With 2.4 million members, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts has avoided the common errors of implementing customer relationship management (CRM).First and foremost, senior management decided in 1998 that the Boston-based company would adopt an enterprisewide, client-centric business strategy, which it calls Concierge Service Delivery.

Concierge Service Delivery is the term Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts uses to describe its commitment to treat members as if they are guests at a premiere hotel. This level of service is instilled in the company's 3,400 employees through five corporate principles that guide their actions:

* Taking members out of the loop. "We resolve issues without referring members to other areas. It's our job to own that," says Sheryl Balchunas, director of CRM business development for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

* Promoting value-added services. Customer service representatives take every opportunity to tell members about services such as the fitness benefit, which provides up to $150 toward a health club membership, or the Living Healthy Naturally program, which provides 20% on alternative therapies, such as acupuncture and massage.

* Following up with members. The company takes responsibility for calling members back when more research is needed to answer their questions or resolve their issues.

* Providing on-the-spot education. Customer service representatives inform members on how their plan works and how to use it most effectively, such as when a referral or authorization by a primary care physician is required.

* Empowering customer service reps to resolve issues immediately. Balchunas explains how empowerment translates into action: "If a member calls and says, 'I didn't know I needed a referral for that visit,' and that member has never had this type of plan before, member service reps have the authority to say, 'I'm going to educate you on the spot and let you know what your plan requires, and I'm also going to make an exception to the rule this time.'"

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