How One Health Plan Looked to How Disney Does It To Upgrade Its Call Center

When Kim Suarez and her team at Priority Health set out to renovate the insurer’s call center, they looked to Disney as their model.

“We recognize that the world of healthcare is changing rapidly – and dramatically,” said Suarez, VP of Medical Operations and the Consumer Experience  for the Michigan-based health insurance provider.

“It’s no longer enough just to provide great service, we need to deliver a great experience.  That means we need to fundamentally think differently about how we do business,” she said.

And that started with a trip to the Disney Institute for 20 Priority “champions” to experience a hands-on approach to creating strong teams, developing brand loyalty and consistently surpassing consumer expectations.  After the week-long experience, the team  returned to channel their passion into transforming the call center physically – and philosophically.

The team started with a number of challenges, including the need to condense calls centers in four buildings on the Grand Rapids campus into a single, cohesive location.

The nearly 150 employees answered upwards of 5,000 calls each day – or, to look at it the Disney way, provided 5,000 solutions and a great experience in the process.

Suarez  said  a two-day design charette with architects Progressive AE, was held that led them to explore how they worked together,  how they wanted to work together and how the space should be configured to facilitate such a team approach.

The transformation took about six months, Suarez explained,  but when it was finished, Priority’s new call center featured:

  • Interdisciplinary four-person pods that gathered an entire team –from customer care specialists to pharmacy to clinical care managers– in close physical proximity.  The idea, Suarez explained, was to be able to provide a solution to the caller without having to transfer him or her throughout the organization.  “In keeping with Priority’s philosophy, this new approach gave us greater ownership over each call – and ultimately increased customer satisfaction,” she noted.
  • Ergonomic office furniture, including desks that raise and lower with the touch of a button.  West Michigan office makers Haworth and Herman Miller provided the furniture, which also included wall systems and chairs.
  • Organic elements, such as sand, water, leaves, soothing colors and natural woods.  The branding wall, which is prominent when you enter the call center, features photos of Priority Health customers and serves as a backdrop for one of many collaborative spaces on the floor.  Think hip coffee bar, complete with high-top tables and cool chairs encourage conversation.Natural lighting.  The outer office is ringed by windows, providing natural sunlight to  100 percent of all call center employees.
  • Conference rooms utilize clear windows, which provide privacy simultaneously with an open feeling.  Suarez said the result is a tremendous sense of openness throughout the center.
  • Great visibility, greater technology.  Unlike traditional call centers – and indeed, many large office suites – everyone at his/her workspace has tremendous visibility throughout the room.  Central to the action is a call center stat board, which tracks the number of calls waiting, how long they have been waiting and other pertinent details.
  • Calls go from green to yellow to red, depending on how long they have been in the queue.  In lean management principles, the practice is called providing visual cues that all employees can recognize and respond to.
  • Rewards & Recognition.  Equally as prominent to the entire call center is the new Reward & Recognition board, which prominently displays compliments that employees receive from customers.  Suarez said Priority adapted the concept from Zingerman’s, which uses similar “code green” to share good news.
  • Business continuity planning.  Priority Health also invested in laptops and IP headsets in the event that call center operations are disrupted and employees need to work from home or another remote location.

“We have had tremendous response from our employees and our customers over the new call center,” Suarez said.

“But we did diverge from Disney philosophy on one key point:  Disney invests all of its funds for ‘on-stage’ areas, meaning that had an incredibly unattractive call center. ”

Even though Priority’s call center is “back stage,” it is really the backbone of our operation, Suarez observed.  “We invested significantly to create one of the most attractive and functional spaces as our call center – and it shows.”

Source: Priority Health

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