Healthcare, Retirement and the Digital Customer Experience

DCX POSTCAST #3

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I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Matt Benjamin, former partner customer engagement and automation and transformation lead at Mercer. He has over 20 years of experience constantly evolving Omni channel digital experiences, contact center operations, and enablement and has led teams as large as 1000. As transformation and automation strategy leader he led the global strategy focused on artificial intelligence and digital customer engagement.

7 Key takeaways from the conversation:

  • Senior Leadership alignment is an absolute must if you're really going to move the needle forward within the organization.

  • Crafting a CX vision can be easier said than done.

  • In the health and retirement space, one thing that matters above all else is to make sure that your CX is making a difference in people's lives and making that experience as easy as possible.

  • A challenge with CX-related investments is the impacts to other parts of the organization by actually realizing the benefits of the gain

  • Make chatbot investments in increments

  • Partner early with the call center on all digital initiatives

  • Move infrastructure to the cloud in order to move and scale faster

Transcript

Mark Levy 

Welcome to the DCX podcast where I interview leaders in the customer experience space, about how digital is changing the landscape and how you can leverage these changes for success in your business.

Welcome, Matt to the DCX podcast.

Matt Benjamin 

Thanks, Mark. Pleasure to be here. Congrats on the launch of the DCX newsletter and the podcast content has been awesome so far. So the bar has been set pretty high, I hope I keep the momentum going for the crowds.

Mark Levy 

Well, thanks, Matt. I appreciate it. So you know, as I've been doing these podcasts, I've been talking about how digital is impacting customer experience. Today I want to talk about the health insurance and retirement space and I really want to look at three areas to discuss. So, one is company organizational structure and how you gain support for customer experience at the C-level; Your time at Mercer and the digital transformation that you lead there; and then what you see coming in the future. 

There needs to be C-suite alignment on the commitment to investing in customer experience. How did you work to gain that alignment at Mercer?

Matt Benjamin 

Yeah. Great question. And I'd say it's absolutely right. Senior Leadership alignment, the executive alignment commitment is an absolute must if you're really going to move the needle forward within the organization. Before we jump right to executives, though, Mark, I think it is important for a second to and worth noting that on the other end of the spectrum, there's actually another really important commitment needed and I think that's from the colleagues that are kind of on the front lines or maybe in the back office or otherwise that are also driving and supporting the experience day in and day out for the actual customer. So you know, be it your product and technology teams, being your service center, your call center, your operations, etc. But what's great is if we talk about senior leadership, executive leadership, as well as those colleagues, I think they both share actually a really common need in order to gain that alignment and commitment. And I think above all else that's really a compelling and a strong vision. And one that is actually focused on CX and digital.

It's that underlying reason that's gonna give all of them a reason to move forward with whatever it is you're after. And in of which each of them is going to have some pretty specific needs tailored to their group, right? If you think about executives, they're going to be looking probably for some level of top-line revenue growth and client retention moving in the right direction, and the operating leverage or efficiency type of plays. Whereas maybe your frontline colleagues are more tied to that sense of purpose or passion for being in the seat and coming to work every day. And positive culture that's really building. So, I've always felt that that vision is that one thing that's going to align all of those parties becomes super important in order to move the needle with CX and digital transformation. Even though sometimes crafting that vision can be easier said than done.

It took my former team and a little bit of time actually to really land the plane on what we wanted that vision to be around CX and digital. Lots of great evaluation lots of great discussion about was what was really important to our customers. You know, analyzing the data, doing the research, listening to service center calls, talking to colleagues, all of that, and as we evaluated the customer journey, kind of different macro and micro-moments along there. Once we understood that, we were able to put something together that we felt was pretty compelling a lot seem to fall in place post that. And you know, I think in the health and retirement space that we operate in, we decided that there was really like one thing that matters above all else. And that was to make sure that we were really making a difference in people's lives that we interacted with. And when we were doing it, we were doing it by providing some really good care and making that experience like as easy as possible.

