Following a rocky rollout and jagged journey to the March 31 deadline, the Affordable Care Act’s first open enrollment presented some expected ­— and some out-of-the-blue ­— challenges for carriers, agents and others tasked with enrolling some 7.1 million individuals on the health insurance exchanges.

Those challenges should serve as lessons and preparation exercises for the next open enrollment, several industry experts advise.

Insurance carriers that planned well in advance of the open enrollment kick-off were better equipped to handle a host of glitches and enrollment surges that led to unexpectedly high call volumes and wait times — as well as frustrated enrollees — Brooke Ivey, vice president of sales and account management for Bloom Marketing Group, told attendees of the World Health Care Congress in National Harbor, Md. on Tuesday.

In February and March, exchange enrollment calls sometimes lasted five to six hours, said Bloom’s CEO Sherman Rogers, also speaking at WHCC. Despite the call length, many individuals patiently waited and worked through the process on the phone, Rogers added.

Bloom provided call center services and technology solutions, including enrollment services, to several insurance carriers during the public exchange open-enrollment period.

With higher than expected call volumes and hours-long call times monopolizing representatives, staffing was a constant challenge for carriers, a problem that increased during the last week of each open enrollment month and as the March 31 deadline approached, Rogers said.

In the future, he suggests carriers and agents not only prepare for higher staffing needs during open enrollment overall, but also note the trend in call surges and market their services for next year’s open enrollment to improve the user experience for clients and enrollees.

Another lesson is to be prepared for questions, Ivey and Rogers said. The two urged carriers to provide call representatives with contact lists and resources for a range of questions. Common questions asked during this first open-enrollment period, Ivey says, included anything from “What is this Obamacare all about?” to “Where is my application?” and “What happens to my current plan?”

“We thought that once individuals were enrolled they would call traditional customer service lines with further questions, but they called right back to the number where they bought the insurance from for more answers,” Rogers said, cautioning carrier representatives and agents to be ready for those, too.

Be prepared to say, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I will find out for you,” Ivey said.

Her advice for call center procedures can also apply to agents enrolling consumers: talk slowly, stop and listen to the individual, speak with confidence and don’t data dump.

She said many representatives want to give individuals more information or data than they need, which can be confusing and overwhelming for enrollee.

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