I can’t quite put a finger on it, but somewhere during the last five years I started really taking stock of the degrading call center service quality. This is not my industry and I don’t know how to properly quantify or respond to this change, but I am starting to think that this may be either an opportunity: for startups, for someone like Ralph Nader, or for legislators and other regulators who ultimately serve as the people tasked with serving the public interest.
For startups the answer could be as simple as coming up with a way for customers to register the fact that the call center service they are receiving is a not working. For example: when my wife and I had a baby recently the Maryland Health Connection/Maryland Health Exchange call center made two major mistakes (not counting mis-management of the overall program from the start). First, they changed our address to the wrong address. That wrong address was passed on to Carefirst of Maryland, my health insurance company, by the Maryland Health Connection/Maryland Health Exchange to. I called in to Carefirst multiple times and they told me that they could not change my address or that the only way to change my address would be through the Maryland Health Exchange/Marylnd Health Connection. After getting the call escalated to management numerous times with zero results I gave up trying to get Carefirst to update my address. When I call Carefirst they ask me to verify my address in order to talk to anyone there about anything. Carefirst also sends mail to the wrong address. Health insurance is provided with geographic limitations on top of this! So I called the Maryland Health Connection/Maryland Health Exchange thinking that it would be easy to get them to change my address. After calling in multiple times and they told me that they either could not change my address or that the only way to change my address would be to buy a completely new insurance policy through the Maryland Health Exchange/Maryland Health Connection. Seriously? How hard is it to change an address? After getting the call escalated to management numerous times I decided to try calling their website technical support line. Same thing, but after pushing for the call to be escalated I was told that my address would be added to a spreadsheet that would be used to update my address in their system (apparently, I kid you not, the entire system is a website with a web form that provides data in spreadsheet form that someone manually data enters into another system). They told me it would take a few days or a week so I waited. Several months later the address is still wrong. A startup could provide a way to report this to upper management. Maybe they could have one of those hospital style pain faces scales that you pick out where you pick the face showing that dealing with this problem hurts a whole lot or is a complete disaster that prevents someone from getting health care at all in a case like this.
I mentioned that perhaps this is a problem for someone like Ralph Nader to take up. In 1965 Ralph Nader wrote a book titled ‘Unsafe At Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of The American Automobile.‘ While someone may not die of a call center episode, their life might be threatened under certain circumstances. I could see the headline now: ‘Elderly person commits suicide after spending 40+ hours seeking to reverse health insurance denial following typo in spreadsheet by Maryland Health Connection call center worker.’ This may seem extreme, but it is actually not that far off. The people who work in these call centers DO NOT have the authorization to help people if someone calls in with a situation like this. They flat out refuse to.
It seems that one of the few options that people have as a last resort is to go to third parties to seek help. Good luck with that. I called my US Senator’s office (they forwarded me to the Governor’s office. I left two messages and never heard back from the Governor’s office so I called a third time and was told that they would speak to someone about it. I received an email shortly after the third call telling me that my address was being updated, but that was a complete fake out. They did not update my address.
I tried social media. I reached out to @MDHealthConnection twice. The first time they looked up my phone number based on my Twitter ID (which was probably a violation of my privacy rights under HIPPA or something) and called me using the phone number on on file with the Maryland Health Exchange. Then they had someone email me to confirm that I needed my address updated. That person said they would have my address updated, but that was also a complete fake out. They did not update my address either.
At least if there was a startup allowing people to report their Call Center pain level they could share this data with someone like Ralph Nader or the Governor’s office so that something could be done about it. Maybe this is an opportunity for social entrepreneurship that will get funded sooner or later. Maybe it is a project for the Presidential Innovation Fellows although their charter does not include state government or private sector companies.
I called the Attorney General’s office and they told me that the Maryland Health Connection is so screwed up that if you are married and you die then your spouse can’t update the system to get survivor benefits. I don’t have experience with this, but that sounds like a major problem.
Most of what I am talking about involves the Maryland Health Connection call center customer service team’s inability or unwillingness to help people. But this is just one example of a problem that is across the board when it comes to call centers.
Something really needs to be done about the degradation of call center service quality. Companies and governments are putting people in gatekeeper roles and blocking people from getting what they are paying for or entitled to. This is out of control.