The CX Gauntlet

by Colin Berkshire

I was talking with a support rep at a health insurance company today and he revealed a practice that floored me.

The practice is to wear a customer down by asking the customer to perform useless tasks that are plausibly needed.

For example, could the customer please scan a copy of their ID card and send it in through their secure website. The secure website has the maximum file size set to 1 megabyte (most photos are about 5 megabytes in size.) This simple request means the customer must locate their card, take a photo, go to the secure web portal, upload the photo, get an error message that the file is too large, then find some tool that can compress the photo to under 1 megabyte, and then go back to the secure website and re-upload it and submit it.

He laughed as he told me this. He knew full well that it would take most customers 30 minutes (if they can do it at all.) More than half of all customers just gave up and abandoned their claims.

This trick works for pretty much anything that the insurance company plausibly needs. A copy of the ID card, a copy of a receipt, a copy of a doctor’s prescription, etc.

I used to think that these crappy secure messaging websites were just sloppily and carelessly designed. But as it turns out, they are quite intentional and are a part of the process of cost control. They are deliberate. And, the insurance company knows that most big claims are submitted by older people who have limited technology skills, so they may quit or need to ask help from another family member, which also can be effective in reducing claims.

He also explained that if something looked very expensive and/or complicated he would find a reason for the customer to need to call back. The company makes it impossible to call the same rep back, so the customer basically needs to start over again and re-explain everything. He indicated that on these calls he would be certain to document why the customer called, but be certain to not leave much information in the notes so that the customer would necessarily need to start at the beginning.

Other favorites included:

1) Transferring the customer to some random, wrong department.

2) Pressing the release button by accident, preferably after the customer has been asked to hold and has been holding just long enough for the rep to go to the bathroom.

3) If a customer asks for a supervisor you just transfer them back to the same general queue.

I used to think these things were done by bored, uncaring, disinterested, or inept people. But he explained that they knew exactly what they were doing, and they fully knew how much inconvenience they were causing the customer. It was absolutely not because they didn’t care. They were doing their job by wearing the customer down. They were saving the company money.

Silly me. I thought it was bored, poorly trained, under-paid staffers. It’s really shrewd managers. I am so naive sometimes.

So the next time you are asked to submit a document through a secure portal that then won’t accept your documents (too big, can’t accept PDF files, etc) remember…you are being run through the gauntlet.