The Challenge

Our client is a health insurance provider for millions of federal employees, their families and retirees. With more than 5.5 million participants and 66% coverage of the federal workforce, it is by far one of the largest providers.

The sheer diversity of federal employees crosses over a multitude of geographies and demographics, each of which has a unique set of attitudes, health concerns and customer needs. This creates an unusual challenge for the training of our customer care agents, as they need to simplify and impart complicated information to a wide-ranging population.

Prior to 2015, the client contracted with an outside third-party training organization that utilized antiquated training tools and materials. Their curriculum was as engaging as cramming for a college entrance exam. Cumbersome analog printed binders filled with dividers and tabs were used for both training and servicing customers, with agents frantically flipping through pages and searching for information and content. Instead of online autonomous updates, you needed a three-hole puncher to physically insert printed revisions into loose-leaf binders. The training process was tedious, boring, abstract and ultimately ineffective.

In 2015, Harte Hanks took over the responsibility for training, or rather retraining, all agents and ushered in the digital age.

Our Insights

While transitioning from old-school analog training, we concentrated on the end goal. To provide what is often referred to as the “effortless experience” required much more than scripting. We sharpened the intuition of our agents so they could connect personally and on a deeper emotional level with the callers.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, we redefined how we thought about productivity. We focused not on how to shorten a call, but rather how we orchestrated a solution to the issue at hand while proactively anticipating and addressing future questions or problems. This helped eliminate subsequent contact.

We recognized that the effortless experience started with our agents. The unpleasantries of the previous unwieldy training process resulted in poor agent experiences and accelerated attrition. We decided to apply the same rigor to our agents by implanting the effortless experience into our training process.

It followed that creating better agent experiences drove better customer experiences.

Our Approach

The weighty binders were out. Streamlining with Oracle CRM was the way forward. Within this highly flexible and functional solution, we built an expansive knowledge base that could be accessed instantaneously with a simple and intuitive search. Instead of agents having to memorize vast amounts of arcane content, they could instead focus on connecting with their customers. The knowledge base and its ease of access allowed us to concentrate training on the most predominant issues, which cut training time in half.

Content could now be updated in real time, which proved invaluable during Covid as customers needed up-to-the-minute information on testing, vaccines, rapidly changing reimbursement policies and incentive programs.

Agents used keywords to sum up each call, attaching them to the call record associated with the customer. The keywords catalogued what articles were employed for the call, which allowed us to monitor trends
and save time if the customer should call back.

We implemented a dramatic overhaul of the methodology used to train and prepare our agents. We “gamified” the training process using a Jeopardy-style quiz. We developed role-playing exercises that felt more like improvisation classes. Gamification made our training modules enjoyable, engaging and memorable. Our agents were transformed. Retention increased. Attrition decreased. Regurgitation became engagement.

We also accessed Intradiem, an AI-powered technology solution that constantly assessed call volume and availability of the team members, and pushed out notifications and training modules during downtime.

Tableau, another key element in our technology stack, was introduced to collect logistical data, such as the number of calls answered, abandonment rates, call times, trends, etc. Data was aggregated and analyzed on user-friendly dashboards to generate reports and configure visualizations. It provided our client with more sophisticated business intelligence and early indications of issues needing to be addressed.

The Results

New hire agent training time decreased to less than one week, allowing us greater flexibility to scale during key enrollment periods.

Our client views Harte Hanks as an extension of their own team. We are in discussions with them to implement and optimize additional communication channels.

Aside from increasing customer satisfaction, we have markedly increased agent satisfaction. They are some of the happiest agents in the business.

The new agent training model we developed is being implemented across other clients in other industries.


Reduction in agent turnover


Direct cost savings

We were able to reduce the number of agents by 48, resulting in $1.2 million in direct cost savings for our client.


Reduction in average handle time