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Thursday, November 10, 2005

That which one is obliged to do

27 October 2005 22:32 EDT Posted by Highlander

Okay. While SuperGirlfriend is out frying up some catfish and hush puppies for dinner (Gad, I feel Southern) let's talk a little bit about The New Job:

I work for a Third Party Benefits Administrator. That's going to be so much Mandarin Chinese to most of you, so let me explicate further: my employer is what is called a 'carve out' or a 'niche player' in the health services industry. If a company would like the benefits of offering certain types of benefit plans (specifically, Flexible Spending Accounts, for health care or dependent care) to their employees, but they don't want the hassle of actually administering those benefit plans, my employer will do it for them... for a fee.

This means that if you have an FSA, and you want to file a reimbursement claim for some of your health or child care expenses, and your employer is my employer's client, you file your claim with us. We process the claim, which means, essentially, we make sure you filled out the paperwork correctly and gave us the correct supporting documentation to prove you really did get charged $25 for your co-pay or $400 by your daycare provider this month, and if you did all that right, we cut you a check... or, in some cases, we send your medical provider or your insurance company a check, but mostly, we send it to you.

Flexible Spending Accounts, and similar but different benefit plans like Health Savings Accounts, are simple in principle... well, no, fuck that, they're actually quite complex in principle, and can be hopelessly complicated in individual application, and this is what I do, all day long... talk to people on the phone about their claims, more often than not, about why the claim they submitted was denied and what they can do (if anything) to get it successfully reprocessed.
If you have one of these flex spending accounts (and I honestly don't know who I'm kidding when I type things like that, since pretty clearly nobody is bothering to read these goddam blog entries, but still, it's a useful rhetorical device even if I am apparently writing for myself alone) then you probably know that there is a thing called 'open enrollment' every year, which is when you call your human resources department (or a carve out subcontractor like the one I currently work for) and you pick all your benefits and make your elections and figure out just what you're going to pay for. Open enrollment is the period when you make decisions like this, and if you miss open enrollment, then you're just screwed, and you have to wait until the next open enrollment to sign up for your benefits.

Open enrollment is a huge part of what my employer does for its clients. Open enrollment season is, in fact, the reason I am currently working there, because this time of year many many companies have their open enrollment, and in order to handle the huge volume of calls that come in now, my employer has hired several hundred 'seasonals' (their word for temps) to come in and help take the calls and process the enrollment data.

Now, you would think that a company that brags relentlessly about having 200+ corporate clients, and that does nothing all day long every day but administer those corporate clients' benefit plans, and which gets a huge percentage of its annual business volume during open enrollment periods, would pretty much have open enrollment down to a science. (You would especially figure this as they entrust a significant part of this work to temps. If you're going to hire 200 plus temps every year to do a very important and reasonably complex job for you, you had better have that job worked out to a point where a trained monkey can do it, because any time you place an order that size with any temp agency, some of the temps you get are going to be, effectively, trained monkeys. It's the nature of the beast.)

Of course, I suppose you could afford to be somewhat sloppy and a little bit disorganized if you were only dealing with little mom and pop organizations and smaller companies who don't make a lot of money, and whom, if you lose their business, you can easily replace the revenue by picking up another, similarly modest client. And, indeed, all the corporate clients my current employer has are tiny tiny little companies that you have never in your life heard of, like, I don't know, Pep$ico, and C0ca C0la, and the $tate of Ge0rgia, and the Feder@l Goddam Judiciary System, and S^n Microsystems, and the ^niversity of California, and a bunch of other pathetic little non-players like that. And when you're dealing with small fry like that, companies no one has ever heard of that don't have a lot of influence over the marketplace and that really can't afford to spend a lot of money on their service providers anyway, well, you really don't have to worry about having your shit together.

Which, I suppose, is why over the past two days I've been directly involved in several conversations nearly identical with this one:

ME: Hey, Juanita, I've got a guy on the phone from Pep$iCo who wants to enroll in his benefits plan for next year. Our department isn't handling open enrollment for Pep$iCo; who do I transfer him to?

JUANITA (not the name of one of my supervisors, but it will do): Oh God I don't know. Isn't it in the computer somewhere?

ME: Well, the computer has a note that we aren't handling Pep$iCo's open enrollment this year, we are supposed to refer Pep$iCo employees back to their HR department. But...

JUANITA: Well Jesus then, do that!

