Intelligent chat and voice bots were gaining in popularity even before the COVID-19 crisis took over. A winter 2019 Smart Audio Report1 showed that 24% of U.S. adults owned at least one device incorporating this technology, while the average number of smart speakers in homes that have them is 2.6 devices (up from 2.3 devices a year prior). Also consider that 54% of those in the U.S. have used the technology at some point, making chat and voice bots an accepted way to gather information.
With COVID-19, healthcare organizations are experiencing increased difficulty staffing call centers and doctors’ offices, with the majority of states under shelter-in-place orders. But also healthcare organizations are receiving a higher volume of calls, with patients wanting professional COVID-19 advice, putting a strain on contact centers while health systems are simultaneously having difficulty keeping them staffed due to the pandemic, as well.
Healthcare organizations thinking of implementing an intelligent chat or voice bot system are wise to dive in, as it can take time to determine the best uses and optimize the system so it’s done right the first time, to not only urgently help in this current time of need, but to improve communication and the patient experience long-term.
“Hey Google, Talk to Blue of Tennessee”
Let’s take a look at how Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee (BCBS-TN) set out to better connect with its member base using this technology. BCBS-TN engaged Maven Wave to build a custom bot that is accessible via Google Home speakers and the Google Assistant.
According to Patricia Reid, Solutions Consultant at BCBS-TN, the organization determined that members would be well served by the voice bot system, partly because it’s faster, at 4.6 seconds per voice query2, versus 8.8 seconds for a typed query. And according to ComScore, 50% of searches will be via voice by the end of 20203.
BCBS-TN identified three main use cases that they wanted to start with: general FAQs, healthcare tips, and finding a doctor. They planned to leverage existing content developed for other channels, partly because it was already vetted and available. Also, BCBS-TN wanted members to have a consistent experience no matter which channel they used: IVR, voice assistant or website content.
The Voice Assistant Development Process
BCBS-TN could not jump quickly into implementing the voice bot system, partly because they didn’t yet have a cloud presence. The team there spent about a year researching voice bots, addressing security issues and getting buy-in from their leadership team and moving to the cloud in 2018, with the end goal of voice assistance as their first use.
After leadership green-lighted moving forward, BCBS-TN partnered with Maven Wave, as the organization did not have the in-house skillset to develop a voice assistant program. They initially conducted a design thinking workshop, to determine what the product would look like and how they would define their use cases. Then, together with Maven Wave, BCBS-TN looked at how members engaged with them, whether by phone, website or other channels. The team also engaged conversational designers to write the voice assistant text.
Developing the voice bot system for finding a doctor was the most difficult portion, but they also knew it would be their biggest voice assistant win. “We identified through our online aresearch consultant at BCBS-TNnd member customer service calls that this is one of the major things they contact us for, to find a doctor in their network,” said Reid. When using the voice assistant, the members are asked questions about their network, zip code and type of doctor requested, and the voice assistant will give them a doctor’s name meeting that criteria.
Other Use Cases for Bots
Now that the first phase is complete, BCBS-TN will add other use cases, like requesting a new identification card, which will help reduce call center volume. Additionally, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, BCBS-TN was able to quickly incorporate relevant content into the voice bot.
With the rise in COVID-19 cases and questions, voice assistants can also be used in this way to divert call-in traffic while still providing timely and accurate answers. Google has developed a Rapid Response Virtual Agent to enable businesses to quickly build and implement a virtual agent to respond to customer questions due to COVID-19 over chat, voice, and social channels.
The Rapid Response Virtual Agent is pre-trained with COVID-19 health-screener and FAQs and incorporates information from the CDC and WHO. Users can engage directly with the bot to receive immediate answers to general questions related to COVID-19. Providers can triage, resolve, and offload these more general questions without staff increases.
To learn more about how BCBS-TN developed its voice bot and address the needs of its members, stream our complimentary webinar, “Bringing Healthcare Home With Bots.” Patricia Reid from BCBS-TN and Maven Wave’s experts speak on the details of this project. Our team also shares insights on how voice and chatbot technology can be useful during COVID-19 and present a demo of Google’s Rapid Response Virtual Agent.
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