Mobile at the Heart of Independence Blue Cross' Interactions

The health payer is leveraging mobile to proactively connect with both members and prospects with the intention of tailoring its communications to individual customers' needs.
Customer Service

Mobile phones have become part of the fabric of our society, with many people rarely allowing their prized possession further than an arm's reach. According to the PewResearch Internet Project, 99 percent of American adults have a cell phone, with 58 percent owning a smartphone that dramatically extends their connectivity.

This reality is allowing organizations to leverage mobile to expand the ways they can connect with their customers and prospects without any geographical or time restrictions. Independence Blue Cross, a provider of health insurance in the Greater Pennsylvania marketplace, recognized the enormous opportunity provided by the prevalence of mobile phones. "We want to meet customers' needs wherever they are," stresses Paula Sunshine, the insurer's vice president for sales and marketing and consumer business. "We want to be able to go to them rather than wait for them to come to us."

And Independence's customers had been expressing their need for increased mobile connectivity. In fact, Sunshine notes that 60 percent of customers were accessing the insurer's website through their smartphones. "They want to engage with us over mobile," she says.

Committed to be where their customers are, Independence's business leaders started looking for a solution that facilitates mobile interactions within a safe environment. The aim was to provide customers with a way to communicate with Independence Blue Cross in the same easy way people communicate with their family and friends. But the insurer wanted to make sure it wasn't overloading customers with too many communications that lead to alienation and potential opt-out. After researching the market, last year Independence implemented technology by Relay to create IBX Wire, a system that allows for private and personalized messages on a mobile device.

One important decision following the implementation of the Relay platform was to ensure that the insurer wasn't pushing itself on customers. Instead, through the Relay platform, Independence sent its customers an invite to connect over mobile. Sunshine explains that when customers receive their new health insurance ID card, they are asked to call a toll-free number to confirm receipt, and Independence identified this interaction as a great opportunity to invite customers to connect over mobile. More than 70 percent of members do make the call and Sunshine notes that 30 percent of callers have been receptive to the invite.

Independence also wanted to make sure that customers remained in control of the frequency of communications. Sunshine explains that the tool allows members to set their own preferences, for example determining when they want to receive messages. This flexibility has worked: Out of the 200,000 people who connected to the IBX Wire, none have opted out.

Once a customer has accepted the mobile invitation, Independence can start communicating with them over the channel. Sunshine stresses that this is done in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) that protects individually identifiable information. The channel has proven to be a powerful means of communication and Independence has experienced impressive results. For example, a reminder to take the influenza vaccine was opened by 54 percent of recipients and more than 70 percent of those who opened it responded as to whether they had already taken the shot. This data provided Independence with yet another opportunity to interact with customers and Sunshine explains that those who hadn't yet taken the vaccine were sent information about how to go about getting the shot.

The next stage is to make sure that the messaging is individually relevant. For example, a member who has just filled a prescription with a brand name medication might be sent information about a less expensive alternative. And a member who visited an emergency room for a medical issue that could have easily been handled by an Urgent Care clinic will be sent information meant to educate him and help him make a different decision in the future. "We are focusing on tailored messaging," Sunshine explains.

Independence is also using the IBX Wire to give information to prospects. When the insurer visited communities to educate customers about the Affordable Care Act, it identified smartphones as a great way to send the messaging. "While many had never had insurance before and [weren't knowledgeable,] they had smartphones," Sunshine says. The insurer worked with Relay to develop an application that allows it to push content to customers. Calls to the contact center from customers who expressed interest in buying Independence's insurance were intercepted and told that they could receive information on their phones. "This allowed us to divert calls from the contact center, giving agents more time to address complicated questions," Sunshine notes.

Sunshine describes the platform as "a lifesaver" during the contact center's busiest times. She explains that while Independence wanted to provide callers with the opportunity to talk to an agent at a predetermined time that was convenient for them, the contact center was too busy to be able to schedule call backs. However, the insurer was able to use IBX Wire to send a reminder to call the contact center and was able to prioritize prescheduled calls.

Independence plans to continue extending its mobile capabilities and is working on a chat-like functionality that allows for members to communicate with an agent securely through their phones. Also in progress are plans to use IBX Wire to connect members directly with healthcare providers through three-way conversations. "We can only be limited by our imagination since we have a secure channel and can communicate with members as frequently as they want," Sunshine notes.