So in so many words that kind of became or morphed into that vision that we leveraged around a reimagined redesigned CX digital agenda. And from there that's where our business cases in our investments were built. That's where our plans for org structure and redesign kind of came from and how we kind of painted a roadmap for the future of CX and digital. That's what it was all anchored around. So I think that is the one I believe that is the one thing that is really what's needed to start the process of commitment alignment for all aspects of the organization.

Mark Levy 

Right. And I would say that commitment drives, prioritization investment, alignment. These types of projects can take years, how do you face those challenges over time to maintain momentum to keep the right things at the right level of priority to maintain the investment? Again, I think it's it's something to do with the organization and the commitment at the top and the support for someone like yourself, who's the evangelist, really, of the work that's going to be done?

Matt Benjamin 

So a couple of things. Any good investment starts with a solid business case. And a good business case is going to yield some form of improvement and revenue or cost, all while you're actually moving the needle towards a better experience for customers, right, supported by maybe some other KPIs, you need NPS, C-Sat, turnaround time, whatever it might be that you're after. You know, I think, a challenge with CX-related investments probably before digital kind of crept into the scene has been the risk to be assumed by actually realizing the benefits of the gain. You know, we're gonna put all that we're gonna put these dollars towards a, a new CX tech, some technology that's going to do X, Y, and Z. And, you know, sales teams, you need to sign up for multi-million more dollar incremental sales that potential clients are in revenue service teams, you need to shave millions of dollars off your operating budgets. I've never met a call center leader that just kind of raises their hand and be like, Oh, this is a great idea, you know, take away my staff will be all set these things are going to fix everything. It's usually not the first thing.

So what I found is that it's you have to paint that end state of what it is you're looking to achieve what's at the end of the rainbow, but the way to, in my opinion, a way to continue to garner that commitment, that investment is to do it incrementally, and be smart about what you're asking for what you're after, what you're able to return back to the organization and ultimately, the customers. As a result, you can continue to build on it. And you'll start to see that multiplier effect kind of happen and teams will be willing to grasp onto that. They'll be willing to commit to the first stage and then when they see the first stage proven out they're gonna be like, Yeah, I want some more of that. I'm looking like a hero. I'm doing well. Like so let's get some more of that in play.

I think about a use case that kind of, you know, maybe paints that picture from my prior days. And let's go back to like the first implementation of a chatbot as an example or Virtual Assistant. Yeah, I mean, we dreamed up the pie in the sky where, you know, we're gonna have this AI-enabled super-advanced bot that's going to handle inquiry and self-service and personalization of transactions. It's all going to be baked in. That is going to take forever, right? So, we took a different approach, we painted the picture of what we wanted the future to look like, and then we created the path incrementally on how we're gonna get there. We're gonna start with a few intents. We're gonna get those automated meaningful ones that that meant a lot to the customer is turned in terms of self-service, tactical things we can take care of for them, and provide some first efficiency into the organization; would enter into the market with a virtual assistant. And then we would learn from that and we'd succeed, we would expand on the intent library, then we'd work on some transactions, and then we worked in personalization and we again, those building blocks continued to happen. And as a result, that was a good use case of kind of that incremental investment, creating an incremental return, doing incrementally great things for customers in a digital fashion. We can't do it all at once. It takes time. You got to approach it. In a smart manner.

Mark Levy 

So for the virtual assistant, did you go outside for partnership for that? Or do you try to build things in-house?

Matt Benjamin 

Yeah, so very early on we we evaluated all options building in-house and then working with a couple of smaller firms to get started. And we ultimately went the external path to kind of get us going. And then as time moved on, we kind of moved away. We started managing it internally and expanding on it internally. The platform was still hosted externally, but yeah, yes,

Mark Levy 

And then was the virtual assistant integrated in for the agents as well? A contextual relationship between what the customer was doing and in the virtual assistant to if they needed to talk to an agent, there was some alignment either they could see the conversation or they had some summary?

Matt Benjamin 

Bingo. So we made those transcripts available to agents as part of their incoming interaction, whether it was a chat or it escalated to the voice channel so that there wasn't a start-over point. Right. We knew that was gonna be important from the beginning. So that integration was necessary because otherwise, that's frustration for the customer. That's friction for the customer. Nobody wants that. Right.

