Media releases

May 17, 2004

Nation's largest health insurance call centre spending more time talking to members

At a time when people are increasingly time-poor and looking for ways to save time, it's ironic that a major health insurer is advocating that its call centre is spending as much time as they need talking to customers.

Medibank Private is Australia's largest private health insurance fund, with over three million members across the nation and a dedicated in-house call centre of over 250 full- and part-time staff.

The fund is proud that its call centre staff spends time on the phone with members and attributes this to members and potential members taking a closer interest in the benefits of their fund. This translates to a greater willingness to spend time on the phone discussing their health care with one of the fund's trained experts.

Medibank Private managing director George Savvides explains the fund's (and the health insurance sector generally) call times are longer because health insurance is an increasingly complex issue and one that members are prepared to invest time in to understand.

He says Medibank Private's call centre differs from that of most other businesses because staff resolve complex personal and emotive issues, as opposed to the simple transactions of high-volume activities of many of Australia's call centres.

"Our members appreciate the fact that we are dealing with their health and that we're prepared to spend as long as it takes to understand their individual situation and recommend the most appropriate product, service or solution for what is often a unique need," says Mr Savvides.

"They understand that we differ from most call centres in that we're not there to simply book them a cab or reconfirm a flight. We value our members' health and it shows in our commitment to spend as long as it takes with a member to resolve an issue with them - whether it be over the phone or in person," he said.

Call centres are a vital part of most service providers yet working in this field not often seen as a long term or necessarily lucrative career path.

With staff turnover rates estimated at around 30% in some industries , call centres are often viewed as a stepping-stone, or a time-filler, rather than a position that offers a particularly exciting future.

Mr Savvides explains Medibank Private is changing the way its Customer Care Line (CCL) staff view their role within the business, with the fund empowering staff to develop skills that will enable them to advance elsewhere within the call centre and other parts of the business.

Through training, coaching and career path development, Medibank Private call centre staff have a clear understanding of the vital role they play in managing member services. And it's paying dividends with the company recording a call centre staff retention rate that is better than the industry average.

Mr Savvides says the fund's call centre staff appreciate the value they generate across the whole of the business, and that they are acutely aware of the unique role they play in interacting with members and potential customers.

"We all pride ourselves on having a genuine customer service focus, but more than most of us in the business, it's our call centre and retail staff that have the most interaction with our customers," he said.

"Private health insurance can be a complex and sensitive area which requires our call centre staff to be genuine professionals who are aware of all the issues that affect heath insurance. They have to be able to effectively advise our members who deserve the best available information to best treat their health issue.

Medibank Private's call centre staff are trained to give members the best advice for their coverage needs now and in the future

"We encourage our staff to provide members with a cover review of their health insurance when they call to ensure that they have the right health insurance for their needs now and in the future," Mr Savvides said.


When Mufi Vagh started working in Medibank Private's call centre five years ago, he never thought he would end up as Innovations and Continuous Improvement Manager in the private health insurer's head office.

Mufi first started working in Medibank Private's Customer Care Line (CCL) in 1998, when there were only seven other people operating the call centre. Today, the organisation has over 250 employees controlling customer enquiries nationally.

"Starting in the call centre was a great 'foot in the door'. It gave me the opportunity to learn how the organisation works, as well as knowledge about our members and our products that I may otherwise not have discovered," he said.

Five months after starting in the call centre Mufi became team leader, and continued working in this area of the business for another two years. Throughout this time, the organisation was undergoing a period of restructure.

"I think I was probably in the right place at the right time. I was lucky to be there when there was change afoot because it gave me the opportunity to move up within the call centre quickly, and then from there to move elsewhere within the organisation.

"Working for such a large organisation means the opportunities in front of you can potentially be great. Finding out where your interests lie and then showing the commitment in getting there is a fantastic way to advance through the company and work in an area that interests you," he says.

Medibank Private call centre team leader Tina Prasatzis endorses this philosophy and, further, lives by the motto 'Be where there's change, because where there is change there is opportunity'.

She says Medibank Private's call centre is a vibrant environment that offers continual change and can open doors to other parts of the business.

"While working in the call centre is rarely seen as a glamour job, at Medibank Private call centre staff can open themselves up to opportunities by appreciating what the job has to offer.

"There are many reasons why people start working in a call centre. Staff like the flexible hours, they like what they are learning in their role, they like the friendships they have formed through the teams they work in, and like any professional, they like working their way up the ladder."

About Medibank Private's call centre:

 Employs more full-time that part-time workers;
 Spends an average of 7.25 minutes on every call
 60% of calls received are answered in 20 seconds
 Under 8% abandonment call rate
 Over 250 staff working on the phone across 4
 Receives around 1.5 million calls per year;
 Receives around 28,000 calls per week;
 During seasonal times (such as rate change) this
number may grow to around 40,000-50,000 calls
per week;
 Around 35% of new to fund joins are done via
the call centre; and
 Is developing a pool of people with the potential
of moving to another area of the business.

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