Today on the Edge of Innovation, we sit down and critique a website together.

Show Notes

Blue Cross Blue Shield



Introduction to Our Review
Salience and User Experience
Poor Page Prioritization
Navigational Difficulty
More Potential Improvements
Reddit and Craigslist

Introduction to Our Review

Jacob: Welcome to the Edge of Innovation, hacking the future of business. Today we are talking about websites. We’re reviewing websites, best practices, and the way we can improve websites. It’s Paul, me, and Steve today. And we are picking up where we left off last week, and we are going to be reviewing Blue Cross Blue Shield today. We are taking on the big guns.

Paul: Well, yeah, I guess they have guns, right?

Jacob: Well, I guess they’re hostile.

Paul: They’re not supposed to have guns, I thought. Anyway, we’re getting into politics. But anyway, we thought we’d review the Blue Cross Blue Shield site that’s, and you know, when I first looked at it, it’s got these, you know, big hero images that fade behind with white overlay text with a little bit of shadow, you know, an encouragement to visit your local Blue Cross Blue Shield company, because Blue Cross Blue Shield is a bunch of different companies under one name. Each state, or even multiple in the states.

They’ve got a menu up across the top: “Shop for Health Insurance,” “Already a Member,” “Find a Doctor or Hospital,” “Blue365 Healthy Discounts,” “Media Center,” and “Why BCBS.” And so, you know, it’s interesting. Over on the right hand side, I can shop for health insurance. I’m already a member, so, I’ve got “Already a Member?” in two places and so I basically have two menus, which, you know, is interesting. I’m not sure why people need two menus, but I, having been a human most of my life, and having health insurance for most of my life, the thing that you typically want to do is call them.

So, okay, this is great. “Contact Us,” right there at the top. And that’s great real estate, but I come in here, and there is no phone number there, you know. And I can… Oh, I got to go to locally operated and all these different things.

Steve: Do they have a phone number to deliver you straight to the hold line?

Paul: That’s right. So, I click on the local ones, and I can go down to all of these cities and all of this. You know, a lot of scrolling. I’ve got to imagine this could be a lot easier to use. And I’m really not sure why somebody would want to tweet that article or like it. I mean, 111 people have liked that on Facebook. I got to really ask them, “What in the world are you thinking about?” Or shared this on LinkedIn. You know, here is the… I am sharing the page that is the contact numbers for Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Jacob: Yeah, that does seem a bit odd.

Paul: It does seem a bit odd. And you know, so it’s weird, you know. And I’m in the About Blue Cross Blue Shield. I mean, again, usually when you need to call them, it’s because something hard is happening. You get a bill that you didn’t expect, you need services and they should make that instantaneous. Give me an 800 number, and they take my phone, my number, or even track my phone number and say, “Oh, you’re in Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, let’s get you right there right now.” You know, this is not a small company. So, guys, what do you think initially?

Salience and User Experience

Jacob: Yeah. I mean, I think that the phone number is essential, because, you know, to get their phone number, for example, I go to, and I immediately get their customer service number, huge text at the top. I shouldn’t have to go to Google and then another website to be able to get the contact number for Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Paul: So, now Steve’s taking his Blue Cross Blue Shield card out.

Steve: I mean, I’m literally–

Paul: Looking at the back of it.

Steve: I should have timed myself to see how long it took to find the number.

Jacob: I think it took about eight seconds.

Steve: There is a number on the back of my card, which, you know, I should be able… That should be on the front of their website, or in the Contact Us area. “If you have a card, the customer service is on the back of it.” That is…that’s a little aggravating. And I think… Okay, so there’s two sides to it. One, Blue Cross Blue Shield wins by the fact that it’s a monolith. So, people are going to come to this website and use it regardless of what they want to do. On the other side—

Paul: Or not. Or they may just not go to the website.

Steve: That’s true.

Paul: Because you made a very important point here. They’re going to use it for what they want to do. Let’s talk about that after you finish your point here. What do they want to do? What does the site offer them?

Steve: Yeah, that’s a good point. I was just thinking, so, you know, I went to my wallet to pull out my Blue Cross Blue Shield card because I got frustrated with the site. And part of that is usually hospitals and medical things are already associated with frustration and long holds and difficulty, and you’re calling at a time when something hard is going on in your life probably—

Jacob: Right. Presumably a crisis of some kind.

Steve: Right. Cutting out anything, any difficulty, even as small as this, like finding a contact number, seems like it should be an easy instinct, like this could be an easy small win for them. Oh, I can find the contact number right away. Not a problem. Here’s how I’ll get in touch.