Mark Levy 

And how did you think about the organizational structure of your team? How did you pull that together? Was it based on channels? Was it based on journeys? Was it on those priorities? Did you have people working kind of on the today versus the future? How do you approach it?

Matt Benjamin 

Yeah, so a couple of things. The first thing that we did was what we did is we looked at who are all those colleagues that have a straight-ish line to the customer. We think about the service center, and we think about the maybe support are those enablement, functions, you know, who's doing your workforce planning, who's doing your quality, who's building your knowledge libraries, who's, who's managing those IVR self-service flows, those bot intents that you're building out? What we wanted to do was bring all of those folks together under common leadership and really feel like they were leading the charge in that holistic kind of CX and digital journey. Some cool things happened. I mean, again, you get teams talking that maybe otherwise weren't talking on a daily basis during stand-ups or huddles during the day. You got insights being shared back with call center supervisors that were coming in from folks looking at journey analytics in the bots or otherwise. You were finding new ways to problem solve, I think for customers that was much more efficient than the siloed approach of siloed organization where maybe some of those things are in global support functions, and some of those are just in operational hubs, for example.

The other thing that we did, it's tough, we didn't get everybody under the same umbrella like the technology, maybe product management, right? Those are typically you know, entities of their own within a large organization. But it was super important from the get-go to just create really good partnerships with those teams. Make sure that they had a seat at our table and vice versa, we had a seat. at their table. You got product folks who are driving maybe a market direction field into digital, you know, we wanted that conversation to be happening. And we wanted their feedback. And their perspective, in addition to what was happening operationally is servicing customers moving to tech teams who are actually the ones building delivering some of this is important connections, whatever it might be to connect the platforms and build out the experiences. So I can't stress the importance of partnership with maybe groups like those, even if they're not under the same remits because everyone's after the same thing. It's to serve up really great experiences;  advance the digital agenda. That success for the company and success for the people with successful customers.

Mark Levy 

Relative to the digital agenda and the call center agenda. I find sometimes there's friction, where the call center hears about the digital plans to reduce X number of calls that are coming in trying to handle tier one level type of inquiries, which would have an effect over time on the size of the call center and what those people are working on. And so there's potentially some conflict. What do you think is the future of the call center versus the digital experience?

Matt Benjamin 

Yeah. So, I think what I saw happening very early on was some of that skepticism, right, like, however, as you as you go down the path and you start to prove out and show the results, and we talked about incremental and incrementally building, right. What we actually found was, we would have more need for people working on these projects, supporting these other channels. And, we'd actually have interest in people who wanted to make their next move in their career. So it actually ended up, it didn't apply to everybody, right? But the other thing that was helpful for us is starting to look at workforce planning holistically across all of the channels, not just the service center. What was happening in uptake? Let's say, the bot and managing to normal functions via chat potentially. So we're starting to plan holistically. And as we were growing, we were deflecting more to self-service and using that capacity to scale with new growth, rather than adding incremental expense into the operation. Now, there will be a point where that might change. But at least until before I was leaving, we were on a really good trajectory there where we saw people who were interested in doing this type of work and they got ported over to new roles. And we had growth that was saying we're going to use our existing capacity scale for that which is awesome without adding any incremental expense.

Mark Levy 

So, when you first got to Mercer, what was the digital experience like then and how did you come across like what you were going to focus your improvements on?

Matt Benjamin 

So that's, that is not a loaded question at all, I guess. Let's say if we, if we summed it up, probably like, ready for transformation, and probably ripe with a lot of opportunity. As you can imagine, big organization, multiple different business units or business segments that meant a lot of different experiences. Some were a bit more proficient or mature than others, while others, you know, we're kind of just getting going. But either way, there was a need to kind of level up all of them and I think digital was at the center of that. So a much more modern digital experience needed to be the focus.

