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BCBSTN Taps Analytics to Learn to Listen Better

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee deploys speech analytics solution from Nexidia to identify service issues and potential bottlenecks within its call centers.

Even before BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBST) partnered with Nexidia, an audio and speech analytics software provider, call center analytics were part of the carrier's service strategy. The issue was the reliability of the underlying data and the effectiveness of the resulting analysis.

Previously the Chattanooga-based health insurer relied on more-manual analyis of incoming calls that required a significant amount of data entry by call center representatives. "We were dependent upon whether or not the associate could appropriately determine the reason for the call and code it correctly," describes Maria Darras, director of BlueCard operations, BCBST. "So it was very difficult to drill down into that information and really identify problems, issues and trends."

Darras was brought into discussions between the carrier and Nexidia in summer 2008, after the Atlanta-based vendor had performed an initial demo of its Enterprise Speech Intelligence (ESI) application, which leverages phonetic indexing (as opposed to speech-to-text) technology. The ESI solution enbles a carrier to automatically search recorded contact center calls for key words and phrases in an effort to identify potential issues and bottlenecks, according to Nexidia.

Shortly after Darras entered the discussions, it was decided that her BlueCard area -- a commercial business unit that allows members of one BlueCross BlueShield company to obtain services while traveling or living in another Blue company's service area -- would run a hosted version of ESI for a 90-day proof of concept. The BlueCard group was selected for the proof of concept, Darras explains, because its contact center's incoming call volumes and average handling times (AHTs) were noticeably higher than the company average.

After the trial, BCBST realized enough benefits to justify a broader rollout of the ESI solution, according to Darras, who notes that the carrier then brought the solution in-house. A contract was formalized in fall 2008, and the carrier deployed the software on three Quad Core Intel Xeon servers running Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Enterprise -- an application/ingest server, a search server and a database server. The ESI solution extracts calls directly from BCBST's Verint (Melville, N.Y.) Ultra call recorder.

Teach Your CSRs Well

Meanwhile the BlueCard group's call center team continued to utilize the customer queries and search terms that it had developed with Nexidia analysts during the pilot. "By using the tool, we were able to identify things that were going on in the calls that our customer service associates were taking too long to handle — maybe it was a process they were using to try and identify an issue," Darras says, explaining that callers don't always provide the necessary information. "We were able to figure out what those issues were and teach them better ways to handle the calls."

Leveraging the ESI application, the BlueCard group discovered that it received a significant number of calls from providers that had sent in medical records that could not be found in the carrier's system. After using ESI's speech analytics capabilities to identify the specific calls in which the issue came up, Darras relates, she and her team were able to pinpoint the problems that led to longer AHTs. "Associates were not always taking the appropriate steps or the best route to identify whether the records were in the right place," Darras reveals.

In response, the group's call center management developed guidelines and training to help associates streamline the record search process, Darras reports. Call times related to the medical record issue, she points out, have since been reduced by an average of roughly 10 minutes.

The BlueCard area also has used the tool to improve other parts of its customer service operation, Darras adds. Using ESI's search function, Darras and her team identified many calls that included discussion of the BCBST Web site. "We tried to identify what was prohibiting people from using the Web to find what they need," Darras relates. "When they don't use the Web, they have to make a phone call to us."

The team discovered that the providers did not always access pertinent remittance advices when performing claims status checks online. Both claims status and remittance advices were available on the site at the time, but in different areas, Darras explains. As a result of the analysis, BCBST provided links to remittance advices each time a provider checked a claims status online. Those improvements to the Web site, she says, have eased call volumes and allowed BCBST to reduce its call center staffing numbers.

According to Darras, due to the program's success within the BlueCard area, beginning this spring BCBST rolled out the ESI solution across its various call centers -- including those in its member benefits administration, in-state provider service, membership and billing, and Medicaid operations groups.

Case Study Profile

Company: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee (Chattanooga, Tenn.-based not-for-profit organization with over 2.3 million members)

Lines of Business: Group and individual health.

Vendor/Technology: Nexidia (Atlanta) Enterprise Speech Intelligence (ESI) software.

Challenge: Improve call center performance through better incoming call analysis.

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