Customer Experience News & Trends

If the customer experience won’t come to your employees, take it to them

If you want to provide a better customer experience, take the experience to your employees. Here’s how one organization made it mobile — and the payoff of the one-of-a-kind approach.

Imagine this: Your customers run the gamut — some are young, some are old. Some are poor, some are wealthy. Some have persistent problems, some are swimming in good fortune. Some need you and your product all the time, some buy but never need to contact you. Some are exactly like your employees, some seem like they’re from another planet.

Now ask your front-line employees to deliver a consistently exceptional experience to that melting pot of customers.

Challenge for nearly everyone

It’s a challenge many organizations face these days. How do you provide a superior experience when the customer base is so diverse? And how can you prepare everyone — because they all likely have a hand in some customer touchpoint — in your organization to meet that need?

An incredibly different approach helps. Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of Michigan came up with an idea that’s about as unique as you’ve ever heard of. The idea helped employees walk in the shoes of customers so they were better equipped to handle what customers threw their way.

Kathryn Levine, VP for corporate marketing and customer experience, took a mobile Customer Experience room to nearly a dozen company locations to introduce employees to customer personas they may not have known.

The BCBS Customer Experience Room blew employees away, ushered in a new wave of customer understanding and even won the Detroit-based health insurance provider a customer experience innovation award.

Here’s how it worked:

Responded to change

Like many industries, health insurance is changing rapidly because of the market and government rulings and regulations. That makes customers nervous, confused and more inquisitive. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan wanted to stay ahead of changing needs and be responsive to customers as they went down this new road, too.

“We needed a special strategy to survive and thrive,” said Levine. “We wanted to move toward being a more consumer-centric company. We wanted everyone in our company to understand the customer experience and our customers. The move was from being a business-to-business type of company to thinking like a business-to-consumer company.”

Employees who already dealt directly with customers — agents in the call center, salespeople, technical reps and marketing team members — had a pretty good grip on understanding customers and the experience. So a bigger focus of the program was to help employees who were behind the scenes — yet whose jobs still had an impact on customer experiences — learn more about customers.

Uncovered, unleashed the customers

Levine and her team started with consumer research — relying on information they could gather about the industry in general and the piles of Voice of the Customer (VoC) data they had on hand from surveys, statistics, feedback, etc.

The idea was to make up customers based on the personas of real BCBS customers, give each a name, face and back story to make them seem real and easier for all employees to relate to.

They created:

  • Mike. He’s a paycheck protector. There are a lot of things competing for his paycheck — swim lessons, lawn mower repairs, a new baseball bat, theater tickets for his wife, insurance coverage — and he wants to spend it wisely. He has three boys, one with asthma. He doesn’t understand health care as well as he’d like to, so he needs guidance from his insurer.
  • Grace. She’s a medicare patient who is often overwhelmed by everything involved with her healthcare. She takes care of herself and usually needs a lot of assistance from someone at her insurer.
  • Lisa. She’s younger, tech-savvy, busy and takes good care of herself. Health insurance isn’t something she wants to spend a lot of time thinking about or taking care of. She sees the world — her health insurance included — through social media.

The three personas may not cover all the BCBS’ customers, but they attach an image to a fair amount of them.

Introductions made

Mike, Grace and Lisa were ready to meet the BCBS employees and were rolled out in a series of training sessions that were created “to set the stage for the new customer experience strategy,” Levine said.

The customer-facing employees went through a two-hour session where they covered service skills, changes in health care and rising customer demand. Plus,they got familiar with the customers they’d soon meet in a mobile Customer Experience Room.

For employees who most often had next-to-direct contact with customers — those in billing or program creation — participated in a 45-minute workshop that included details on consumer research and an introduction to the customer personas.

Finally, the largest population of employees who rarely, if ever, had contact with customers sat down for a short video that included some consumer data, plus a short introduction to the three characters they would meet in the soon-to-come Customer Experience Room.

Room created


Meanwhile, Levine and her team were busy creating the mobile Customer Experience Room. They worked with a contractor to build a 15 x 20-foot room that resembled a large marketing booth at an industry event or small exhibit at a local museum.

Once built, it would be loaded onto a moving truck and driven to different BCBS offices throughout Michigan.

Levine also wanted it equipped to be a multimedia room, so every learning type — visual, auditory and kinesthetic — could take away a wealth of information. So there were things to read, hear and touch about each customer type.

Some offices had it constructed in the reception area. Others made space in large conference rooms for it, and some placed it in an atrium.

“We created some buzz before it arrived at each location, too,” said Levine. “We’d count down to the arrival at each office. We’d send an email going to everyone at the office, encouraging them to visit the room when it arrived.”

Step inside, please

Now for the tour: The Customer Experience Room was equipped with a station for each of the customers employees already knew — Mike, Grace and Lisa.

So when employees walked into the room, they saw Mike’s work desk — complete with photos of his boys, to-do notes, his computer, etc. Employees could either read about Mike on the walls or hear him tell his story via an iPad that was posted near his desk. In the iPad presentation, Mike talked about his journey through the health insurance system — from trying to find a physician when he suffered knee pain, through the office visit and receiving the bill.

“But it wasn’t meant to be all gloom and doom,” said Levine. “Everyone could see where we made improvements for this customer.”


Turn the corner, and employees experienced Grace’s life. They saw the mailbox full of healthcare information that she faces every day. They listened to a recorded call through her aging ears (it was a lot more difficult to understand than they were used to). They also could put on glasses that were scratched and somewhat altered to demonstrate what it’s like to be a bit vision impaired, like Grace. That helped build empathy for customers like Grace who face communication difficulties when dealing with the healthcare industry and their own health.

Turn another corner and employees met tech-savvy Lisa, who doesn’t have too many difficulties navigating the healthcare system because she’s not a big user. The display gave Levine and her team the opportunity to introduce the company’s newer customer-friendly website. It had been changed based on customer feedback, and many employees saw that, and the reasons for it, for the first time in the Customer Experience Room.

When employees walked out of the room, they were invited to sign the customer commitment panel. The board included BCBS of Michigan’s new mission for the customer experience and their commitment to delivering on it — “We aspire to be clear and simple, to help you make the right choices, to offer valuable coverage, and help you get quality health care for you and those you love.”

Feedback proves success

Employees weren’t required to visit the room when it came to town, but they still showed up in droves. More than 605 walked the walk. They were then asked right after their visits to give some feedback on the experience. If they didn’t give it then Levine and her team sent an email later asking for their thoughts.

They asked, “What did you learn and what can you do with the new information?” But the most eye-opening responses came from the question, “What have you done differently based on seeing the Customer Experience Room?”

One person said, “I wonder to myself before I do something, ‘Is this good for Grace?'” Another responded, “Now I think about this project and I wonder if it fits into our customer commitment.”

The Customer Experience Room did its job at BCBS of Michigan — helping employees make more customer-centric decisions.

Then came a bonus: It won the 2013 CX Innovation Award from the Customer Experience Professionals Association.

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