So, what it kind of looked like was probably a bit of an outdated you know, when platform serving some basic inquiry transaction stuff, and rolling in your benefits, checking your pension plan things. Thanks for that. Sure. Your service centers were single channel they were call centers, right? They weren't they weren't even multi-channel at that point. So I think what, what the effort or the trajectory looked like was, the first thing we wanted to get in and do was an overhaul of those self-service digital platforms. Something that was much more modern, better UX better UI built on customer and user journeys, understanding where those pain points were in the flow, and how do we make it easier, better, etc. That took a few years in itself just given you know, what we were trying to accomplish, but at the end of the day, you know, it was a consumer-focused, consumer-centric type of site bringing in things like personalization, guidance into those decision making flows in really good educational content, ported in based off of what people's interests were, mobile responsive, at the time and you know, again, this was a few years back, right. That was all the rage.

So, we tackled that piece first and then we turned our attention over to the service center. And then two things. One technology, we needed to round out the toolset internally round up the toolset externally, and that meant, you know, unifying some CRM platforms moving into Salesforce taking a lot of capabilities from there, and starting to build those other channels into the mix. We then did some work with our IVR and restructured that whole thing, started to bring some self-service transactional capabilities and automation into the IVR to reduce some call volume coming in and, and what not. And, then again, kind of just to build on some of that channel experience was some push notifications, some proactive stuff that was starting to hedge off things that people probably needed; account updates, status updates, etc.

So that was on the technology side and then on the service center, much of what we just talked about going down that path of reorganizing the teams. And then once we were doing that looking at the internal type of processes that were right in front of us through automation, potentially. How do we make our colleagues’ lives easier, and how do we speed up some processes that were otherwise a little bit archaic, potentially? So yeah, so that was kind of the path with a concluding on what I'd say is more modernization. Took a look at some of the older infrastructure that was sitting in the house and said, It's time to get to the cloud. That's going to open up a whole new avenue of opportunities with AI, digital, data integrations, you know, everything under the sun, and that was a great experience getting out of that constraint on-prem infrastructure to cloud-based one connected to Salesforce. Everything was humming along really great.

Mark Levy 

And how did customers react to the digital experiences?

Matt Benjamin 

It was like Christmas day, you know, but every day for at least a leader like myself looking at results. We were keeping an eye on what was happening, you know, day over day, week over week, month over month, and we kind of saw the trifecta of good stuff happening. We saw digital utilization increasing. When we started with that bot being implemented, we were maybe funneling 10% of interactions through to digital channels. By the time I left, we were upwards of 40-50%. Between bot, IVR, and self-service webs. The whole kit and caboodle like we were really moving things in that in that direction where people were taking advantage of it, it meant they were hungry for it. We every day, we keep an eye on you know CSAT, NPS and what was happening there and the team took pride in like reviewing Hey, these are the negative scores. These are the detractors, we're gonna follow up we're gonna figure out what's wrong, he's gonna make it right and we're gonna put those learnings into practice day in and day out to make it better, you know. Moved from sub 95 CSAT scores to upwards of 98, which is is a big move based on 500-600,000 interaction surveys each year to get there. So, it was great to see I think that customers were responding well to those channels, what we were doing there, and the improvements in the measurements.

But, you know, on the flip side for the business, we were seeing the efficiencies, you know, we were taking costs incrementally out of the operation and organization. Smartly, we weren't doing it and putting pressure on the teams. You know, to keep pace was done in exchange with the good returns that we were seeing with volume reduction or whatnot. And colleagues are feeling good. So, the customer's happy, the business was happy. We had colleagues saying that they were engaged. They were proud to be part of the work. They saw the changes we were making. So yeah, it was good. It convinced me if I wasn't already convinced that when you focus on taking care of your customers, you're gonna in turn, take care of your business. You're gonna take care of your people. It's a no-brainer.

Mark Levy 

Yeah, absolutely. I agree. One area that's been sort of a pet peeve of mine is to understand root cause of a call in relation to how you can take that call out.  And what was your process to do that?  You know, it's not just the quality of the call, which is important. You know, looking at the agent do they have the right answers right, but really questioning why did that call happen? And where's the problem or the challenge and what can I do about it?

