The Takeaways: Week 21 of 2022

A short one for the holiday weekend.


Steve Lohr, The New York Times. Why Isn’t New Technology Making Us More Productive? (May 24, 2022)

At Anthem, a health insurer whose plans cover more than 45 million people, about 75 percent of the customer questions are now handled through its digital channels, including a web portal, a mobile app and speech recognition software. Three years earlier, the digital share was about 30 percent. The question-answering technology to help people with basic tasks like checking the status of a claim, paying a bill or finding a doctor is animated partly by A.I.

Digital automation has eliminated 10 million phone calls that Anthem’s call centers would have fielded, estimated Rajeev Ronanki, president of digital platforms.

Anthem, which is changing its corporate name next month to Elevance Health, is not cutting its customer service staff. But the role of those workers and how their performance is measured have changed. The traditional metric of performance in call centers is “call-handle time,” and the less time per call, the better. Anthem now wants its customer service staff to resolve problems for callers with one call, whenever possible, rather than passing them to another department.

Many of its call center agents have received additional training to become what Anthem calls “care navigators.” Measurements of their performance now include issues resolved and consumer satisfaction surveys. By that broader set of measures, Mr. Ronanki said, the company’s contact agents are 30 percent to 40 percent more productive. Adding skills and redesigning work, he said, are as important as improving technology.