The health plan management team has spent months negotiating the perfect contract with a prestigious provider. Accolades have been given all around and a great media plan is initiated to let the world know what the company’s done. Then, on the first day of the contract, there’s a hitch – there’s always a hitch. Who takes the call from the provider’s office? It’s “Sean" in customer service. Sean has been on-board for three weeks and is now the company’s voice on this extremely important contract. Does that make sense?
The biggest staffing mistake most companies make is that customer service positions are entry level jobs – staffed with those individuals who have the least experience. Even worse, because of low salaries and the general frustrations that come with this position, turnover is generally higher in customer service than any other department. So, what do most companies do to fill open positions in customer service? They bring in temps and give them rudimentary training before putting them on the phones to talk to customers. Does that make sense?
Let’s begin with the premise that any call to customer service means there’s been a failure by the company to communicate some aspect of how the products or services work. This is understandable, as healthcare is very complicated and difficult to explain – health plan benefit designs, incentives/disincentives, in and out of network requirements, drug plans, balance billing and on and on. Customer service staff are the front line for explaining and fixing whatever issue results from this failure in communication or operations. The importance of this role cannot be overstated. Make no mistake about it, the customer service representative IS the company in every sense of the word to your customer. Their interaction will color how they feel, what they say and whether they will remain with the company.
What can the management team do to ensure that the right people are representing the company to its customers? Here are five steps to take to make sure that your company doesn’t make the biggest staffing mistake:
Re-think the customer service position from the ground up. Hire people with skills critical to success such as conflict resolution, problem solving, self-control, multi-tasking, empathy, listening, friendliness, ability to prioritize, as well as, excellent written and verbal skills. Validate that potential candidates have these skills before the first interview. Also, include your best customer service staff in the interview process – they have the best idea about what it takes to do the job.
Pay a salary that reflects the importance of customer service. It’s not an entry level position – be prepared to pay for their experience and contribution to the success of the organization.
Create a comprehensive training program that includes a departmental rotation for all prospective customer service staff. In addition to the call center, this could include serving in various positions in claims, provider services, medical management and marketing. The more they know about the company, the better they’ll be able to help your customers.
Never, never use temps in customer service, even if they’ve held similar positions in other companies and even if you need help immediately. The time savings will end up costing you in the long run with poor customer service and unhappy customers.
Make positions in the customer service department a promotion opportunity for staff in other areas of the company. In addition, look to customer service for building the company’s next generation of managers who have strong people skills combined with comprehensive knowledge of the company and its products.
Taking these steps would be a dramatic departure from business as usual for most companies. These steps would send a strong statement to your customers and staff that customer service is one of the most important areas of the company.
So, let’s start again. This time the company has finally, after years of work and expensive proposals, been selected to serve a billboard account. Celebrations, bonuses and reward trips abound. Then, you know what happens – customer service gets a call about a complicated problem. The call is answered by “New Sean”. Because “New Sean” has been part of a comprehensive training program that included serving time throughout the company, he’s able to quickly resolve the issue for the new account’s CEO. This happy CEO sends a note to the management team after being impressed with New Sean’s capability to resolve what could have been a tricky issue. Does that make sense?