Paul: Absolutely. And then up at the top we saw the, you know, the logo, which is good, a good place for the logo. It’s a well-worn brand. It’s very good. We’ve got Contact Us, then we’ve got Careers. It’s like, “Wait a minute.” If somebody is looking for a career, that could in the footer. That does not to be up there for the consumer, you know, and then Search, let’s type in, telephone, and let’s see what it comes up with.

So, I get this 27 items found. I’ve got a glossary over here on the right. And it is virtually useless. I’ve got something in the first article. It’s called Voyager. “Cover your world”, “how to apply” is the subset here. Uh, then I’ve got “Trekker”, “Terms and Conditions”, “Blue Card Internation” “claim form A4”. So, you know, it’s just like, “How is this useful?”

Site search has to be curated. They shouldn’t be allowing this deep search to be able to search for all these obtuse things.

Jacob: You know, it’s interesting. So, I went up there to the top menu, and it says “Already and Member?” which is a question that you have to answer to get to “Ask Blue”. So, you click “Ask Blue” and that takes you to contact information. But it’s interesting. I’m on the website for, and it’s frozen. Like, I can’t…

Paul: Oh, my.

Jacob: So, there’s some sort of coding issue going on here, where I can either fill out and submit the form, but I can’t close or look at anything. It’s somehow frozen.

Jacob: I was about to make a Mac joke, but we’re all running Macs.

Paul: Well, but just one second. I just noticed on here, there’s no logo. I’m in the search and the logo is gone. So, I don’t know that I’m on Blue Cross Blue Shield, and I can’t go… I can click, but it doesn’t show it.

So, now, let’s get back to this idea of why would you come here. So, well, one of the reasons is you might want to shop for health insurance. Okay, that’s a good thing, you know. But, honestly, you know, I don’t know. I’d love to see the demographics of how many people shop for Health Insurance. Most people are not self-employed. The majority get their health insurance from plans.

Jacob: Well, and if they are self-employed, they’re going to be going through the government provided websites.

Poor Page Prioritization

Paul: Right. So, that’s sort of a misnomer. “Already a Member?” — as you said, we’ll skip that for a minute — “Find a Doctor or Hospital,” some discounts you might be eligible for, and then a media center, you know, which… It has news updates and press releases and media resources, and then Why BCBS.” And you know, I guess… I don’t know. You know, there is…

And then let’s scroll down. I scroll down and there’s these three articles that keep shifting – “The Cost of Healthcare. Rising healthcare costs affect us all.” Oh, it went… “Connecting the Dots with Data.” I just don’t know how many ordinary people are going to come to this site and consume this type of data.

“Report on Growing Costs…” I can’t even read it—

Jacob: And they don’t even have an option to pause it before it’—

Paul: Right. Well, usually when you hover over it, it should pause. But let’s… Here, let’s click on this one. So, now I’m in Blue Cross Blue Shield Axis. I have no idea what Axis was. I thought that was something in World War II. “Connecting the Dots with Data. Okay, Blue Cross Blue Shield plans are changing the way healthcare decisions are made.” And what is this “Axis”, you know? So, I’ve got to dig into this, and, you know, they’re trying to use good things, but it sounds like it’s written by people that are really close to it. I just can’t see, if you went up, down your street, knocked on the door of a neighbor and said, “What do you think of this?”

They would say, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

You know, why is this important to me? You know, the real point here. So “Facilitating high performance healthcare. Blue Cross Blue Shield Axis powers solutions that are changing how healthcare is delivered and paid for.” You know, that’s sort of business speak, you know, the pontification thing that’s out there. And then you know, well I don’t even know what Blue Cross Blue… I can watch a video about it. That’s cool. But well, let me go to about what it is. Oh, and here it is, with…

So, here’s what Blue Cross Blue Shield Axis is, for everybody out there listening. “With unmatched national breadth and local depth, Blue Cross Blue Shield Axis puts comprehensive, reliable and actionable data and information from more providers and more procedures into the hands of employers and employees so they can make better informed decisions on the cost and quality of care.” How many times have you made a decision on the cost and quality of your care? You do what your insurance covers.

Steve: And I ignore problems sometimes that I encounter.

Paul: Right. Exactly. So, I just don’t get it, you know. And, so there’s this sort of different worlds we live in, and I don’t know what, who reads this. What world do they live in that they’re reading this? So the Blue Cross Blue Shield blog, it said here, represented a new… I can’t see it here. So here, let’s, I’ll read it real quick here. Come on. Go ahead. Slide. Okay.

