GRAND RAPIDS — When Priority Health decided to reshape its customer service arm, the company looked to the Disney Institute for advice.
With health care reform spurring some of the service changes, Priority worked with Progressive AE architects to merge its call centers with the hope of better managing the customer experience.
Using some of the strategies learned over the weeklong professional development trip to Disney, the Priority team took a look at how it could reorganize, rebrand and improve its structure.
Kim Suarez, VP of medical operations and medical experience for Priority, said the company took a few pages from the Disney playbook in thinking about how to change the culture of Priority. However, after seeing the kind of investment, or lack there of, in what Disney calls its “back stage” operations, the Priority group thought it best to diverge from the model.
Suarez said the 19,000-square-foot call center, which handles roughly 5,000 calls a day, is the “backbone” of the Priority organization, and making the investment to improve its function was a necessary departure from the Disney paradigm.
“As we began to think about how to transform the culture around experience, one way was around a consolidated call center,” she said. “The concept is looking to a single touch point for customers, with no transfers.”
With the help of Progressive AE, the team set out on a two-day design charrette to determine how the space should be reworked, what elements to include and what had to go. Suarez declined to say how much the insurance provider paid for the project.
“Part of (Priority Health’s) goal was to create an environment that became a front door or window to the company,” said Bryan Koehn, principal and director of design for Progressive AE. “Our challenge became: How do we increase density and enhance productivity?”
Through his research, Koehn, along with Senior Designer and Architect Thomas Danckaert, worked on creating an environment that emphasized the visibility between employees and supervisors and increased the available collaborative space and other areas that allow employees to easily change locations while remaining connected to customers.
Koehn said to open up the space, the cubicles that lined the outside wall were torn away, which allowed 360-degree natural light to hit around the entire room.
“Before we started, the north and south ends of the space were disjointed and had very little cross connection,” Danckaert said. “We made the core of the room a little less of a boundary.”
The design opened up space in the center of the room to be an activity hub where employees can meet. The remodeling project also included new technological features as well, including a central stat board that updates in real-time to track call metrics and those in the queue. The new design also incorporated docking stations for when remote workers come into the office.
Koehn said fatigue and pressure in a call center is a central issue to the work environment, and many of the improvements were meant to address worker-related stresses. Helping remove those stresses with everything from ergonomic furniture to better technology could help cut down the call center’s employee turnover rate and improve retention, he said.
Since moving into the space in June of 2011, several call metrics improved. In partnership with Gallup, Priority reported that its employee engagement is up. Average time to answer is down to 30 seconds from 60 seconds, along with the cost of moving expenses for employee training and mentoring purposes also decreased. The Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems score also rose between 2010 and 2011 from 84 to 86 percent.
The new space houses 120 employees and has room to grow to roughly 150 people, according to Suarez. About 40 employees were moved from other areas of the organization, she said.
Suarez said the Medicare business unit currently occupies the space of one of the former call centers.
Design-based culture change