My friend tells me that he's a "nobody." Like the more than 159 million members on employer-sponsored rolls at U.S. health insurance carriers, he shares many of the same human infirmities. And like those more than 159 million other policyholders, he believes that health is a priority, so he takes a daily dose of maintenance medication.

That daily regimen served another useful purpose last month by illuminating some serious flaws in our industry's ability to provide adequate customer service. My friend expects and receives state-of-the-art online customer service from the insurer. Yet, oddly, the carrier requires, as part of an employer-mandated mail-order system for maintenance drugs, a paper-based application, which includes the physician's script.

So my friend obtained a one-month "while-you-wait-for-the-order" script, and a three-month script, which was attached to a three-page application form requesting information, such as name, address, phone, drug allergies, physical history, credit card specifics and other information, all of which was already in the carrier's online system.

Per instructions, my friend mailed the three-page application, along with the scripts, to the carrier within a week of the insurer's deadline. After five weeks of waiting for his prescription medication, my friend received a call at work from the carrier's automated customer service attendant. In garbled tones, the automated attendant said that in order to process the order, more information was required. Then my friend was put on hold and, for seven minutes, listened to a looped message stating "all customer service representatives are assisting other customers."

"They called me," my bewildered friend said, shaking his head.

When a live customer service rep finally accessed the line, my friend was amazed to hear that the insurer simply wanted to confirm the specifics of the order, which had been clearly written on the three-page application form. The customer service rep assured my friend that the order would now receive an "urgent priority" ranking. Good thing, since my friend had run out of his meds more than a week prior.

The following week, my friend received another call from the insurer; same drill. In order to process the order, more information was required. Again, he was placed on hold, this time for nine minutes. The "additional information" required this time? The insurer wanted to confirm the spelling of his name. As of press time, my friend still has not received his medication.

The reasons behind this abysmal example of customer service are irrelevant. But the fact that my friend feels like a "nobody" speaks volumes about the true state of customer centrism in the industry. And while my friend seeks alternative health coverage, that health insurer is losing one "nobody" at a time.

(c) 2009 Insurance Networking News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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