• January 21, 2005
  • By Coreen Bailor, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

Listening, With Interest

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Catherine Smith, COO of ING U.S. Financial Services (USFS), is certainly no stranger to a customer-focused culture. In her previous roles at the company she was responsible for customer service for the ING USFS retail and work-site business groups, and was president of healthcare, education, and government distribution for ING U.S. Work Site Financial Services and the related broker-dealer operations. Smith has always operated with a customer-first philosophy. In fact, her work with ING USFS on customer focus dates to the company's creation. As the CFO of Aetna Financial Services, she witnessed the acquisitions in 2000 of that company and ReliaStar, which were then combined with existing ING businesses to form USFS. The acquisitions landed the company knee-deep in consolidating and integrating various legacy systems. "It took us a year or so to get everybody on the same page," Smith says. When the dust settled, however, ING USFS's dedication to its customers was stronger than ever, thanks in large part to such customer service efforts as the One-Call Resolution initiative and distributor-relations surveys. These initiatives continue to benefit customers, and the resulting satisfaction is paying dividends for ING USFS. One and Done Perhaps there is nothing more agitating to a customer--with the exception of flat-out dreadful service--than having to endure painfully long hold times waiting for the next available call center agent. Customers want their questions answered immediately, and companies that aren't able to meet those expectations run the risk of seeing even once-loyal customers defect to the competition. Meeting those high expectations is the impetus behind the USFS customer service operation's One-Call Resolution campaign. The company's decision to assess its first-call resolution rates stems from customer feedback. "We're measuring it because customers are telling us it's really important to them," Smith says. The initiative, which started about two years ago and rolled out in 2004 across all lines of business, has allowed the financial institution to develop a baseline to measure future customer satisfaction enhancements. The company gathers data via sources like customer surveys and from analyzing customer data about what is important to them to determine what will improve the customer experience. "Probably right at the top of the list is making it easier to do business with the company, and in particular, first-call resolution--so the customer does not need to call back endlessly to get the problem resolved," Smith says. Conversely, however, if first-call resolution rates are too high it may signal that the contact center is handling calls that may be appropriate for self-service touch points like an IVR or the Web. To avoid that pitfall ING USFS monitors all phone calls, and asks all customers who voluntarily participate in a customer survey whether their issue was resolved on the first call. According to Smith, ING USFS was able to identify low-hanging fruit and address courses of action to streamline transaction processing, while providing agents with more readily and easily accessible information to handle inquiries during initial calls. ING USFS also had to ensure that the first-call resolution program didn't focus so heavily on getting issues resolved on the first call that each call would have 20-minute hold times. Now, in addition to monitoring calls to identify call trends and implementing quality controls, "rather than keep someone that long we will simply say, 'We'll get back to you in the next 24 hours or 48 hours,' whatever makes sense for that particular issue," Smith says. "We have a database that captures those kinds of follow-up calls and tracks them to make sure they do get handled, so we know that when we make that kind of commitment to a customer it's actually getting done." As a result of its One-Call Resolution campaign ING USFS has cut the number of repeat calls for problem resolution. And while results vary by the line of business, certain lines are showing a 2 percent gain in first-call resolution and others are showing a 5 percent to 8 percent gain. "We still want to drive towards putting decision-making at the forefront, so that the person on the phone can try to resolve this problem on the first call if they can, [and] take ownership for getting it resolved," Smith says. Meeting a Brand Promise
To live up to its widely known brand promise, which Smith describes as "being a little different, being refreshing, [and] having a different perspective," the company sought to do more than just get the call right on the first try. "We've got to pick up the phone in a fairly timely manner," Smith says. The company's standard is 75 percent of calls answered within 20 seconds, "but obviously, that's not sufficient," she says. So ING USFS measures the quality of the calls using multiple approaches. For instance, the firm's quality assurance teams listen to and evaluate call center agents against a series of criteria to determine call quality. The criteria include accuracy and behavioral attributes to ensure a quality customer care experience. Once the analysis is complete, these quality assurance teams circle back and coach the service representatives who may have fallen short in a particular area, or if an agent is thriving, the teams use that scenario as a benchmark for his colleagues. ING USFS also uses etalk Survey, an application that provides customers with the option of taking a survey right after speaking with a customer service rep. "It's a simple five-question survey and it asks, Did you get this resolved in the first call, but it also asks questions around, Was it professionally handled, [and] What was your overall satisfaction with the call?" Smith says. Callers can then rate these elements on a 1-to-5 scale, and agents who score consistently well receive a bonus. "We put rewards systems behind the quality of the call, so we're less worried about timeliness. In fact I'd say once you've picked up the phone, if the call takes five minutes, six minutes, seven minutes, that's not for us a key metric," she says. "What does matter is the quality and how the customer felt about the call." For additional insight ING USFS conducts focus groups and annual surveys, which are more in-depth than their five-question counterparts, and uses external vendors for further data collection. The company also conducts marketing surveys that focus on prospective customers. "We ask them, What's going well for your financial services, what isn't, [and] what are you looking for from your provider?" It's less about how we're doing and