement – Gen Y looks for opportunities to grow and advance their skills. Inform employees about training opportunities or tuition reimbursement programs. Employees will feel you are invested in them and they will learn new skills to apply to their jobs.
Working Lunches –Offer a free lunch once a month or once a quarter, whatever is feasible for your company. This gives employees an opportunity to socialize and get to know their co-workers (an attribute that contributes to an ideal Gen Y work environment).
If you’re uncertain these perks would appeal to Gen Y, offer an anonymous survey! Give employees an opportunity to tell you what perks they want to see offered.
Employee retention is an initiative to start immediately. Your staff wants to feel comfortable in their work environment and you want them to stay, so make adjustments now to keep your staff engaged. If you’re interested in learning more about employee retention, download this free white paper on Best Practices for Reducing Employee Turnover.
As a large portion of the baby boomer population prepares to retire, call centers in the insurance industry will field more calls from older customers. To help agents successfully serve this base of customers, they need to learn skills and specific tactics to help them succeed. Use the following five tips to coach your employees in how to successfully serve older members when they call about their insurance:
Tip #1: Speak Clearly and Enunciate
When helping older callers, agents may notice that a member has difficulty hearing and understanding what the agent says. Employees need to keep in mind that even someone with perfect hearing can have trouble understanding what the person on the other end of the line is saying. As insurance representatives handle more calls from older customers, they need to keep the following in mind:
An appropriate volume may differ from customer to customer. Let employees know it’s perfectly appropriate to ask the caller, “Can you hear me ok?” It’s better to ask for clarification than assume the member understands everything that’s being said.
Tip #2: Set Expectations for the Call
When customers call an insurance company, they need to have account information and personal identification numbers handy. To help older members through the process of the call, coach employees to set expectations. For example, at the beginning of the call, agents should let the customer know what information they will need and what they will be able to accomplish during the conversation. If an employee is not authorized to handle some aspect of the member’s request, he or she needs to inform the member up front. If members understand what information they need to have accessible and what they can expect to get out of the call, agents can reduce confusion and complications. This will both reduce call length and increase member satisfaction.
Tip #3: Be Patient and Guide the Call
Another difference insurance representatives may find while dealing with older callers is their speed at processing information and responding to questions. Members may have trouble articulating why they are calling or have trouble remembering where their account information is stored. If this happens, the agent needs to be patient and empathize. The agent needs to assist members by asking questions to guide the conversation and help them process what is being asked of them.
Agents need to be especially cautious of assuming they know what the caller needs. When a member is slow to respond or can’t articulate why he or she is calling, it’s easy for a representative to rush through the call, assuming they know how to solve the customer’s problem. This is not the correct approach, because the customer will call back and end up wasting more time than if the agent took time to understand the caller’s issue in the first place.
Tip #4: Control the Call
Controlling the call is an extremely important skill for serving older insurance customers. While the representative needs to be polite and let the client share information to help them uncover needs, it’s important to keep members focused on the reason for the call. If callers stray off topic, coach insurance representatives to listen for appropriate times to cut into the conversation.
Tip #5: Clarify Understanding
The final tip is to always clarify the agent and the customer have the same understanding of what was discussed. For example, if the agent has just explained a complex insurance benefit, the agent should give members the opportunity to clarify their understanding by saying something like, “Did I explain that clearly?” or, “That was pretty complex. What questions can I answer for you?” This better serves members and will eliminate callbacks into the center.
These five tips will help your insurance call center agents address the needs of older members. If your call center representatives need more assistance, read this blog post that addresses customer service training and ongoing learning for continuous improvement.
With the number of retiring baby boomers increasing, it’s time to assess customer service in the insurance industry. Is your insurance call center ready to serve this population? Do your call center employees know how to uncover needs, recommend plans, and explain coverage? The Baby Boomers are coming, are you ready?
Preparing for this increase in service needs takes three important steps: hire quality agents, train your staff, and create an environment of continuous learning.
Step One — Hiring: What qualities do you look for?
Have you heard of the saying, “Hire the smile; train the skills?” Customer service representatives are truly the voice of your company. When you’re looking to hire new employees to prepare for the increase in service needs, keep the following five characteristics of the HEART Model in mind:
Hear and Understand: Does the prospective insurance employee show good listening skills? Does he or she ask clarifying questions to ensure understanding?
