Blue Shield of California Welcomes Consumer Ratings

With Bazaarvoice, Health Insurer Provides Amazon-Like Forum for Good -- and Bad -- Reviews

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A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In what is believed to be a first for the health insurance industry, Blue Shield of California has launched an online ratings and review program (blueshieldca.com) that enables members to provide feedback on their BlueShield health plans. The program was implemented by Bazaarvoice, an Austin, Texas-based company that helps businesses analyze online customer conversations, and is similar to those on websites such as Yelp and Amazon.

Knowing full well that a ratings and review program for a health-insurance provider is a ripe public forum for members to post negative comments about the plans, Blue Shield's Robert Geyer, senior VP-customer operations, said he's open to feedback. "We'll readily admit that our processes and products aren't perfect. Nobody's is," he said. "But we're a big proponent of transparency, and we wanted to keep getting better. We wanted to give our members a voice and give them a way to interact with us and with each other."

In the pilot-test program, Mr. Geyer said Blue Shield members were "responsive and positive about their experiences, and we've also gotten some feedback that shows where we have opportunities to make things better, and we're open to it."

"We deal with this all the time. You're going to get positive and negative reviews," said Sam Decker, CMO for Bazaarvoice. "But that's what makes it authentic. That's why people are going to pay attention. This isn't a testimonial."

Since the program just started, there are no current comments -- which can be submitted only by members -- on the site. But a sampling from Yelp shows both positive feedback ("When explaining my complaints via phone, it was amazing how much support the representatives offered regarding my issues. I felt they always stepped into my shoes as a patient") and some far-from-flattering commentary: "Worst customer service EVER!!! They denied my application and will not give me my money back," and "Blue Shield sucks. I had them with my last job. Calling them is like trying to navigate a quagmire while blindfolded and with your hands tied behind your back."

"We think that if people can make informed decisions about what they're buying from us, and we can help them, that's a great opportunity," Blue Shield's Mr. Geyer said. "The more people know the good work we do, the more people will choose us." He said Blue Shield will not post reviews by members that contain abusive language or personal health-care information that violates health-care regulations

Mr. Decker noted that a recent survey showed that 80% of holiday shoppers said they used a review of some kind before purchasing a product. He believes the marketing implications are the same, whether it's for retail or health insurance.

Or home loans, for that matter. Bazaarvoice set up a similar ratings and review program for LendingTree, and the online lender found that those who read the reviews on its site started the loan process 83% more often than those who didn't. "Ratings and reviews have added context and confidence to our process -- and that's clearly having a positive impact on conversion," said Tom O'Neill, director-site innovation for LendingTree. "It's awesome to see this initial trend."

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story wrongly indicated that consumer posts with abusive language or personal health-care information would appear on the site before a review of the contents.

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