Matt Benjamin 

There were a few things that we did to dig in, and there are some things that were on the radar that I think are underway now, which are probably a little bit more intelligent using data, using AI. So what we did at the time, we were you know, just combing data, and finding out you know, where we had multiple interactions within X amount of time frame. What could we extract from CRM notes, or what can we extract from any notes that we had documentation on? And then we do a little bit of sample analysis on calls and we try to kind of piece together okay, if we were able to get in front of serving this type of thing up maybe on the web. Like, for example,  some of this led back to web, I went to the website, and I couldn't find this so I had the call, and there was no chat available and there was no chatbot of it. So you know, again, if we started core with just being able to get what we needed. On the web that would solve the problems, don't pay for certain policy types. It's a complex environments complex, you know, record-keeping systems etc. It was tough to get bill pay on the website for certain types of policies. But we found when people call him that it was worth the effort to go ahead and do that, thus, not mean to initiate that call. So I'd say it was grunt work, really to dig and find early on.  Where what we were exploring, and I'm pretty sure it's happening now, is leveraging some of the conversation with speech analytics offered now through some of the cloud service providers and whatnot. To do that, I'd say without as much legwork as we took at that time, but it really was, you know, get a shovel and start digging. And then and start to understand what it was, those products and notifications same type of thing, how many people were calling to check if their case was resolved? Well, the first thing was okay, let's get them a notification that we're still working on it. Number one, or we actually solve it, and here's the reason why. But then we would go a layer deeper and say did a case need to be opened at all for some reason, and only might go try to solve that via, you know, better self-service functionality to start with, or maybe a downstream or upstream process that needed to be retooled? So it was manual labor 100%

Mark Levy 

I feel your pain and I many out there also feel your pain.

Matt Benjamin 

Yeah, there's those I mean, again, and I know you're a big proponent of just the same. There's probably some self-help tools just by starting to think about mapping out what your customer journey is. Just get a handle on that's going to be your starting point. Like if you think about where in there, there are either big moments or smaller moments that are likely to cause some type of a confusion, and potentially some pain in the process. We're all consumers, we need to put that lens on it, and then kind of say, Hmm, that could lead us to point A or B potentially but that's step one. And before you can start looking at data do you understand what the journey is all together? Because if you don't, just stay in a haystack potentially.

Mark Levy 

Where do you see the biggest opportunities along the customer journey in health insurance and retirement?  Where are there friction points today that can be improved?

Matt Benjamin 

I think and given I just listened to the recent podcast with David, I'm gonna steal a bit from his because I think you've just bought on I mean, it's the amount of complexity in the system. In what's happening in the space with respect to health insurance needs, and retirement needs. I think people are looking for it to be simpler, and despite a lot of effort, kind of not getting too much simpler and might be even getting more complex.

And at the same time, right? Individuals are getting that much more savvy with their more well-known or traditional type of consumer journeys like telecom, retail, travel I mean, all that's making just huge, huge headway and making it as simple as possible. And in the insurance space or in retirement space. Still pretty difficult. It's not common dinner table talk, and whatnot. So, I think there are couple of things one is that the industry really needs to continue to keep a lens on what's happening in the more traditional consumer space and pick all those bags of goodies and start to introduce them into their offering like the brass tacks stuff, like when people need help, they probably want to go, they do want to be able to go find it on their own. Not a whole lot of people like to pick up the phone. So if you don't have those self-service channels in place, fueled by digital, you are kind of probably already making it a little bit more difficult than you need to. So, there's other examples in there. But I think again, it's the we need to leverage all the good stuff that's happening in some of those more traditional well-known because customers know it, they're empowered by it and they have the expectation of it. And we need to port that over here.

