BARMER builds a user-friendly digital front door

BARMER, a leading German health insurance company, wanted to provide more personalized service to its customers. The insurer has invested heavily in progressive digital solutions that benefit the company, employees and customers alike. Now, BARMER operates an IVR system with artificial intelligence (AI) that resolves 80% of inquiries, cuts processing and wait times, and optimizes service and benefits for both employees and customers.

Resolved 80% of queries

through AI voice response system

10-second reduction

in AHT

Reduced wait time

for customers

Improved personalized service

to customer

Investment in progressive digital solutions

BARMER provides insurance for more than 9 million customers and has a total budget of 39.2 billion euros, making it one of the top companies in the German health insurance market. Despite its size, one of the insurer’s key aims has always been to personalize its service as much as possible. In order to achieve this goal, the company operates approximately 400 branches across Germany and invests heavily in progressive digital solutions that benefit the company, employees and customers alike. One of these is a “teledoctor” app that allows customers to consult a physician from their smartphone and receive medical advice anywhere via a 24-hour telephone hotline or an online consultation.

Maintaining such close contact with its customers required BARMER to employ enough staff to be available throughout Germany, at any time of day, 365 days a year, free of charge. BARMER invested a great deal in this service, to ensure that calls are taken by social insurance professionals and queries are answered immediately.

Real omnichannel with expanded voice recognition

In order to manage the high call volume, the insurer created a telephone branch years ago and has been expanding it ever since. It now processes over one million calls per month. Its more than 1,000 employees proved extremely capable from the start; shortly after the system was implemented, they were successfully resolving 80% of queries and only forwarding 20% to a team of specialists. From the outset, customers were also able to choose their preferred channel of contact. For example, BARMER employed around 30 agents to deal exclusively with the online chat.

However, the company wanted to offer its customers an even better service. So, they joined forces with atip and Genesys to realize an innovative new speech recognition system.

“And it delivered everything we had expected,” said Jörg Kaiser, Head of Call Centers at BARMER.

To achieve this result, a great deal of attention to detail was incorporated right from the initial planning stage. As a result, the system recognizes and categorizes the caller’s query or problem from his or her very first words. While in the past, this would have taken up at least 30 seconds of the agent’s time, the process is now fully automated and thus much more efficient — especially since the system only transfers calls once it has fully identified the caller, their reason for calling and the appropriate team for the job.

The solution delivered everything we had expected. The solution is anything but average; a great deal of attention to detail was incorporated right from the initial planning stage. This starts when the system recognizes and categorizes the caller’s query or problem from his or her very first word.

— Jörg Kaiser, Head of Call Centers, BARMER

A solution designed to enhance the customer’s experience

The key to this automation lies in the fundamental design of the IVR. First, BARMER went through an intense phase of pre-testing in order to find the best voice for its digital assistant. The aim was for the assistant to convince even those customers who were a little reluctant to use an automated service with a polite, professional and clear manner. Among other things, the tests found that most callers prefer a male voice.

“Our partner atip put its linguists on the job and also developed a persona concept together with BARMER for the system, so that we could make the service as pleasant as possible for our customers,” said Kaiser.

The second key design element is the functionality of the IVR. This is where every detail can make a big difference. Asking callers for their health insurance number can give rise to several challenges, for example. Some BARMER customers read the whole ID as one long number, others break it down into blocks of two- or three-digit numbers and some pronounce each digit individually. And as if that were not enough, the health insurance number in Germany begins with a letter, which different people stress differently. To make the process as convenient as possible for the customers — and avoid having to repeat their requests — the system had to recognize all possible variations from day one.

The third and most complex part of the design process involved the callers’ choice of language. For example, imagine a customer calls and requires information about a particular “aid” they use to support themselves in their daily lives — “aid” being the official term. However, very few callers will use such terminology. Most are more specific and mention, for example, their “rollator,” possibly even their “Rentner Porsche” (in Germany — Pensioner Porsche). The voice system needed a dictionary with all these words and expressions, so that the assistant could process all possible variants used by customers.

Together, Genesys, atip and BARMER went one step further and created an AI that would be able to recognize these nuances, categorize the terms correctly and use them to identify the caller’s query or intention. This required several workshops organized by customer service expert Kaiser and his team to discuss how to make the voice portal as accurate and close to current linguistic use as possible. They also stressed that the digital assistant had to be able to understand callers speaking very quietly or indistinctly just as quickly as clear speech, so that all customers could be provided with the same excellent service and the system could distinguish (for example) between “new ECG” and “neurology,” even when the caller was hard to understand.

Increased automation with even greater customer satisfaction

The voice response system turned out to be very successful, categorizing and placing more than 60% of customer queries correctly in the initial launch phase from the very first day. Since then, an improved AI module has allowed this figure to rise to over 80%, and in a recent survey, an even greater number of customers gave the new system a positive rating.

In addition, the solution already filters several thousand of the nearly 40,000 calls received per day without needing to forward the caller to an agent. Examples include frequent requests such as a change of address or questions such as, “Where is my nearest branch and what time does it close today?” In short, thanks to the automated voice response system, FAQ pages and self-service solutions, BARMER can reduce the number of calls put through to agents and “free up advisers for queries that require more time and human expertise,” said Kaiser.

Further proof of the effectiveness of the new system comes from the time saved verifying customers through their health insurance numbers. This was very time-consuming for agents, especially when callers didn’t have the number at hand and had to look for it first. The new digital assistant has allowed BARMER to reduce the average handling time (AHT) of such calls by 10 seconds and uses intelligent routing to cut waiting times for callers.

Our partner atip put its linguists on the job and also developed a persona concept for the system, so that we could make the service as pleasant as possible for our customers.

— Jörg Kaiser, Head of Call Centers, BARMER

The benefits of automatically categorizing calls and queries are not only felt by customers, but also by BARMER employees. “Our teams are extremely pleased with the automation, since it helps them get a clearer overview of our clients and their needs,” said Kaiser.

Despite all these accomplishments, the company still has no intention of relaxing its efforts and will continue to find new ways to fine-tune the voice response system and increase customer satisfaction. “Through the continuous analysis of incoming calls, we have found 70 synonyms and related expressions for the subject of ‘care’ alone and have added them to the system’s dictionary,” added Kaiser.

BARMER and Genesys: An all-around success

The new BARMER voice response system, which was implemented in only six months, is an all-round success and has helped to improve the health insurance company’s already impressive personalized service. Clients and employees are happy with the new solution: employees because it offers a clear and user-friendly way of keeping track of callers, and customers because their queries are dealt with in a professional and timely manner. Plus, the automation solution allows BARMER to work more efficiently and give its teams the freedom to dedicate the right amount of time to personal interaction with clients.

At a glance

Customer: BARMER

Industry: Health insurance

Location: Germany

Company size: 14,920 employees

Contact center: Over 1,000 agents


  • Fully automate calls
  • Improve service personalization
  • Lack of efficiency