So, they have a speaker’s bureau. “Communicate about the work we do. Stop by daily for the latest information on the Blues.” So they want me to read stuff at their blog, you know. They have a Twitter account. Let’s go see what the Twitter account was. They have 15,000 followers. I’d like to get in the heads of those people. Why are they following Blue Cross Blue Shield? I mean, it would be different if you got a $25 discount on your next doctor’s visit, or you know, a 10% on your health care.

Steve: It feels low to me. I’m not… I don’t know top Twitter accounts.

Paul: 15,000?

Steve: That feels… For something as big as Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Jacob: For a national leader in health insurance, 15,000… I mean, we have clients who have more than 15,000, and they’re radio shows.

Paul: Mm-hmm. That’s true. Yeah. I guess, to me, they’re not offering something that makes you feel like you want to follow them. You know? I mean, you know, if you scroll down to this, “A Healthier Michigan – Five Lifestyle Tips,” it would be interesting to dig into some of these. Well, it’s retweeted five times. Then this one is Dakota.

Jacob: Yeah. “Good Mood Foods” has been retweeted 11 times. So, they have… I mean, they have health-related articles that they’re tweeting, uh, which I suppose undermines, or I mean undergirds—

Paul: Reduces their costs, because they don’t have to deal with sick people, supposedly, if they eat well. The chance of getting lung cancer in your lifetime.

Steve: So, can I make comments as the youngest person in the room here?

Paul: Yeah, sure.

Steve: So, I’m young enough that I’m actually still on my parents’ healthcare. But I’m not going to be that young for very long.

Jacob: You’re getting older?

Steve: I am getting…surprisingly, I’m getting older at a steady rate. So, I went into… I want to buy healthcare. And I think I’m on tab five now, maybe. Maybe tab four of clicking through before I got a list of available plans, basically. And it kind of just siphoned me. I feel like I’m a relatively savvy internet user. I kind of ignore a lot of problems that come my way when I’m using the internet.

Paul: You don’t allow the speed bumps to get in the way.

Steve: Exactly. I don’t think that’s always a good thing, particularly when you’re analyzing a website for a podcast. So it took me four or five tabs to get the available plans. And the whole time I’m thinking, “Okay, I can survive — until I saw the rates.” But the problem is that healthcare is for all range and ages of people. And I’m thinking about accessibility here. And I’m think about—

Paul: Usability.

Steve: My grandmother who is a widow at this point. What if she has to go in at some point and try to navigate this stuff? It just doesn’t feel accessible. There’s no, you know, font change or style options or anything. There’s no easy guidance for where do I go based on age or something like that. It’s worrying to me in that sense. I’m not sure it’s because they can get away with it, because they hold a market share, or if they just don’t care. I’m not sure what it is, but…

Paul: Yeah. I agree. And the fonts are small, and they’re tightly… You know, there are bulleted lists, and they’re very tight and very densely packed. And, you know, again, it’s not friendly. It’s not unfriendly, but it’s not as friendly as it could be. Now, I can see you, Jacob, holding your phone.

Jacob: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s interesting, you know. So, you can do the page scrunch and pull the window in to see that it’s not responsive on a desktop. But you pull up the…on a mobile device, and it’s the same website, extra tiny, on a phone. Like, there’s no, there’s no mobile responsiveness on the website. And you think about the people who are going to a website, potentially on their phone for health insurance. Again, they’re probably in a situation where they need quick information at a very rapid pace, and the way the website… So, we’re already talking about this from a desktop perspective or a laptop perspective. You take that to a mobile phone, and people are going to be really frustrated with this website. This is not…

Paul: Well, it’s an epic fail. I mean, it really is. I mean, this is not somebody who can’t afford it. You know, they should have a website on a mobile phone that works well. Now, they might say, “Well, we have an app.” And that’s another topic for another show. But you owe it to your constituents to have websites that work on mobile phones and on desktops, easily, responsive, or separate websites, if you must.

Jacob: Yeah. I mean, I think for Blue Cross Blue Shield, they could very easily invest in a website that is responsive across all platforms.

Paul: Yeah. And honestly, it’s not all that hard to do. It would be interesting to do a spider of the site, and see how many pages were in it. But I bet there’s way too many pages in it. You know, I think it has to be really slimmed down. Put that other stuff somewhere else, because I’d love to look at the consumption rates on the pages as well as how many people go deep on their site.

Because I’ve found it where I, you know, with the different healthcare providers, is you find something on their website, and you bring it to their attention, “Oh, no. That’s obsolete.” So, it’s not even necessarily up to date.

Steve: Yeah. I think they need to… What would be good to see is they do need to have a lot of pages in the end, because they’ve got a lot of people they’re servicing. They’re servicing businesses; they’re servicing individuals. I think this would be a good study in guiding people to where they need to go very quickly. Because you have to, you have to catch somebody. See, you’re going to have to catch some people on your main page, basically and filter them quickly to what are you here for.

