• July 1, 2003
  • By David Myron, Editorial Director, CRM and Speech Technology magazines and SmartCustomerService.com

Using the Contact Center to Support Sales Growth

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By 1999 financial services firms were winding down from a 401(k) frenzy and equity market explosion. As the markets started to show signs of saturation, instead of spending more money than MassMutual Retirement Services (MMRS) was already spending on new accounts it concentrated on keeping the participants it already had. "We were in a world of takeaway business," says Shefali Desai, second vice president of participant relationship management at MMRS, a division of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. To build retention wallet share, though, required a radical change in the division. Normally, financial services firms had to appeal to the institutions offering the 401(k) plans (plan sponsors). However, to keep individual customers MMRS had to shift its attention from HR managers at the plan sponsors to employee participants. This was a significant undertaking, because MMRS' CRM efforts jumped from supporting 5,000 clients (HR managers at plan sponsors) to supporting 750,000 employee participants. Why embark on such a huge undertaking, especially when employees may have little say on which financial organization or plan an employer chooses? Because employee participants are the ones holding the assets. If enough employees are not happy with their plan, they can complain to their employer, which might prompt the employer to drop the financial services company for another one. There's an additional challenge for MMRS: When employees leave a company they can roll their retirement savings out of MMRS and into their new employer's retirement package. "That's really when we need to say, we can take care of you and keep you on as a customer. So customers hold a lot of power," Desai says. To improve the customer experience MMRS attacked its homegrown customer database system, which customer service reps (CSRs) and retirement specialists (the highest level CSR) were using. The homegrown solution was so difficult to use that retirement specialists and CSRs often had to distract customers with small talk to fill the dead air as they navigated through the system, Desai says. Longer phone time naturally means higher costs. So in late 1999 executives evaluated four leading CRM solutions that would link disparate, yet relevant, information to provide CSRs and retirement specialists with a complete view of each customer calling in. MMRS selected Siebel, because "it was the best-of-breed solution," says Donnalee Bushey, assistant vice president of retirement services systems. Without even piloting the Siebel applications MMRS began implementing them in a phased approach. MMRS started with Siebel's call center desktop solution for financial services in February 2001, Bushey recalls. The following November MMRS implemented Siebel's asset retention desktop solution for the CSRs and retirement specialists. One of the first benefits quickly realized was for new CSRs. Instead of having to learn how to navigate through several different screens, they only had to deal with one interface, which cut training time and enabled CSRs and retirement specialists to spend that time on other business issues like plan specifics, the latest rulings on the Department of Labor, and more. "They're learning a lot about the business," Desai boasts. The Siebel solution hasn't cut call times, which Desai says average between five to eight minutes, but it enables CSRs and retirement specialists to talk about more complex issues in the same amount of time it took to answer routine questions. "Instead of people calling in for an address change we can now understand and talk to them about things like plan information and mention other things they might want to consider like a risk profile quiz on our Web site, a preretirement seminar, or more about education," she says. Empowering employees to help more customers has improved morale inside MMRS. As a result, the CSR and retirement specialist attrition rate has dropped dramatically, from 15 percent three years ago to the low single digits of today. "It's been unbelievable over the past year," Desai says. "We created some career development opportunities for our employees, because it empowers them to do more, which helps their career path." The Payoff Using its contact center to support its revamped growth strategy, MMRS's:
  • CRM initiative jumped from serving 5,000 clients to serving 750,000 plan participants;
  • attrition rate dropped from 15 percent three years ago to the low single digits today;
  • phone conversations cover more complex issues;
  • employees are trained less on using the technology tools and more on plan specifics;
  • employees have more career options.
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