Expect the Best: Does the candidate exhibit a positive outlook? Is he or she excited about the prospect of working for your company?
Act with Integrity: Can the applicant give examples showing how he or she has responded with integrity in prior work or school situations?
Respect Diversity: Is the candidate open-minded? Ask the applicant to share how he or she would handle a call with customers from diverse backgrounds, of various ages, and with different health care needs.
Transcend Yourself: Ask the prospective employee to share some current goals. Is he or she willing and interested in learning new skills?
Step Two — Training: How do you prepare employees to succeed?
When hiring new employees, it’s important to equip them with the skills to achieve success. Call center agents need to be able to serve callers quickly in a way that leaves customers satisfied and prevents callbacks. How do you achieve these results? Provide customer service training! Training will improve customer satisfaction scores, reduce the number of call escalations, and keep insurance representatives engaged and motivated.
Step Three — Ongoing Learning: How do you set a precedent for continuous improvement?
Once new employees are meeting call quality standards, training shouldn’t stop. In order to keep your staff performing at their optimal potential, create opportunities for continuous improvement through ongoing coaching, brown-bag learning lunches, on-the-job activities, and mentoring programs. Studies have shown that effective learning depends largely on what happens after training is over. This is the stage when the ideas learned in training are reinforced and become a part of the employee’s skillset.
If you want to be prepared to serve the aging baby boomer population, implement these three steps. Agents will have the confidence to answer insurance questions and serve customers to their best ability. You will not only have satisfied customers, you will have satisfied employees.
Have you ever had a customer service experience that left you saying “wow”?
The other day, I had one of those “wow” experiences. I was staying at a hotel in Hollywood for work. The only way to park was through valet. The attendant asked me for my name and wrote it on a tag to hang from my rear view mirror. I gathered my luggage from the car and walked into the hotel. I made my way to the reception desk and as I approached the counter, the employee behind the desk said, Sarah? I was blown away! I even said, “Wow! How impressive!”
Working in the customer service industry has made me extremely sensitive to service issues. The employee that knew my name wowed me. So how do you go about creating experiences that wow customers?
Set Your Service Apart from the Crowd
Sometimes, it’s the little details that can set service apart from the competition. Think about what touches you can add to the customer experience.
For example, the restaurant Roy’s has this concept mastered. They include personal messages in their menu when customers celebrate special occasions, they pull chairs out for guests to be seated, and they refold customers’ napkins when they step away from the table. These gestures may be small, but when I had the pleasure to dine at Roy’s, I noticed their effort! To learn more about the little touches that can boost the customer experience, read this blog post.
Exceed Expectations and Build Opportunities for Repeat Business
Keep in mind, a positive customer experience can lead to repeat business. Employees need to be prepared to answer and respond to customer questions and requests with grace and eagerness to serve. James Barnes, author of Secrets of Customer Relationship Management, says, “A typical business only hears from 4% of its dissatisfied customers—the other 96% leave, 91% for good.”
Set the precedent with employees and customers that feedback is appreciated, both positive and negative. If you’re not hearing feedback, I promise someone is. It’s more beneficial to hear the complaints, so you have a chance to respond both verbally and through improvements in service standards.
Offer Consistent Service by Implementing Training
If service is truly a priority, ensure you provide consistent service across all departments. Imagine what it would be like to walk into that same hotel mentioned at the beginning of this post, experience superior service at the front desk, make my way to the restaurant to grab a quick bite to eat, and be treated like an imposition rather than an opportunity to serve. My overall impression of the company would plummet. Remember, all it takes is one bad experience to taint a customer’s impression of a company.
So how do you provide consistent service? Train employees! Customer service training teaches employees how to communicate positively and professionally with customers. If everyone is on the same page, you can ensure consistent service across every department.
Outline the Importance of “Wow” Customer Service
Sometimes it’s hard for employees to see how the service they offer affects customers. Play a little game with your employees and have them keep track of customer service experiences they’ve encountered good and bad. Once they start to pay attention to the way different styles of service affect them, they will start to understand why the way they treat customers is important.
Photo courtesy of Camdiluv