Paul: Right. I think you’re bringing out a great point. The site is not about Blue Cross Blue Shield. It’s about what the person sitting in front of the computer wants from Blue Cross Blue Shield. That’s a critical difference. And no amount of… All that stuff. If I don’t get what I want or need out of it, it is useless.

Jacob: Yeah. It is interesting, you know. So, they do have… It would appear that they have Blue Cross Blue Shield by state in terms of apps. So, they have apps available for Blue Cross Blue Shield, but I would have never known that from the website. And I would, I intuitively don’t know what exactly am I supposed to use the app for. Is that supposed to be my insurance card? And then a doctor finder?

More Potential Improvements

Paul: Well, and the other thing is, is that, you know, we can geolocate. So, why not, you know, “We see that you’re currently in Massachusetts, would you like the see the Blue Cross Blue Shield Massachusetts site?”

Jacob: Super easy.

Steve: Your arm is currently broken based on your typing patterns.

Paul: Yes, exactly. Based on a whole bunch of other things, we don’t want to have you as a client.

Jacob: Yeah. It is always fascinating to me what I go to websites that don’t automatic geolocator request information.

Paul: Well, that, and you know, if your browser is in Spanish, make the site in Spanish. You know, and if I’m using a Spanish browser, it’s incumbent upon me to figure out how to switch it into English, if I need to. But the same thing, geolocation, you know, you can argue and say, “Well, they might be in California on vacation.” Well, then I can tell you that. You know, I can say, “No, I’m not there right now. Choose this one.” That experience should be frictionless. It should be perfect.

Jacob: Yeah. It seems like in some ways, unfortunately, the website reinforces the frustration that a lot of people experience with health insurance.

Paul: I think it brings up more of what we’re saying about people being blind to things. You know, being so close to things that they don’t know, they don’t see what they, what needs to be changed.

Jacob: So, I do think that we need to talk about some of the dynamics of how a user would engage with this, and the blind spots. It seems, just at a face level, it would seem like this website evidences the blind spots to how a user uses this versus what the company is trying to accomplish. I mean, to me, it would seem they need to have somebody do an outside audit and review the website. Do you have any thoughts on that, Steve?

Steve: Yeah, well I was thinking, you know, you and I work together. And often, when I’m stuck on a website or stuck on a website idea, I’ll just kick it over to you, and I’ll be like, “Hey, what do you think about this?” And you’ll be pretty honest with me. You’ll be like… Well, you know, you might be totally outside the purview of whatever project I was working on, and you’ll give me your five minute run down of, “Okay, I don’t quite get what’s going on here. Why did you choose this font? These menu items are really tight.” Just kind of all the small detail things that I’ve been looking at for a while, and I might miss. And that’s on a very small scale. We might be looking at a website for a small business or a person.

I would be interested to see, did they run customers through this site? You know, did they get a collection of customers and offer them, you know, $5 gift cards or something like that — $10 gift cards and watch them and monitor them going through the site and see how that works. I doubt it. I don’t know. I’d be interested to know.

Jacob: Again, it’s a bit unclear as to what exactly they’re trying to accomplish with the website. But, in terms of the user experience, or you know, the IX, so to speak, this… They need somebody to do an outside review, and they need somebody who is an expert at how to understand that. Because you can be a great business manager; you can be a great CEO; you can be a great executive, but if you don’t understand how the massive amount of information that goes into how a website functions and is used by the user, how they engage with content, you will have a fail website, which is what we’re seeing in some cases here.

They need somebody to come in and tell them exactly, how does a user interact with this. And this isn’t like a small project. Like, there are companies that will run websites through not only 50+ different browsers to make sure that it’s going to be accessible by all users, which is important because you’re talking about a clientele base, in this situation with healthcare, that frankly, older users are going to potentially still be using Windows 98 or older. They might still be using Internet Explorer from 1994 and AOL, you know.

Steve: Put that AOL disk in the computer and install it again.

Jacob: So, you have to think about who your user base is that’s engaging with the website. But then you have to think about how they are going to want information, and you might not actually have that expertise in house. You need to hire somebody else outside to take care of your baby, so to speak, and to look at it to improve the website.

Steve: Yeah, there’s a few things — just to get a little technical here — there’s a few things that look sloppy to me in web design. I’m assuming that BCBS spent a lot of money on this website. I’m just going to assume that straight up. I don’t think that they’re building it on some open source thing. My guess is they hired a team that built a custom site with custom administrative panel. I’m just going out on a limb here. I’m guessing that based on the scale of the website. That’s kind of big business tradition right now. It doesn’t have to be, but that’s a different topic.