I think the other probably thing that I would call most attention to in this space is the need for guidance when making important decisions, and that can be either in a self service driven flow powered by digital or it could even be on an agent side or a sales side. I think people are hungry for guidance that is going to make them feel a bit confident in the decisions they're making, be it's the program I'm enrolling in, what I need to use or how I can use my plans when I need to, either be the doctor or hospital services. On the retirement side, you know, am I properly understanding when I shouldn't start to draw down at my pension plan or think about what's happening in my 401 K and when, when and how to utilize that stuff. So I think that's probably the biggest opportunity like is to continue to evolve the capability to build out guidance for people who need to make these types of decisions. And it's not simple stuff. And the better we can do that the better we can focus on what's meant what matters to them, utilize emerging technologies, you know, more data, more AI, etc. The better we're gonna get it done.

Mark Levy 

So yeah, building a more personalized proactive experience based on knowing this customer, where they've been what they've done. And maybe it's an age-based type of thing that you start communicating to them about it after that. These things are coming up and similar to the onboarding side. I think onboarding for a lot of these is like pick your plan and move on, start putting money in, but then there's the other side of it, which is the utilization of what you've accumulated over time.

Matt Benjamin 

That's right. That's right. And that can apply to your traditional savings vehicles and the retirement space that could you know afford over to health savings accounts that you're accumulating for health care needs in retirement like there's a lot to tackle there and more of that personalized approach at some level of kind of expert assistance. expert guidance built in that doesn't feel generic. It feels tailored for somebody based on what they know about you.

Mark Levy 

We've talked a bit about AI. I'm a big fan of AI and we're still in the very early stages. Where do you see AI as an opportunity in the future for this market?

Matt Benjamin 

Yeah, I think it's exactly where you were going. It's using it on the front end, I think to help those and help individuals make those better decisions, aggregating data, intelligently running, probably some pretty complex algorithms that the typical back end might be a little sluggish to do. And kind of outputting you know, based on a much larger set of data, things that might be beneficial for someone based on their personal needs and their personal demographics or their situation. So I think AI can do is going to start to play a huge kind of play in that space.

I think the other thing that we started to dip our toes in is happening as well as in the back office behind the scenes, right like the things that it can do for agents in auto-summarization and classification of customer you know, conversations, straight through and then building that do straight through processing or automation for any kind of tier two type of support. The same would go for data reconciliation on the back end think about the amount of data being exchanged between parties and it's potentially ripe for error. And when there's a problem potentially means like, maybe someone like you or I might need to go to a doctor, and our coverage isn't on file and we get denied services, right? That could happen. But with some advanced AI in place, doing some more complex quality controls, and surfacing things that might need attention before they come problems based off of other trends or algorithms like it's gonna solve a lot of downstream for both the company in efficient processes but also frustration for a customer of these types of products.

Mark Levy 

I've seen recently some digital human AI experiences that are proposing that they can replace the human in a call center, to bring what I think is missing and has always been a challenge in digital is that connection with the customer the empathy and trust. Two questions. One, do you see a future for those? And two, what do you think about bringing empathy and trust into the digital experience?

Matt Benjamin 

Yeah, it's tough. I don't think in one guy's opinion, but I don't think we'll ever fully replace the need for human-led assistance in this maybe just in this space, at least. I mean,  I've listened to calls where you have retirees trying to make decisions about, you know, Medicare, for example, and the complexity and, and the amount of empathy that some of these consultancies agents put into helping these individuals get what they need to be taken care of to make sure that their wallet is taken care of and to make sure their health care is. I'm not sure we'll find a place where it's, but I do think that there's a lot of opportunity to introduce more of that to handle maybe some more of the routine stuff. And in a way that can make the right handoff. So, I do think there's a place where whenever fully replaced. I'm not I'm skeptical. I just think there's there's a level of care that's probably getting needed in this space that we're never gonna get to that as much as we serve up what we can to kind of advance that fully digital agenda.

Mark Levy 

I see you're in New Hampshire and you're in your RV here, enjoying the summer and I appreciate you taking the time to give us some of your experience and guidance. I think it was extremely helpful. And thank you for your time.

Matt Benjamin 

Yeah, it's been a pleasure, Mark. And best of luck with all the future DCX content podcasts. Thanks so much.