The 2006 Service Elite Awards

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Washington State Department of Information Services Visitors to Washington State's official Web site, Access Washington, are seeking answers to everything from tax questions to snow tires. The site launched in 1998 in response to the digital government goals set by the state, and requires 24-hour online customer support. It serves as the public portal for citizens, businesses, and the general public. In late 2004, the state's Department of Information Services (DIS) conducted an extensive usability study and it found that customers felt the layout was clunky and the menu system was ineffective. "When the Web site first launched, we knew we did the best we could with what we had and we were on the cutting edge," says Rhonda Polidori, manager of digital government Web properties for the DIS. "We were looking for an outsourced solution to help improve the site and give the citizens of Washington access to their government." The DIS partnered with SafeHarbor Technology in January 2005 to manage the Web site in hopes of increasing self-support and improving customer service. "SafeHarbor had the bandwidth and ability to handle it statewide. We know it's important to have support, otherwise people will lose trust in the government and we're trying to gain trust," Polidori says. SafeHarbor's SmartSupport solutions enabled the DIS to implement a user-friendly, citizen-focused self-service system that helps drive telephone support inquiries to the Web. It essentially acts as everything behind the Help button, building out the Web site so citizens can find information more easily. "We're like the supportal," says Blake Cahill, vice president of marketing and sales at SafeHarbor. "We help to get as much knowledge and content into the Web environment for consumers to consume, in an effort to keep them off the phone." SafeHarbor's model is completely hosted; customers outsource the management and upkeep of their Web sites to the company. Then it reports back to the clients on how to make their sites better, based on data and analysis about what customers want. Working with SafeHarbor enabled the department to keep self-help rates above 90 percent in 2005 (up from the high 70s in 2004 and far above the average 65 percent range for most of SafeHarbor's clients). Unlike many companies' sites where customers ask for information about specific products, people come to Access Washington and ask questions that span all their interests, Polidori says. "It is all over the board, so for us to keep up with answers to those questions at a 90 percent rate--that's amazing. I'm really proud of that." Polidori estimates that the department saved $800,000 in 2005 by deflecting calls, has seen a 20 percent growth in site traffic, and has steadily increased its score on the American Customer Satisfaction Index. The site won numerous awards, including Best in Show and distinguished awards from the Society for Technical Communication, a Silver Davey Award for Best Web site, and fourth place in the state portal category for Best of the Web from the Center for Digital Government. What's more, the site has received an "abundance" of positive user comments, Polidori says. "[The] Access Washington Web site is top-notch. It's well organized in a logical manner," one visitor comments. "This is a fantastic Web site. It makes me proud to be a Washingtonian," another says. Despite the measurable success, improving the site is a work in progress. Unlike with software, the DIS doesn't just wait for the next version to move to the next level of sophistication, Cahill says. "We're constantly working to augment and grow the environment, and make it more useful for the kinds of questions that come up." In late 2005, the DIS launched a live chat tool that is helping deflect even more calls. Polidori anticipates using it more in 2006. "Chat is a hand-holding tool our users appreciate," she says. "It is an iterative process. To continue to improve [the site] you have to continue to invest in it and be perceived as a leader, and that's what we're striving for in the state of Washington." [ Key Results ] Washington State Department of Information Services
  • saved an estimated $800,000;
  • sustained a self-help rate of 90 percent; and
  • saw 20 percent more Web-site traffic. --Alexandra DeFelice Charter Communications Focusing on excellent customer service requires the ability to monitor and measure progress and adapt to changing demands. This is especially true in the cable business, where customers' entertainment needs may vary with the season. