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Rethinking Health Plan Customer Service

Margaret Dick Tocknell, for HealthLeaders Media, August 3, 2011

Doug VanWingerden, who authored the report, suggests there are a couple of things payers can do to refocus customer service to serve as a selling point for attracting new customers as well as keeping existing customers. He says the first step is to stop thinking of customer service as only a cost center. Remember, these are the folks who get face time, or at least phone time, with your current and potential members. Treat them right. Invest in training and incentive programs for this important and influential team.

VanWingerden said health plans should also look for ways to use customer service to differentiate their products and services, especially in terms of meeting individual needs. Only 10% of survey respondents said that their health insurers tailor services to match their individual needs or preferences.

One suggestion: Reorganize your customer service call centers to reflect the specific needs of your clientele. Creating a call center for new customers or one for members with a chronic disease will enable customer service reps to provide the information that really helps members develop a closer relationship with the health plan.

Oh and be sure to staff your specialized customer service centers with people who know what they are talking about. Some 85% of the respondents listed knowledge and well-informed employees among the top considerations for a successful customer service center. Not receiving knowledgeable answers from customer service is a common complaint and it is among the leading reasons that members will change health plans.

It’s good to remember that thanks to technology we live in a 24/7 world. Make sure your customer service centers operate that way. Only 48% of the survey respondents said their health plan provides customer service at a convenient time.

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