Customer satisfaction is about more than products. To ensure that customers are truly satisfied, the customer service they receive must be as outstanding as the product they purchase.

To take the customer service experience to a new level, we’ve introduced CX Reimagined, a training program that transforms the relationship between our customers and representatives, creating a transaction that’s more empathetic, intuitive and satisfying than ever before.

After two years of development, design and implementation, more than 1,000 full-time Delta Dental Customer Operations employees, including agents, supervisors and leaders, are scheduled to complete CX Reimagined by October 2021.

Putting the customer in customer service

Delta Dental’s customer service had been effective ­— in 2020, agents answered 12.7 million calls and resolved 99% of issues on the first call. It needed to be something more, though, said Ben Sieke, Director of Talent Development & Learning.

“Initially, our biggest goal was efficiency: Let’s take as many calls as we can as quickly as we can,” Sieke said. “But there was opportunity for us to look at this differently. Not to move away from running an efficient business, obviously, but instead to put the customer front and center. Every time somebody calls in, there’s an opportunity for us to delight them.”

Sieke said that while his team briefly considered purchasing training from an outside vendor, they quickly realized that the only way to ensure that this new set of customer service standards could be achieved was to design the training in house.

“We said, let’s create a custom Delta Dental learning experience for our people,” Sieke said. “CX Reimagined training is specifically for our employees, and it feels that way. It’s designed so that it feels real and relevant to their jobs.”

Answering the questions customers didn’t ask

One of the main focuses of CX Reimagined is to develop soft skills that enable agents to interact more effectively and personably with customers, said Earl Parker, Delta Dental’s Vice President of Customer Operations. These skills include empathy, active listening and de-escalation.

“Far too often, we want to jump in and solve without really understanding the issue,” Parker said. “So part of the training speaks to how you actively listen, how you affirm what you’ve heard to make sure that you’re going to answer and solve for the right thing.”

Another aspect of the training is teaching agents how to ask probing questions, questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer and help agents discover underlying or additional issues customers have.

“If our agents answered only the question that was asked of them, they would miss an opportunity to answer the bigger question, to solve the bigger issue, the customer has,” Sieke said. “Being a bit more empathetic and curious enables us to solve the whole problem at once.”

And these soft skills set Delta Dental’s service apart for the customer, Parker said.

“That’s viewed as by the customer as going above and beyond, not just servicing. And I think that’s important if we want to truly enhance the experience,” Parker said.

The results are in

While the intent to do better is there, one question looms large: Did it work? Did the training objectively improve the customer experience? Based on early results, the answer appear to be yes.

Customers rate Delta Dental’s customer service based on two sets of criteria:

  • Net Promoter Score (NPS), which is based on a zero-to-10 ranking of how likely customers are to recommend Delta Dental’s customer service to others
  • Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), where customers rank the service they received on a one-to-15 scale

Since CX Reimagined was launched in July 2020, both these metrics have improved substantially, according to a recent study on the training’s impact. Also encouraging was that a performance increase was seen in all employees.

“What’s interesting is that the most dramatic improvements were among the lower performers, the agents who were struggling,” Sieke said. “If you weren’t good at this and were lacking these skills, you acquired them in training and now you’re doing a great job.”

This is only the beginning

For CX Reimagined, the end of this phase is just the first step in an ongoing journey, Parker said.

Among the next steps he envisions are an annual refresher training for agents and doing more to help agents serve the broker and benefits administrator communities.

Analyzing customer data more closely to understand issues completely is another goal.

“For instance, if we find that members with a certain plan option are generally more dissatisfied than members who have other plan options, then we need to look at the data to understand what’s wrong,” Parker said. “That way we can fix it so those members are happier with the product.”

And making customers happier through expert, friendly, proactive customer service is the goal of CX Reimagined.

“We want our employees to be fully engaged in helping our members and providers navigate Delta Dental,” Parker said. “We want them to be fully engaged in providing easy experiences for members and providers, and we want them to be fully equipped to provide these experiences.”