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How Blue Cross ACD handles 30,000 calls efficiently, quickly.

Any company would be delighted to have nearly half the market in any state. That's the happy situation for Des Moines-based Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Iowa.

The company serves about one million members with a staff of 1850 employees located in Des Moines, Sioux City, and in 10 district offices throughout the state.

"Serves" is the operative word, according to telecommunications manager Robert W. Robinson. To underscore that philosophy, the organization two years ago undertook to upgrade customer service by installing a Rolm ACD at its Des Moines headquarters to replace a telco uniform call distribution system.

The organization then enhanced its ACD operations with the implementation of ACD Time Manager, a management information analysis and reporting system created by Account-A-Call's subsidiary MTC Systems, Inc.

Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Iowa is a consolidation of two former plans, one based in Des Moines, the other in Sioux City. It also has a division devoted to government programs such as Medicare, and another third party benefit program administrator, which handles health insurance matters for large companies, institutions, and agencies.

According to Robinson, between 10% and 15% of the entire employee complement is assigned to customer service. Each unit has its own customer service center, with 200 agents in three Des Moines locations now operating under the Rolm ACD system and 25 more scheduled to be provided with the system soon. The Time Manager will be implemented at the same time.

"ACD is vital to our service activities," Robinson says. "Our agents are trained to deal with virtually any question a member might have, and we now average 30,000 calls per month in our Des Moines customer service centers alone."

Providing health care insurance is extremely complex, he notes. Where most calls typically relate to billing and payment of claims, the pressure of managed care programs and third party claim payment supervision are increasing callers' concern with such things as pre-treatment certification, second opinions, company insurance coverage, and deductibles.

"Customer service agents are the organization's front line, so it is important to analyze customer calls both individually and in the context of the entire operation quantitatively and qualitatively, and to examine them by various criteria," Robinson says.

"Noticeably brief calls, for example, might be interpreted by a customer as brusque or indifferent, or as lacking in thoroughness.

"Calls that last too long could suggest over-friendliness or unprofessionalism, and one agent's consistent pattern of such calls might indicate that others are assuming a disproportionate share of the work load," he says.

Blue Cross & Blue Shield were concerned that the rented telco-provided ACD system gave no management information for customer service supervisors and managers to use in dealing with real and perceived service problems.

With the Rolm ACD system, improvement was immediate, with printouts produced daily detailing such factors as number of calls, length of time calls remained in queue, and abandoned calls. But the time-consuming manual review and analysis of the voluminous printouts by the respective managers soon signaled a further need.

What was required, Robinson says, was a system that could automatically process the ACD call data into useful management information.

Needed were consolidated weekly and monthly reports as well as others which would format the data under criteria, such as agent performance, ACD group call patterns, abandoned calls, calls by trunk group, and length of time in queue. The archieved reports would provide historical data upon which future decisions could be based.

Robinson explored many alternatives, and in summer 1989 installed Time Manager in the 160-agent headquarters office customer service center.

"Within the first week of installing the Rolm ACD, we took 50% more calls than ever before," Robinson says. "The system was far more efficient and the agents themselves were quick to respond to the heightened level of activity.

"With the implementation of ACD Time Manager, performance improved even more as access to information improved."

The system runs on an IBM PC-compatible running under the Unix operating system, with dial-in/dial-out modem communications. Residing in the Des Moines headquarters telecomm department, it retrieves data from the ACD consoles--which now have been equipped for PBX operations--or, in the case of the Sioux City installation, from a pollable remote data collection device.

Currently, it reports for 43 ACD groups which together employ 47 different trunk groups.

The system is so sophisticated that Sioux City calls remaining in queue for more than 90 seconds are transferred automatically to a customer service rep in Des Moines.

Robinson's staff produces daily, weekly, and monthly reports, as well as others on an ad hoc basis.

"The ACD information is utilized at numerous levels, including by 12 customer service line supervisors; eight customer service managers; four directors; and VPs for customer service for ndividual member coverage, government operations, and third-party administration," Robinson says.

"They are unanimously pleased with the ability to examine their operations as groups and groups of groups, as well as by individual agent performance. It affords them a complete picture and an ability to discern trends and anomalies quickly.

"We don't have to guess about the number of trunks that are needed for a given activity," Robinson continues. "Rather than have members subjected to busies or long waits in queue, we simply monitor the levels of activity in the trunk groups and determine whether more or less are needed. When operations commenced in Sioux City, for example, we projected that fewer lines would be needed in Des Moines, and were able to confirm that with Time Manager."

An auxiliary benefit of the system is more effective personnel management, Robinson says.

"Agent-specific reports show precisely how each agent is performing. Highly productive individuals are easily identified, as are situations where encouragement or training is needed. Supervisors can deal with people in professional, non-arbitrary manner, with specifics in hand."

In upgrading its ACD, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Iowa wanted most of all to achieve a clear, consistent picture of the quality of service customers receive, Robinson says.

Now, as they fine-tune, they're also asserting positive control over a previously elusive sector of the operating budget.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Iowa, automatic call distributor
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jun 1, 1991
Previous Article:Centrex returns to life as practical alternative to PBXs.
Next Article:Company downsizes call accounting for greater efficiency.

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