Excellence in Customer Service Begins with Being Grounded in the Community

Vermont Community

Do you ever wonder what happens with those surveys you fill out after a phone call to a customer service team? Here at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont, we listen to each customer’s response and take immediate steps to make changes based on your feedback.  

Neighbors caring for neighbors

One of our guiding principles is to be grounded in the community we serve, which leads to excellence in customer service. When our members call with a problem, the customer service person on the other end of the phone is a Vermonter, too. We shop at the same grocery stores, walk our dogs along the same wooded trails, and hug our children at the entrance to the same schools as the members we interact with each day.

“We are Vermonters, with the same community values as those we serve,” says Danielle Ballenger, the Customer Service Operations Manager at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont. 

“Snowbirds ask me ‘how’s the weather in Vermont today?’ I love that we can give them a connection to home during their long winters away. One family sends us hand-drawn holiday cards each year. We are their call center grandkids,” she jokes. “Many of our members have our direct lines and we have formed relationships with them over multiple calls. We have been helping them navigate their health care for years.” 

And it is indeed years. Many of members of our team have been caring for our customers for decades. That care and compassion didn’t stop when the worldwide pandemic hit the health care system hard.  

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our world class customer service team has continued to be there for our customers and the health care practitioners who care for them,” said Catherine Hamilton, Vice President of Consumer Services and Planning at Blue Cross. “Our staff have transformed their homes into workspaces and maintained their outstanding commitment to being compassionate, empathetic, advocates that ensure our members get the care, medicines and diagnostic tests they need. Each week, we receive heartfelt compliments from members, employers, and providers.”

Continual training—it’s a way of life

The initiation to excellence in customer service starts on day one in training a new customer representative.

“Our team has a can-do attitude, presenting a glass half full concierge service to help our members navigate their health care with a full team of experts behind them,” said Ballenger.

Each of our team leaders focuses on coaching in the moment, implementing call reviews for their team of representatives. They look closely at the results of the Service Quality Metrics surveys, celebrating the positive interactions and word choices, while giving positive feedback around changing the verbiage the representative used to create a more quality interaction.

“We review constantly, which leads to constant improvement,” said Ballenger. 

Janalee Willett agrees. “We have been striving over the past few years to really embrace the voice of the customer and leverage that to drive change.” As the Director of Customer Service, Willett works with the team to give positive feedback, while working with the employee to modify in ways to consistently take the member out of the middle of navigating health care payments.

There is a keen focus on word choice.

“We take training deep into what we are saying and how we are presenting the information. This ensures that the member has all of the information possible in a way that is easy to understand, while promoting confidence and care,” said Ballenger. “We know that navigating the health care system can be complicated and frustrating. We take the member out of the middle whenever possible.” 

To “take the member out of the middle” means to take the problem they are carrying directly off their shoulders. When there is a billing discrepancy, our customer service team makes calls directly to the provider, rather than asking the member to call the provider. When a member has difficulty affording their prescriptions, the team refers the person to our Medication Coach Pharmacist, who works with them to examine their medications to see if a lower-priced therapeutic equivalent is available. When someone needs help navigating a chronic condition, they are put in contact with a nurse case worker to help them live their best life while navigating their condition. Customer service representatives instill confidence, giving our members uniformly excellent service. 

Measurements that lead to better outcomes

The Service Quality Metrics (SQM) doesn’t stop with just the individual survey. The group benchmarked over 500 leading North American call centers in 2019. Of the thousands of submissions, 25 finalists are chosen. Three customer service representatives from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont made the final cut: Nefedaya Smith, Kasia Starzec and Terry Lyn Bicknell. Out of thousands of applicants, Terry Lyn was awarded the SQM Customer Service Representative of the year for going “above and beyond” to support a customer. 

This included outreach to another Blue plan, to multiple providers, and completing an out of network prior approval on the member’s behalf when others refused to do so. Terry Lyn’s advocacy helped the member get access to critical care while traveling out of state. Terry followed up with the member after their experience to ensure all was well.  

Later, we received a thank you note from the member who said, “If you ever feel like not getting up to go to work, think again! What you do and what you did for me made a huge difference.”

This award reflects the dedication and excellence of our Customer Service team, and the entire organization’s commitment to creating outstanding member experiences. 

Here, Terry Lyn explains what it means to her to be part of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont.