How HCSC turned around bad publicity on Twitter

It's every payer's nightmare.

When Blue Cross Blue Shield saw its name next to the hashtags #mistake and #swindled on Twitter, the insurer acted fast to reach out the member who voiced his frustrations in what likely is the fastest, most public way possible--Twitter.

"Anyone … out there looking at the topic of 'mistake' would see our brand used in an obviously, not very flattering way," said Lynde O'Brien, director of electronic media strategy for Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), which includes Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in Illinois, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

The incident took place in January of last year when a member wrote that he was confused about his new Blue Cross Blue Shield Texas insurance card and couldn't afford it. Within 90 minutes, BCBSTX reached out to the member via Twitter, asking if he needed help. The member responded with a list of concerns regarding the address change line and said he was trying to find a doctor for a check-up.

"It played out very publicly because the member that was upset at us was retweeting everything we did to reach out to him," O'Brien explained on last week's Fierce webinar.


Per protocol, a customer service representative reached out the member via social media. The company had found that following conversations on Twitter and then reaching out the dissatisfied members by phone can be jarring and somewhat big brother-ish for the social media users. Instead, the insurer first uses the medium that captures their members.

After BCBSTX responded, the member had a change of heart. The member finished the conversation with the tweet, "Great talking to you, too! All my questions were answered and my worries relieved."

O'Brien noted that this case demonstrates how social media can help insurers turn what could have been a very disjointed experience into a direct customer service experience.

By reaching out over social media, she said, the majority members with complaints will reply, and it then becomes another customer service interaction, except the insurer is calling them rather than the traditional inbound call.

It's important to note, though, that not everyone wants to be helped, O'Brien added, stating that some members simply are unreachable. As they're known in the social media world, trolls may simply record your efforts just to mock the company.

HCSC uses the Air Force social media protocol as guidance to determine when and when not to respond. At times, according to O'Brien, it's not useful to participate in a conversation.

"Not everyone [wants] to be served," she said. "Some will not respond. They're just venting."

In those cases, O'Brien added, "There's nothing we can say. There are times when it's just as important to know when not to respond as when to respond."

Studies have shown that 30 percent of the people complaining will actually remove their complaint, O'Brien explained. Most often, the response is positive to their customer service efforts over social media.

"Not everyone thanks us, but the situations are resolved," she said. "Very often, we see that negative going to that 'Blue Cross rocks. Thank you for being on social media.'"

For more information:
- watch the recorded presentation "Social media 'likes' healthcare: From marketing to social business" on-demand (registration required)