ME: Okay, but he says the last person he talked to here did that and he called his HR department and they told him we were handling their open enrollment. They were very insistent.

JUANITA: Oh Christ. (turns to another supervisor) Meg, are we handling Pep$iCo's open enrollment?

MEGAN: I don't fucking know, isn't it in the computer?

So then Megan and Juanita hunted through the computer and came up with what is supposed to be the master sheet for open enrollment this year, telling us exactly who is handling which of our many clients' during their OE seasons. However, the spreadsheet is somewhat flawed, in that (a) it does not contain one single phone number, internal or otherwise, and (b) the people it says are handling open enrollment, if you go through the laborious process of looking up their phone numbers in the computerized diretory (which hates all humanity with a passionate maniacal frenzy you would think impossible for a cybernetic organism) and then dialing them, disavow all knowledge of any such responsibility faster than the Secretary disavows all knowledge of Jim Phelps' Impossible Missions Force.

In point of somewhat amusing/depressing fact, when we look up Pep$iCo on this spreadsheet, it says quite clearly that Juanita and Megan are in charge of the department that is handling it.

JUANITA: Okay, there is no fucking way we are handling Pep$iCo's open enrollment, I know that for DAMN sure.

MEGAN: Um... well... if you're sure...

Eventually, we managed to find a manager in a different department who let us transfer the poor guy (who had been on hold for twenty minutes by then) to her. She was certain that her department wasn't handling Pep$iCo's open enrollment either, but she was 'aware of the problem' and was 'working on it'.

That was yesterday, and it's not like we aren't getting a hundred calls a day from Pep$iCo employees looking to enroll in their benefits from next year, and as of today, we are still 'working on it'.

Not working on getting them enrolled. Working on finding out which department is supposed to be handling it. So far, everybody is absolutely certain THEY aren't handling it, but after that it breaks down into an urban legend... each supervisor is pretty sure that someone else they know knows someone who may be friends with someone who knows who is handling it, but they aren't sure...

And the really amus/azing thing about this is that this isn't an anomoly. I mean, if it was an anomoly, it would be a pretty bad one, because, you know, if you have a list of 200 plus clients you are handling a very complex and potentially costly job for, you would think Pep$iCo, which just pretty much owns everything on the planet not already under lease to MicroSoft, would not be high on the list of those clients that you want to screw stuff up for.

But, well, Pep$iCo shouldn't feel like the Lone Ranger or anything, because much of yesterday and today I took similar calls from another very small company's employees who also wanted to enroll in their benefits for next year and who had been assured by their HR department that we were handling it. You've never heard of this company and will merely blink in bewilderment and apathy when I tell you their name is $BC. Now, you would think that,for the love of sweet baby Christ, if we've already screwed up Pep$i's open enrollment, at the very least we are going to learn from that mistake and not similarly fuck over the open enrollment of another inconsequential and easily replaceable client like the $outhwestern Bell Company, but if you thought that, you must prepare at this moment to roll your head on your neck like John Belushi and sneer "But noooooooooooooo" in a highly aggravated manner, because here's how that conversation went:

ME: Say, Juanita...

JUANITA: Holy Mother of God can't you see I'm BUSY? ::cuts another V shaped slash in the flesh of her forearm with a razor blade while jittering her bloodshot gaze frantically from one place to another around the room::

ME: Okay. Say, Megan, I've got an employee from $BC on the phone and he says we're handling their open enrollment and he'd like to enroll. Where do I transfer him?

MEGAN: To hell! TO HELL!!!! ::shrieks, leaps out window::

So, you know, that's what my current job is like.

There's more I could tell you. Like yesterday, I got pulled into a room by someone from Quality Review, along with two of my supervisors, and they proceeded to bitchslap me all over the place for a lot of stuff, including not documenting all my calls. Now, what you need to know here is, in order for us to document a call, we need a social security number, which is a whole different rant I may get to, but anyway, without a social security number, we can't even get the call doc program to open. So, now that you know that, here's how that conversation went:

ME: Well, a lot of the calls we got today were open enrollment calls, and they don't want to give us a social security number because they haven't signed up yet and they just want to ask general questions about how the accounts work.

MARGUERITE THE HORRIFYING BITCH WHO EAVESDROPS ON OTHER PEOPLE'S CALLS ALL DAY LONG FOR A LIVING: Well, you still have to document every call at 100% and you know that.