more about what your wishes and desires are," Smith says. "We get all of that data back and then we devise some strategies as part of our planning process. We want to make sure we are listening, paying close attention, and building those learnings into next year's planning, training, technology, [and] innovation." According to Smith, a recent etalk Survey aimed at partners reflects a rise in customer satisfaction of more than 6 percent since the beginning of 2004, spurred by the company's distributor relations strategy. "This is a direct result of the feedback received from customers through surveys and the teams within ING working together to make the changes necessary to increase quality and customer satisfaction," she says. Dealers Are Customers, Too That knowledge spills into other aspects of ING's complex business model. The typical banking customer may associate ING with ING DIRECT, the company's direct Internet-and-telephone-service-only bank, but parent company ING Group's reach extends into sectors that include banking, insurance, and asset management, with more than 60 million clients in more than 50 countries. In fact, the company's traditional insurance and asset-accumulation product lines are typically sold through such distribution channels as broker dealers or financial planners. "It's probably about a quarter of a million individual representatives who sell the products for us in one way or another, so we have a slice of our business that's direct and then we do a lot through different distribution channels," Smith says. "There's really then a multitude of people who are all not necessarily customers, but we treat them like they're customers." Part of that effort to mirror the company's customer service delivery onto its distributor-relations efforts includes identifying distribution partners' satisfaction drivers by communicating with them, sometimes indirectly through third-party monitors. "It's very important for us to have the tool set there for [our partners], so they can find it easier to do business with us than the next guy down the street. We want the deciding factor to be the service they get with us," Smith says. "We ask what's important to them, and then we create a strategy around making sure we're doing the things...that are of value to them." ING's service center, in Minot, ND, for example, conducted a survey of about 140 distributors to gauge its performance level, obtain insight into what producers need, and boost the center's service level. "Our performance has a direct impact on distributors' ability to place the policy," says Pam Anson, head of new business operations. The results? The center identified areas of improvement and action steps, including resolving delays in policy issues by adding more staff and improving processing accuracy by instituting a quality-tracking tool. Listen and Learn As much as ING USFS listens to its customers and partners to learn ways to meet their needs, it also listens to its front-line staff for ways to improve processes that will ultimately improve service. One recent initiative, called Ease of Business, started within its annuity line in 2004, and is spreading to other lines of business. The initiative gives those on the frontline in the sales and service operations a forum to relay what they are hearing from customers, prospects, and partners about what makes it difficult to interact with the company. ING USFS compiled a list of about 45 processes to shrink, and has resolved most of them. "We went one by one with these items and resolved [what] could be the simplest way to get it done, because often the frontline people know how they can do it easier and they'll tell us, 'This is a better way to do this,'" Smith says. "It was a great initiative and I plan to do it every year for every line of business, because things change and you can always find a way to just make it a little simpler." So just how much has ING USFS's revamped customer service approach changed? According to Smith there's more consistency in the quality of experience. "We've always had some star performers in the call centers who innately know how to have a good conversation or how to handle a question or how to probe a little bit with the customer to get what they really needed, not what they think they need." But as the company continues to do more training, "we're finding out that our satisfaction scores have risen," Smith says. "The call center reps are getting higher and higher scores." This improvement in satisfaction is also helping sales efforts. The company's two-pronged approach to sales includes cultivating new leads, coupled with homing in on those established relationships with satisfied customers. "We're actually not trying to cast a wider net all the time, but rather work on the net we have to make sure that we're getting more of our fair share of the business with the relationships that we already have in existence," Smith says. ING USFS's recipe for success, she says, is "to know your customer, really listen to the customer, [and] draw your strategies and plans based on what's going to make [him] the happiest." A Good Listener Name: Catherine Smith Title: Chief Operating Officer, ING U.S. Financial Services Age: 51 Customer Strategy:
  • Get to know your customer well.
  • Build the customer learnings and insights into your strategic thinking, investments, and priorities.
  • Engage your employees to take responsibility for each interaction you have with your customers, and let your team know how critical they are to the company's success. Best Piece of CRM Advice Received: Listen to your customers carefully so you really understand their needs and can therefore exceed their expectations. Best Thing a Customer Ever Said: "Every day I get what we call kudo emails. Each of these contains a story about a customer who took the time to call or write in to let us know what great service they received from ING. There are many common themes:
  • the service rep listened to me and helped me solve my problem
  • the service rep was patient and really helped me understand
  • you have a very professional staff that goes above and beyond the call of duty
  • outstanding service
  • best service team I ever worked with. So, rather than pull out one comment, the consistency and frequency of the kudos are the best feedback I could ask for." As a Result of Its CRM Approach, ING USFS Has:
  • experienced a 2 percent gain to 8 percent gain in first-call resolution depending on the line of business;
  • seen its customer satisfaction increase more than 6 percent since the beginning of 2004;
  • gained a better understanding of its customers' and distributors' needs. Contact Assistant Editor Coreen Bailor at cbailor@destinationCRM.com
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