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Editorial

Blue Cross customer service surges during sweeps week

For members of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, there was good news and bad news recently. The good news: It turns out that the Bay State’s largest health insurance company can provide quick, effective, and highly responsive service — often with same-day turnaround — to members who call with a request or complaint about their medical coverage. The bad news: That excellent customer service is available for just one week of the year.

As the Globe’s Robert Weisman reported late last month, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts supplied its customer-service staff with special scripts and procedures to be followed from Oct. 15 to Oct. 19. For those five days only, customers calling for help with an insurance issue — calculating a co-pay, fixing a billing error, getting a claim adjusted — were treated to fast, consumer-friendly assistance by agents trained to get problems resolved speedily.

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When Blue Cross members call for help, they are ordinarily advised that it can take 10 to 14 days for their request to be handled. But during the week of Oct. 15, customer-service agents were instructed to follow a script conveying a very different message. “I will work on this today for you as a priority. I will also have a team member call you back later today to let you know the action we have taken to finalize this claim for you.”

Why the dramatic but short-lived upgrade in service? Because Blue Cross knew that for those few days it would be under special scrutiny: An outside firm, hired to survey people who called the giant insurer’s member services lines, would be scoring Blue Cross on customer satisfaction and ranking it against other health plans. In an effort to boost its score by pleasing its members, Blue Cross temporarily changed its protocols for the better.

The company denied any attempt to skew the survey’s results. “We’re focused on customer service every day, not just this week,” its spokeswoman told the Globe. If so, it can easily demonstrate its commitment: Make the procedures that were in place during the week of Oct. 15 its new standard year-round.

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