Self-taught computer programmer sees a problem and solves it
When most people start a brand new job, they sit back and observe, and try not to make waves.
Not Brian Moore.
Brian started at Blue Cross NC in September of 2016 and was in a training class with 17 other newly hired Customer Service Professionals.
Our Customer Service Professionals – or CSPs as we call them – are the highly trained employees who answer your calls when you have a question or problem with your Blue Cross NC health insurance.
Training for a CSP role is intense – over the course of several weeks the “new hires” learn the ins and outs of multiple computer programs, the details of Blue Cross NC’s plans and products, and all about benefits, eligibility, claims – the list goes on.
“It’s pretty overwhelming considering just how much content there really is to learn,” says Brian.
When it came time to practice their new skills, a lot of Brian’s classmates froze. “We’d have to go up to the front of the class and take a practice phone call,” Brian says. “The instructor would play the part of a customer, and the CSP’s screen would be projected for everyone else to see. So there’s a lot of pressure.”
“People would get through their opening script (‘Thank you for calling Blue Cross NC …’) and then blank. It would be hard to remember what to do next. It’s not like we didn’t know what to do, but the pressure made it hard to piece it all together.”
This is where Brian, the newbie, starts making waves.
“I created a call flow in a Word document that helped people know what to say after the opening script. It provided links and everything they’d need to get through the phone call,” he says.
Brian could see that when his peers were using the call flow he created, they were more confident. “I wanted to take the call flow and make it better, so then I created a webpage.”
Taking it to the next level
He didn’t stop there. Brian used his self-taught coding skills to create a web application to help guide CSPs through phone calls. Right there in his training class, the program that would eventually be named “Ally CSP Assistant” (or Ally, as in “someone who is by your side” for short) was born.
“I just opened Notepad on my computer and started coding,” says Brian. “I kept building and building based on suggestions and feedback from my classmates.”
After finishing training and moving into a CSP role, Brian would continue working on Ally after work and on the weekends. His supervisor at the time was encouraging and supportive when he showed her the tool. Brian calls her “an enabler of innovation.”
She and other leaders in the department got the word out about Ally.
“I ended up presenting Ally to one of the directors in customer service. He assigned it to a project team to get it officially going,” says Brian.
Enter Kim Smith, a program manager associate. “I was told – Kim, let’s make it happen,” she says. “So we did.”
“It was different from other projects in that it wasn’t like the business had specifically requested this – but we were given it, and we knew it had the potential to be a really great tool,” says Kim.
The next few months were a whirlwind. Last spring, there was a pilot group of about 30 CSPs who used the tool. Their feedback helped further shape it. After much fine-tuning, the tool went live for the majority of the company’s CSPs last summer.
What’s next for Brian?
Brian and Kim won second place in a Blue Cross NC “Innovation Showcase” for their work on Ally.
“I’m proud of Brian,” says Kim. “This is an excellent accomplishment. Everyone would like to be first place, of course, but considering where he came from and where it is today, he has a lot to be proud of.”
Brian says, “Winning second place was a great confirmation for me. I always enjoyed doing this – it’s been a hobby for years. But there was always a little bit of doubt that it may not be as good as I dreamed or hoped – but just to see that confirmed by voters, it let me know that I’m doing good work. That’s most important to me. I’m really passionate about Ally.”
“Brian is a genius,” says Kim.
He definitely fits that description. He taught himself about 15 different coding languages using free online resources. “I love it,” he says, “It’s my favorite thing to do – at home at work and on weekends.”
Brian is now a developer associate in IT. He handles all of the content that goes on the company’s intranet for CSPs. He is still working on Ally enhancements and hopes to have a next iteration available soon. He’s also working on a dashboard to help boost team-to-team communication and an app to help CSPs feel more empowered to spend time volunteering and in professional development.
He spends his downtime working on new ideas in our IT department’s “Innovation Garage” with folks who have vast experience to share. “Since I’m self-taught and don’t have a formal education in this space, others in the Innovation Garage teach me the fundamentals – they show me easier ways how to do what I’m trying to do,” says Brian.
For his recent success, he credits the open and innovative environment at Blue Cross NC.
“I’ve worked in the customer service field for a long time. I could have built Ally anywhere, really, but the amazing cast of people here at Blue Cross NC is one of a kind. I’ve had a lot of support and champions along the way. Nobody else I’ve worked for had that atmosphere of positivity and innovation.”
Redefining what’s possible
Brian’s story sparked bigger waves to offer formal training for our CSPs who have an aptitude and passion for technology. We’re experimenting with our friends at Momentum Learning on a new coding course. The 12-week training, kicking off later this summer, will teach our gritty amateur tech enthusiasts how to think like a programmer and use code to solve problems.
The program is not for the faint of heart. If you’re a web developer yourself, you know software development takes a great deal of focus and energy to master. Projects will be tough – immersing students in real-life work, giving them the confidence and skill to tackle the hardest problems. When these CSPs get back to work after the 12-week stint, they’ll be taking on a new role and joining one of our IT teams.
Brian’s idea that he brought to life has already made such a difference. Because he pushed boundaries and turned his curiosity into action, our CSPs can better meet the needs of those who call us for help.
We hope the new course will inspire more breakthroughs that improve our member’s experience. And, we can’t wait to share those with you.