Friday, April 10, 2009

Sorta Rock Star-ish

I have to laugh a little because I'm like a super-nerd, quizzical brain, high IQ, work-a-holic freak, toiling away in a mind-bogglingly complicated (read: Boring) industry, so there is nothing remotely Rock Star about me, but...
...this week was a very good week.
Here is the thing....I work in the health insurance industry. 
I also viscerally HATE the health insurance industry as it currently exists. 
I started hating it from the very first day I ever had a bad experience with some uncaring, unfeeling and generally stupid customer service dip-shit who couldn't explain to me why, after I had personally shovelled piles and piles of my money into the company coffers (hello premium payments) that my particular insurance company wouldn't cover whatever it was that I needed covering at the time, which especially pissed me off, considering that I am never sick and rarely ever actually used the insurance.  Yep, on the occasion I needed it, "sorry".  
And to top it off, they used my very least favorite combination of words in a sentence while talking to me, too, which made me want to reach through the phone and strangle them.  In case you are curious, those words are "Our Policy".
Trust me, no college student socked with hundreds of dollars in medical bills cares about anybody's "policy".
I continued hating the insurance industry at various times through the years, and certainly EVERY time I ever needed to use it or talk to anyone at an insurance company about my particular situation because the service was invariably crappy, and I find it personally offensive to pay through the nose for something and receive crappy service in return.  Fuck.  You.  I work WAY too hard for my money to be treated like it doesn't matter.
As luck would have it, one day I was offered a job working for an insurance company, and since I'm never one to be afraid of putting my money where my mouth is, I took that job, and got myself an inside view of how things really worked--now I could see for myself why health insurance seems so messed up all the time.
At my new job, mostly, there were no surprises.  The people who dealt directly with the public (customer service) had the lowest pay, and it was considered by the company to be an un-skilled position, which is why most of the people they got to do that type of work were....un-skilled. 
But that IS the face of many insurance companies, in most cases--"unskilled labor"--as witnessed by the hundreds and hundreds of people who were calling with complex issues, teetering on the brink of a financial disaster caused by medical bills, every day. 
You go ahead and think about that for a minute.  I'll wait.
Even better, large segments of the business are outsourced, which is not an unusual thing for American companies these days, and not to begrudge anyone in India a job or anything, but the reality is that the sheer TURNOVER of employees at over-seas call centers all but guaranteed that that segment of business would remain "un-skilled" indefinitely.  One of their managers once told me that to have an employee stay on the job more than 3 MONTHS was rare.  Three Months.  How much did you know about your job in the first three months, starting cold?  You can't learn the piano in three months, what the hell makes you think you can do this?  The language barrier alone takes months to overcome, and with complicated issues such as medical claims and payments, excellent communication is the only thing standing between resolution and disaster.  Believe it.
Meanwhile, back here in the States, "customer service", a group of less-than-committed individuals pulling in salaries in the low 20's, not enough to actually support a family, but dramatically more than their Indian counterparts, was largely made up of what I refer to as the 'poor' crowd.  By 'poor' I mean, poor in their way of thinking, and 'poor', meaning that their feelings regarding money will essentially keep them 'poor' forever.  Not ambitious.  Low 20's is "good money" for them.  Individually nice people, but, you get the feeling that if they were handed a 100K job tomorrow, they would still display all of those fabulous white trash qualities that we know and love, and would be far more likely to blow their salary on some stuff to fix up their car, rather than, say, provide a better educational opportunity for their kid, for example.
I'm just sayin'.
These are the same people who would spend an hour complaining about how their boss moved their break time 15 minutes closer to their lunch, but take exactly 2 minutes and 3 seconds to blow off some customer because the customer's issue was multi-faceted and complicated and they (customer service) "don't feel like thinking that much today."
I wouldn't be saying it if I hadn't heard it with my very own ears.
You know who I'm talking about...people who are annoyed when a customer calls right in the middle of their telling of a very funny story about how their dog was humping their husband's leg.  Or whatever.
And the means by which their performance is measured feeds directly into their simplistic way of thinking:  Call time.  Don't get me started.  "Can you get a customer off the phone in 2 minutes?  Because we have a lot of callers, and rather than hiring more people, we figured out that if we just talk less, we can handle the work load with less people." 
"Duuuh, yeah, I think I can do that..." and they DO.  You actually have people in customer "service" saying things like, "I wasn't going to sacrifice my call time on that", regarding some poor sucker who's doctor ordered a diagnostic test and now he has to pay 2 grand for that test because nobody took the time to explain to him, or his doctor, that it wouldn't be covered for some reason, which, believe it or not, is a fixable problem for an insurance company, but requires a bit of time and man-power to unravel.
Thankfully, the call time criteria is changing...a little.  Baby steps.
Without going into detail, because, well, it's boring, let me just say that the ENTIRE TIME I have been working in the health insurance industry, I've been on a personal mission to make it suck just a little less for the thousands of policy holders that I have assisted, either directly or indirectly, at my job.  When it was me doing customer service, it was easy--I'd just fall on the knife and "sacrifice my call time" and actually solve their problem.  Such a maverick.  Since I no longer deal directly with the customers much (and by the way, if you're any good, the insurance company will promote you out of that area and give you a raise, so, that's another reason why customer service is staffed almost entirely by the unambitious), I now find other ways to chip away at the bullshit.
This week, I took a gigantic chunk out of it.  A big, fat, policy-changing initiative.  A big, fat, policy-changing initiative which was nothing, really--can't believe nobody thought of it before--but, oh well, I'll take the credit for that, and my boss, and my boss's boss, and the customer service boss all love me.  The customer service people themselves hate my guts, because they are now required to think about something they didn't want to think about before, but, who gives a shit, right?  How about, regarding this one, teeny issue, customer service doesn't SUCK--how about that? was a good week.  All good.  Sometimes, when I'm saying those words, "Positive change from within!" I'm not in a position to believe it--I'm actually saying it to try to convince myself that it matters that I actually care about the work that I do.  I say it to bolster my own spirits.  Sometimes, happily, I require no such positive inner-dialogue, because the momentum caused by a simple act carries the entire conversation to a really, really good place.  Excellent.

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