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Blue Cross NEPA Tackles Call Center Volume Challenge with Virtual Hold Solution

Virtual Hold's Concierge system pleases customers, boosts call center efficiency and decreases Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania staffing expenses.

As the customer of a utility company, Bob McDonald was surprised one day when a recorded message asked him if he would prefer to arrange a callback or hold. Skepticism reigned that day, and McDonald stayed on hold. However, the next time he chose the callback option and was impressed by the results, when the company called him back a little later. As director of customer service for Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania (Blue Cross NEPA, Wilkes-Barre; $1.5 billion in 2008 consolidated gross premium and premium equivalent and other revenue), McDonald remembered the Virtual Hold (Akron, Ohio) call back technology when he needed to reduce abandon rates of members calling in for claims related services.

The abandonment challenge emerged as the result of the implementation of a new claims system. "We had issues that generated a phone volume greater than we anticipated, which resulted in members staying on hold longer," McDonald recalls. "And when members stay on hold longer, they hang up."

When Virtual Hold contacted McDonald in Spring 2007 he says that, being familiar with the technology, he was eager review its potential return on investment and its ability to integrate with his existing telephony systems. "We worked it out because I knew it would improve our member experience and reduce the number of abandons," he says.

By June, McDonald had selected Virtual Hold's Concierge, and within a month the system was up-and-running for the entire call center. "The Virtual Hold team was very responsive, and having worked with many systems, they knew exactly how to implement," McDonald recalls. "People don't believe me, but implementation went smoothly and we had no issues."

The Concierge solution is integrated with Blue Cross NEPA's Aspect Software ACD system, triggering interaction with callers only when hold time exceeds 120 seconds. The caller is then notified of estimated wait time and offered to either hold or hang up and receive a call within the same amount of time they would have waited on hold. "There's an algorithm in the technology that calculates when it will be the customer's turn, based on estimated availability of reps," McDonald explains. "It then makes an outbound call, and when someone on the other end picks up it says, 'This is your return call from Blue Cross NEPA; when Bob is available, please press one.' At the same time, the agent is receiving the call at their desktop."

Concierge ties into to the carrier's call center through dialogic cards connected by T1 lines, using a series of computer telephony integration module (CTI) messages that send automatic call distribution information back to Concierge, according to Shawn Brogan, manager, IT infrastructure communications Blue Cross NEPA. The Virtual Hold solution then calculates whether customers should be offered a callback.

Since implementation of Concierge, Blue Cross NEPA customers' reactions have resembled McDonald's own reaction as a customer. Instead of complaining about having to hold for an inordinate time, many customers note their approval of the solution when called back. "They give a compliment, such as 'That callback thing is great!' so you don't spend the first 30 seconds addressing the member's frustration," McDonald says. "You can immediately get to the reason of the phone call."

McDonald notes that average call handle time has been reduced by 10 seconds with the Concierge system. Blue Cross NEPA has seen hold time decline by 56 percent in 2008 and has improved the call abandonment rate by 20 percent. These improvements will support both an ROI within three years as well as avoid an estimated 5 percent increase in staff to drive down the abandonment rate.

Blue Cross NEPA has begun to implement further functionality within the Concierge system. The carrier has eliminated all busy signals by giving callers a high volume message and offering to provide a call back anytime over the next seven days when it's convenient for the customer. In Feb. 2009, Blue Cross NEPA implemented an outreach capability to remind female members over 40 to get a mammogram. By the third quarter of 2009, the carrier will add one more enhancement: a message to enable members to schedule callbacks during times when the call center is closed.

Case Study Profile

company: Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania (Wilkes-Barre; $1.5 billion in 2008 consolidated gross premium and premium equivalent and other revenue)

lines of business: Health insurance plans.

vendor/technology: Virtual Hold's (Akron, Ohio) Concierge system.

challenge: Address high call volume, reduce caller abandonment rate and increase customer satisfaction.

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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