In the second in a series of exclusive client interviews, Matchboard speaks with Bill Kanellis, Head of Contact Centres at Australian Unity

Calls to health insurance providers can be very personal and emotional. How do you manage this human dimension of your customer conversations?

Indeed it’s challenging to think of more personal or emotional needs than the health and financial well-being of self and loved ones.  The next call we answer in our contact centre could be from someone who’s just been advised by their cardiologist that they need triple bypass heart surgery, or someone calling to check they’re covered for a $30K hip replacement. The deeply personal and emotional nature of these calls made it clear to us that we needed to enhance our Customer Experience by humanising these interactions. 

We believe that by expressing high degrees of empathy & warmth when discussing the welfare of our customers, they will feel safer, more assured and increasingly satisfied with the way we take care of them. Think of a time where you’ve been unwell or injured and needed medical assistance. Doesn’t the whole experience feel nicer when the nurses and doctors are warm, kind and nurturing? Doesn’t it make you trust them more? This is the principle that underpins our service strategy. Hence, we have introduced a stated and deliberate mission to be more ‘Humanistic’ during our conversations. Guided by the fundamental principles of Emotional Intelligence, we recently undertook a complete transformation of our customer service culture, creating a new service strategy focused entirely on the delivery of warmth, empathy & care as our core deliverables, whilst placing less emphasis on some of the more traditional contact centre metrics.

How would you describe your organisation’s culture and how do you instil this in the frontline workforce?

I’d describe our culture as very warm, customer centric & innovative. In our contact centre space, we actively empower and encourage our leaders with the knowledge and license to treat all our frontline staff as warmly and as humanly as possible. Our leaders demonstrate this through their relentless investment in the nurture & professional growth of our frontline staff, their dedicated coaching & development sessions, as well our extensive staff engagement initiatives. I’d say we value these two leadership initiatives above anything else. We believe that if we want to treat our customers with the greatest levels of empathy & care (humanism), it would be a near impossible task if we are unable to live and display these values internally. Of course it also helps that we like to have a lot of fun!

We also maintain an overt focus on Customer Centricity. Put simply, all this means is that our culture is about placing our customer ‘at the front and centre’ of everything we do. We make every effort to not to change any systems, processes or procedures unless we’ve considered how these changes would make our customers ‘feel’. This isn’t a cliché, we are big on this. We run customer advocacy forums, we carefully analyse case studies & NPS results, and we listen to a ton of calls to identify pain points. We then map our ideal solutions & states, and only then make decisions to update systems or technologies to ensure our customer experience continues to evolve through improvement. This ensures that we are able to create positive experiences which leave our customers and ourselves, feeling good. 

In addition, we do get just a little excited by innovation & change. We have a packed agenda, and it seems as though barely a day goes by where we don’t develop implement or test new initiatives! From new telephony platforms, new CRMs, to opening up new channels to engage with customers – you name it, it feels like we are doing it! Luckily for us, that’s just the way we like it – as it keeps the workplace interesting and ensures we continue to challenge & evolve our offering.

What is the biggest challenge you are facing in your day-to-day operations?

The volatility of call volumes in the Private Health Insurance Industry is notorious. There are three months of the year, March (rate review), June (EOFY) & July (tax time) where we can see up to double our call volumes in customer service, and even up to eight times higher volumes in our sales contact centre! Answering calls quickly during these times is just so critical in ensuring the maintenance and growth of our customer base. Subsequently, scaling the contact centre up to meet the increased call demand during these times is one of our bigger challenges.  

We are tackling this head on by challenging the ways we communicate with customers. We now ask, ‘how can we get on the front foot and provide customers with the information they need before they know they need it?”. We believe this approach should result in less volatility in the longer term. Hence, we’ve been busy adapting our customer communications strategy to better leverage our omni-channel, push and mobile applications. There is some tremendously exciting stuff happening in that space. 

How does Australian Unity manage the increasing convergence of contact centre and digital channels?

‘Go digital or die’ seems to be the key theme in contact centres at the moment. As an industry observer recently remarked, ‘when we were kids, we’d go home after school and tie up the phone line all night talking to our friends. The kids of today go home, grab their mobile phones and get on digital & social media’. Is this trend a signal to us of how customers will want to interact with their service providers? We think so.

To remain ahead of the curve, we are continually evaluating omni-channel, channel switching, and self-service initiatives & technologies. Having said that, we do believe in the value of allowing customers and prospects the freedom to decide how they want to interact & transact with us. We think that breadth of choice is very important. To ensure ease of interaction, surely customers should be able to easily commune with us on their mobiles, PCs and by calling us. 

Interactive IVR, Web Voice Synchronisation, Social Media Integration, Web chat and Click-to-Call are some of the initiatives that we’ve either explored, trialled or implemented. We already have web chat and are continually refining that capability. We will continue to explore & assess emerging digital channels as we sail further into this digital age. However, I think we’ll need to maintain a balanced perspective, and perhaps not put all our eggs in the digital basket. The high trust and personal nature of Private Health Insurance has told us that the art of the emotionally intelligent conversation is far from dead!

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