But there are just some things, you know. They have… So, I’m going to say they have 21 javascript files, 21 separate ones. And so, javascript basically is the code that runs in your browser. It, it… The server kicks over to your browser, and your browser says, “Oh, okay. What do I do with this? Oh, it tells me to run this little animation. Okay, I’ll do that.”

And 21 is a very high number. I want to say two or three max is kind of what’s recommended right now by Google. And it’s not… It is difficult, but it’s not impossible — and it’s certainly not impossible to a big team. I’m saying it’s difficult for one person, but I’m assuming they have a team working on this — to compress that down into a file. There are things like that. They haven’t compressed some of their files. They don’t use a content delivery network, which basically means have an outside source to deliver your information for you at a faster speed.

Jacob: So, they host it. They host it all on the website.

Steve: I think so. There are things like that that they could afford, but they’re choosing not to for some reason. It just, you know, maybe they hired this outside firm, you know, buddy trusts their other buddy, and then they hire these people, and no one really has enough ownership of the side. I’m not sure what it is. But, yeah, I think it needs some new external eyes on it to kind of pick up even those obvious things. It’s like, okay guys. Got to compress the files.

Jacob: Yeah. It seems like there’s some basic things that are being overlooked here. And not to mention, you know, hosting files outside of the server is, in many ways, standard practice.

Steve: Yeah. If you’ve got a bigger site like this, CDN is pretty essential.

Jacob: Yeah, yeah. There is even an… Yeah. It’s a very essential to how you function websites tod– or functional websites work today. So, it seems to me that for Blue Cross Blue Shield, their website, though they are an incredibly influential and important insurance company, their website is reinforcing some of the negative stereotypes about insurance companies. And it’s not clear exactly what their call to action is on the website. Are you being sold health insurance? Are you being offered help for how to get quick information for your insurance? Are you being offered a job at Blue Cross Blue Shield? Are you trying to register your practice with Blue Cross Blue Shield? Are you trying to… It’s not clear what they’re trying to do, and understandably, they’re a huge company. So, they’re trying to juggle many things.

Reddit and Craigslist

Steve: And kind of their closing statements of like, what do we recommend, what do we see. I’m going to take it out on a limb here, and actually recommend that whatever, whoever would work on this would take maybe a playlist or a playbook from Craigslist or from Reddit, something like that. Because, you know, surprisingly, those are very cluttered. And I’m not saying it should be cluttered like Craigslist and Reddit are, necessarily, but they both realize that, you know, Reddit is the front page of the internet, and Craigslist is basically the garage sale of the internet. They realize, “Okay. We have a ton of option.”

So, you land on Craigslist. It’s like, “Okay, pick your state and your area. We know it’s a crazy page, but you’ve got to do it.” Reddit, you know, the top bar says…it gives you all your popular topics, and then it’s got all the popular topics of the day listed below there. And to the typical user that goes to it and uses it regularly, as, you know, most people use their health insurance regularly too. So, this is a site that’s going to be like that. It’s not information overload. It’s, “Okay. I have a lot of choices I need to make, and I need to narrow it down to the correct ones.”

And I think Blue Cross Blue Shield would need to think about, “Okay, how do we present a lot of information effectively upfront? How do we begin filtering a person as soon as they land?” Maybe it’s the state they live it, like we talked about geolocation. And maybe it’s saying, “You’ve got to put in your… You know, if you want to navigate more quickly, get out your insurance card right now or tell us the state of your insurance, that it’s registered in.” Just something simple to get us to a better place right away.

Jacob: Yeah. I think simplifying the menu options, I think simplifying them down to what you might call felt needs. What are the felt needs of somebody coming to an insurance website? Simplifying the menu options down, and then from those simplified options, going into—

Steve: I am injured. I don’t feel good.

Jacob: Are you bleeding?

Steve: Stop and go to the hospital.

Jacob: Yeah. So, I think there’s a lot to be improved here with this website. And, I mean, I can understand the dynamics of building a website for such a large corporation. But I think that there’s some basic ideas that we bring to the table here. So, Blue Cross Blue Shield, if you want Savior Labs to work on your website, we’d love to. We could do a great job at helping you reorganize this.

But for everybody else who’s watching and thinking about Blue Cross Blue Shield and what we can learn from them, I think there are some basic things for organization, menu management, what the company is trying to accomplish, what they’re trying to ask you to do with the website that is, frankly, just a bit confusing.

So, thanks for listening to the Edge of Innovation. We’ll talk to you again next week.

Also published on Medium.