17:10 PM

Being Named Top Customer Service Agent in America is Music to His Ears



Horizon call center agent Robert Mills, an opera singer, earned national recognition for his member-first approach.

Years of training in classical voice, as an opera singer, may not be the typical path to a customer service career.

But for Robert Mills, a customer service representative (CSR) for Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (Horizon BCBSNJ) who recently was recognized by SQM Group as the national CSR of the Year, the two seemingly disparate disciplines have much in common.

Mills says that just as with an operatic performance, “This job requires intense focus. You have to concentrate, and you can’t be distracted. Every day is a challenge, and that’s why I love it.”

Nominated for the prestigious award by his supervisor, Christopher Reaves, Mills traveled to Spokane, Washington for the awards ceremony, where he was chosen from among 24 finalists representing several consumer-facing industries. To be eligible, CSRs must have earned Customer Representative World Class CX Certification, which is bestowed only to reps with 85 percent “very satisfied” ratings from surveyed customers.

“I was surprised just to be nominated, and even more surprised when I won,” recalled Mills, a graduate of Duquesne University who earned a $1,000 prize as the winning CSR. “When they called my name, it took a few seconds for it to sink in.”

According to Vince Alonge, Horizon’s Vice President for Service, Robert is an outstanding CSR because he is empathetic to each member’s needs: “He has a natural, conversational style and develops a great rapport with the member. Robert is a great problem solver and treats everyone the way that he’d want to be treated. You can tell that he really cares.”

Mills, who has been with Horizon since 2016, is one of more than 1,400 CSRs employed by Horizon BCBSNJ. Together the agents field more than 6.5 million calls, online chats and emails annually. Every new customer service agent receives up to 16 weeks of intense training before they begin fielding member inquiries on their own.

In addition to training, CSRs get regular coaching through a quality control process that has supervisors listening to calls to ensure the reps are knowledgeable, courteous, accurate and take the appropriate steps to solve members’ problems or provide requested information.

“Caring for our members is what drives our service team,” added Alonge. “Most members never need to contact us and we deliver what they need from us seamlessly behind the scenes. So, if they’re calling us it’s because they need us. When that happens - whether it’s because they need help making an appointment with a doctor, just received a diagnosis and are unsure what to do next, or need help untangling a claim that was incorrectly filed – whatever it takes. Regular coaching helps us remind our CSRs that we put our members first, every time, all the time.”

It was one of those monitored calls that prompted Robert’s nomination. As he recalls it, he spent three hours on the phone helping a member – who just a week earlier had undergone surgery as part of his treatment for throat cancer – deal with billing issues over benefits and post-surgery care. Because the member had trouble speaking, Mills joined him on calls to physicians and pharmacists – often interjecting to ensure those reps understood the situation and took proper action.

“You’d be surprised how many reps from those offices would get frustrated or angry when they couldn’t understand him, or try to hurry him along,” noted Mills. “I would simply reiterate what he was saying.”

That do-whatever-it-takes mindset is why Robert is part of a Horizon BCBSNJ service pilot program that is designed to enhance member service satisfaction by giving agents all of the additional training and tools they need to fully resolve any issue a member raises, no matter how long it takes. Today, service agents may need to involve other agents who can access data systems relevant to certain operations (billing, for example). Under the new model, those barriers are eliminated.

“I got involved in this profession because I genuinely want to help people. You can’t beat the level of satisfaction you get from making a difference in someone’s life,” added Mills.

To join the chorus of fans who’ve heard him sing… Bravissimo, Robert!