Managing customer expectations has never been easy, but with more new touch points, including online, mobile and call center, customers' expectations for responsiveness have never been higher; nor have the stakes for getting it wrong. Mallika Madakasira, insights manager for Blue Shield of California, spoke with Insurance Networking News about the challenges and opportunities for collecting real-time customer feedback from members, providers, employers and anyone else landing on the website.

INN: You began offering real-time feedback three years ago. How usual was that?

MM: At the time, it was very new. But today with the rise of the voice of the customer and social media, it has become more foundational. We were in the process of revamping our website and we wanted to make sure we got feedback as we developed and introduced new products, solutions and features. And getting real-time feedback that we could distribute broadly was important to making sure we delivered a good customer experience.

INN: How did you capture customer feedback previously?

MM: We did a lot of surveys. Our call center partners would give us feedback as to the things they heard through talking with our customers. There was the Web help desk, and talking to our outbound sales force and brokers, but the speed of the feedback was based on who was collecting and disseminating it, and there was a wide range.

INN: How has real-time feedback changed your customer operations?

MM: From the customers' perspective, they are able to get faster resolution to issues online. For our customer operations partners, it equipped them with better knowledge, through our portal, about the kinds of issues and queries that were coming in. It also gives them an opportunity to look for gaps as it relates to providing a more holistic and integrated customer experience. Now, what we are telling our customers online is the same as what we are telling them over the phone and elsewhere. It's definitely helping deliver that one version of the truth to the customer.

INN: What's the technology behind it?

MM: We have OpinionLab, which is essentially an icon living on pretty much every page on our website. Whoever comes to our website has an opportunity to provide immediate feedback. There are links members can click on and answer questions, including an open-ended box to submit comments. The responses go into an OpinionLab database. Comments are collected and distributed in the form of a newsletter on a daily basis. On the back end, dedicated teams in customer operations and IT are looking at these comments and figuring out how we can help. We have an SLA [service-level agreement] of getting back to members who leave their contact information the very next day. And so it has definitely helped us give faster and more personalized attention to our members.

INN: How long did it take from making the purchase decision to your go-live date?

MM: It took a total of six weeks. We had a cross-functional team with people from analytics, IT, customer ops and product managers; maybe 25 people. For a couple it was full time, for others it was a high-priority project, along with their other projects.

INN: Knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?

MM: We are in the process of launching our customer experience management solution. That's going to give us a better sense of root-cause analysis and a better sense of what it is that customers did, and experienced when they submitted feedback. If I were to do this differently, we probably should have introduced that part sooner.

INN: How has customer satisfaction changed since implementation? How do you quantify that?

MM: Prior to implementing OpinionLab, the volume of unstructured data was relatively low. But now we get as many as 200 responses a month. From a member/customer perspective, they get resolution to their issues the very next day. It's also helped us resolve our [Web design and technology issues] and do a much better job of root-cause analysis. Our systems and teams are talking together and working together to create a more integrated experience. We are beginning to create metrics that make sense to quantify this appropriately.

INN: How has this changed your business?

MM: We have a process to get back with members the day after they submit feedback; that's evidence of our mission and our intent to deliver the best experience. Being able to collect, react and improve the customer experience is an integral part of building out the methods we have for getting in touch with our customers and vice versa. It's become an integral part of our planning moving forward.

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