Healthcare // Patient Tools
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4/21/2014
09:06 AM
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Self-Service Tech Support Answers Health Insurer's Call

Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Kansas City added customer engagement software to answer members' questions without hiring more call center staff.

The Affordable Care Act brought a flood of newly insured members on to the rolls at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Kansas City, and they brought with them a lot of questions. To answer those questions as efficiently as possible, the insurer invested in digital self-service technology as part of its website redesign -- a move designed to satisfy customers and reduce calls to live agents.

A year before the ACA's major health insurance expansion, Blue KC hired Forrester Research to review its website for usability and performance, said Deb McCabe, department vice president of customer experience at the insurance firm. Blue KC serves about 1 million people in the Kansas City, Mo., region.

Forrester suggested several ways to improve the site and recommended a few vendors, which responded to Blue KC's request for information. Ultimately, the insurer selected IntelliResponse's Virtual Agent and customer engagement software because of its features, service, and analytics capabilities, McCabe told InformationWeek in an interview. The software attempts to match customer questions with answers in its knowledgebase, minimizing the number that require an individual response.

[How much healthcare can be provided remotely? Read Telehealth Gains Momentum In Obamacare Era.]

"Our approach to the implementation was very vanilla," McCabe said. "Our goal was to fit it into our redesign and not do an extensive amount of custom development work on our side. We had a lot of [other] development work going on in our site. One of our developers learned IntelliResponse integration."

McCabe's team spent a lot of time writing a library of answers for members' anticipated questions. Over the first four weeks of the rollout, IntelliResponse provided analytics on any questions the system could not answer and unexpected words that members used. It also identified the most popular topics. Today, the customer experience team continues to enhance the library, fine-tuning content to provide even richer answers, she said.

"We have a little over 6,000 questions asked a week. We haven't compared that to our weekly web utilization -- what percentage of users are asking questions -- but we think, for our size and from what IntelliResponse is telling us, 6,000 is a healthy number. We're already exceeding goals in terms of answers to questions," McCabe said. "There is a response for well over 80% of the questions being asked. Sometimes there are nonsense questions, and the 5% to 10% we don't have a response [for] is where we're working to fill our library."

To encourage exploration, Blue KC's website includes a list of the top five questions. It also includes frequently asked questions (FAQs). The system suggests topics as users start typing. To get additional information, members may click on related questions, too. Before the redesign, members had to go to the top of the website, look for the topic of interest, and do a lot of clicking, McCabe said.

In addition to further expanding the library and keywords, Blue KC plans to add a mobile-optimized site at some point in the future.

"Ultimately, the return on investment is keeping people in the web channel and not having them bail out to customer service, which is a more expensive channel," McCabe said. "Over the long term, we'll assess how people have used the web; if they've used the web, has there been a call followup? Has there been an email followup? Can we increase our repeat visitors? If somebody visits a website looking for something, and it was an exercise in futility, the likelihood they're going to go there again is less."

Because IntelliResponse doesn't see, access, or store patient health information, its products don't have to be HIPAA compliant, IntelliResponse CEO David Lloyd said in an interview. Identification is masked, but the software captures aggregate data in order to provide Blue KC with data on customers' needs and wishes, he said.

Newly insured members have different questions than longtime members, and the questions they ask change over time, Lloyd said. "If you understand those questions, you can make sure the information they need is always there for them." That's why it's wise for insurers' chief marketing or customer service executives to take the top 10 questions members are asking call center agents and look them up on their own website, he said. If the answers aren't there, "you haven't passed your own litmus test."

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Alison Diana has written about technology and business for more than 20 years. She was editor, contributors, at Internet Evolution; editor-in-chief of 21st Century IT; and managing editor, sections, at CRN. She has also written for eWeek, Baseline Magazine, Redmond Channel ... View Full Bio

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Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
4/22/2014 | 9:59:34 AM
To the Internet!
The key to this solution is Blue KC's well-researched (and growing) library of responses, which includes answers to ill-formed questions. As Blue KC recognized from Day One, analytics is vital to ensure the company knows what people are asking about and how they're posing those questions. Analytics also helps Blue KC keep the most pertinent info at the top of its page: For example, at this time of year it may include more insight about allergies. In the winter, it could have more answers pertaining to flu. If an outbreak of measles or another disease breaks out, Blue KC can immediately put that information near the top of its page to quickly address members' questions without forcing them to search. As a result, members don't innundate Blue KC's call center, thereby reducing support costs and allowing members with more complex questions to get through when they really do need a live person's support. 
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