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February 1, 2006
Tammy Briggs, vice president of call center operations at Aflac; as told to Colin Beasty
Secret of My Success: Getting Call Center Ducks in a Row
What problem were you facing? Aflac has seen a tremendous amount of success and growth the past few years. As a result of that growth, we needed to expand our Columbus, GA, call center. In addition, we were suffering from a high turnover rate in the call center. In September of 2003 our turnover rate was in the 40 percent range. We really had a serious problem. Knowing that you need to expand your contact center while you have a high turnover rate isn't a good feeling.
What did you do to solve the problem? The company began actively recruiting for the new positions in late 2002, early 2003. This, in turn, got the attention of the Georgia Department of Labor, which approached us--having seen that it as an opportunity for the people of Columbus--with some ideas as to how we could improve things. All along we felt that if our CSRs were better prepared, trained, and educated, then maybe they would stay longer and improve our retention rates. Many times call center agents start their job and immediately ask themselves, "What did I get myself into?" So we worked with the Department of Labor to refine the hiring and recruiting process at our end, and partnered with a local technical college, Columbus Technical College (CTC), to do some of the preliminary training required.
How does the training curriculum work? First, we recruit at local job fairs, schools, etcetera, or receive applications via our Web site. We then hire somebody after interviewing them and if we think that person is a good fit, we enter that candidate into the call center training program. The first part of training is at CTC. We utilize professional resources and courses at CTC to train them in areas such as writing skills, medical terminology, time management, work ethics, and how to deal with difficult customers; some of the softer skills required to be a call center agent. Once the training occurs at CTC, they're turned over to us so we can do some internal training about Aflac itself, our products and services, and about the specifics of our call center operation. It's enabled our call center agents to hit the ground running, so to speak.
What have been some of the main rewards? First, we've reduced our attrition rate from 40 to 20 percent. In addition, because the agents are better prepared once they complete the CTC portion of the training program, we've carved out that portion of the training from our own internal curriculum. Instead of 11 weeks, it's now down to eight weeks. It has reduced the amount of time our instructors have to spend teaching, making them more available for workshops. There are also some hard dollars associated with these improvements. One metric we track in the call center is unit cost, or our call center volume divided by expense. Since implementing our new training program nearly three years ago, we've seen our unit cost continue to decrease while our customer service scores have continued to improve. Last, we helped some unemployed and high school graduates of Columbus start new careers. The town had faced some layoffs at textile mills and manufacturing plants. Many of the new workers from that time have moved into new opportunities within Aflac. It has been a win/win situation for everybody involved.
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