JUANITA: That's right, 100% documentation is the goal and you need to do that.

MEGAN: You know that is part of the process which is expected of you the Gold Call Process you were trained on in training and we expect it of you and you have to do it.

ME: Okay and I understand that. But if they won't give me a social security number then how do I open call doc to document their call?

MARGUERITE: Well, you put in 99999 and then your four digit extension and that will let you doc the call.

JUANITA: I thought it was 00000 and the four digit extension.

MEGAN: I thought it was 1111... and isn't it a five digit extension?

JUANITA: What did they teach you in training?

ME: Well, we were told about three different ways to do it but none of them work. And nobody out on the floor knows how to do it either.

So the three of them exchange an annoyed glance, and then they tell me they'll get back to me.

But in the meantime, I still have to doc every call at 100%, even though half our calls this time of year are general questions about open enrollment where the caller won't give us a social security number.

Then there was this exchange, just this afternoon:

JUANITA: Okay, H., I need to talk to you about something when you get done with that call.

ME: What should I sign off on?

JUANITA: Uh... ::turns to another employee who has been there forever:: Lloyd, if I need to talk to him after this call, what does he sign off on?

LLOYD: Aux code 5.

So I sign off on Aux code 5 and Juanita is showing me how I totally screwed up my last call, which she was eavesdropping on, the cunt, and telling me I have to call the participant back and give them the correct information, and suddenly here comes Wilhemina on a dead run with a horrified look on her face and she says:

WILHELMINA: Why in the name of God are you signed off on Aux code 5?

JUANITA: Isn't he supposed to sign off on Aux code 5 if I have to talk to him?

WILHELMINA: Jesus no!!! Aux code 5 is only to be used for emergency volcano eruptions and Presidential motorcades! Oh my God I have to write this up right now or democracy falls!

JUANITA: Well, okay, what code should he sign off on for something like this?

WILHELMINA: Uh... ::scratches her head, then turns to Lloyd:: Say, Lloyd...

Stuff like this makes it hard to have any confidence in management.

Oh, and then there is the social security number thing. See, all our files are keyed to social security number. Now, I'm reasonably sure that this is actually grotesquely illegal; I believe there are about eight Federal laws that expressly forbid anyone from ever requiring anyone to give them their social security number for any purpose without a court order, but, nonetheless, we open every call with "Thank you for calling The Planet Of Drunken Monkeys, my name is Bonzo the Inebriated Chimp, may I have the participant's Social Security number or alternate ID?" (I am of course paraphrasing; the last thing I need is a suit from management at my current employer doing a web search on the name of the company and turning this page up and starting a witch hunt for the man or woman with the funny funny blog page where he or she is blurting out all sorts of corporate secrets. But we say stuff a lot like that, just with different proper nouns.)

What amazes me is that most people just pony the fucker right up. But, still, a fraction of them... a significant fraction, like, maybe, one in 8 callers... balk. Many of these seize on the 'alternate ID' thing in the greeting. None of them actually HAVE an alternate ID, the idea of an alternate ID is yet another urban legend, every employer in the world and all the service providers in the health care industry just use the SS number because it's a unique number and they're all fucking lazy, but, still, we have to mention it in our greeting just in case unicorns or Keebler elves or yeti started up their own company last week and they are actually using alternate IDs. And these people who (quite cogently) don't want to give us their Social Security numbers will leap all over that and say "What kind of alternate ID?"

So then you have to explain "No, no, you don't have an alternate ID, it's just something we say to calm down the libertarians, give me your Social Security number". And then a surprising number of them will acquiesce, but still, it's a thing. Right off the bat, for everyone who calls, we are asking for something no one in their right mind wants to give a stranger over the phone, and that sure as hell doesn't help you establish rapport.

There is always a hard core who just won't do it. They aren't comfortable with it, they aren't going to do it, it's illegal, we should be ashamed. If I'm lucky, they hang up with that, and no one who works for a call center ever minds when a customer hangs up on them, no sir. But if I'm unlucky, then they will stay on the phone and demand I find some way to help them without using their Social Security number, which I suspect is probably their entirely legal (and reasonable) right, but, well, I can't do it.

So, all in all, my new job sucks. But it's better than my last two jobs, and I have SuperGirlfriend waiting for me at the end of every night, so, you know, life is pretty good. I just hate my job, but I guess we all do, right?

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