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Expert Forum: How in-community customer service helps its customers, neighborhoods thrive.

The Partnership

November 7, 2023

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By David Shute, Senior Vice President, Operations | Independent Health

Starting before the COVID-19 pandemic and now into 2023, U.S. consumers have endured price increases across most of their daily needs, including rising healthcare costs. Unfortunately, these inflationary pressures remain persistent, creating financial stresses for American families, while spurring rising costs on everything from groceries to life-saving medical procedures.

More than ever, healthcare organizations must connect customers with services that provide value, while understanding their concerns on a local level. Superior customer service can support everything from business retention to brand promotion and improved access to healthcare options.

Importantly, when delivered by a workforce sharing the same geographic backdrop as the customers they aim to assist, the impact can be even greater—benefiting those on both ends of communication, as well as the communities they each inhabit.

The importance of customer service

As cost and service factors continue to affect the health care industry, customer service’s role in long-term customer retention will be critical to the fiscal stability of health plans. Customer retention costs less than customer acquisition; grows a customer’s lifetime value (the total revenue expected from a single individual); and can cultivate a fleet of brand advocates intent on promoting the superiority of a health plan’s services versus its competitors. It fosters trust and loyalty between company and customer.

Independent Health has found success through its customer service approach which recognizes the connection between superior communication with its customers and a larger impact on its host community. In a recent report by Independent Health, we outline some necessary components that can be applied to any company looking to bolster its customer service results.

How we do it: Recruit locally

To form trusted relationships with its members, Independent Health’s Customer Service Representative (CSR) team has not simply sought to understand their geography; they’ve inhabited it as knowledgeable residents, rooted in all corners of Western New York.

Recruiting locally is key to making this knowledgeable workforce a reality. To do this, Independent Health cultivates affiliations with educational institutions, communities, professional organizations, and network groups to attract diverse talent pools.

How we do it: Train rigorously

Training for these roles is rigorous, with an overview of the plan’s “Healthcare 101” and in-depth study of current health insurance complexities followed by in-office, supervised performance of duties. This invested approach produces customer service representatives who display confidence, passion for service, and prove adept at empathetic listening.

How we do it: Live nearby

For Independent Health, having its entire CSR team based in Western New York enables each customer service rep to know their community and better understand the healthcare needs of its residents. For example, if someone needs a doctor in the Northtowns, every single rep knows what that means, and knows how to serve our members.

How we do it: Employee flexibility

Since the pandemic, many businesses have moved to a hybrid in-office/at-home schedule to enhance flexibility and work-life balance for its employees. Independent Health has done the same. Hybrid work measures—enacted alongside procedures and policies to protect the health information of Independent Health members—have reduced stress and boosted productivity of our CSR employees. With its overall effect on team morale, the hybrid model produces better customer service outcomes from a happier staff.

Learn more about Career Pathways at Independent Health

Job growth for community growth

For a job to become a career, there needs to be an opportunity for growth. CSR positions are no exception. CSR positions also offer opportunities for career growth and professional development to residents, and invigorate the local economy via salary, benefits, and providing financial stability needed for individuals and families to contribute to their communities.

Invigorating the local economy

The use of locally based CSR staff allows organizations to invigorate the local economy with the long-term benefits of sustainable employment, competitive wages, and employees invested in the ongoing viability of their shared communities.

As an organization committed to supporting and improving the health of its community and its 355,000 members, Independent Health invites other local companies and community organizations to contact them for further information on how to effectively establish local CSR teams, cultivate their success, and nurture the benefits they deliver for members and communities.

Learn More

Download the free report: Local Presence, Local Impact: How in-community customer service helps its customers, neighborhoods thrive.



As senior vice president, operations, David Shute ensures Independent Health’s member services operations, claims processing, and anti-fraud and recovery efforts are aligned to achieve the best outcomes.  David earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from St. Bonaventure University. He also has a Six Sigma Yellow Belt certification.


Disclaimer: The above commentary entails the views of the author and not necessarily the views of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. 

Interested in producing an Expert Forum for your organization? Contact our Member Engagement Manager: Ann Brooker.

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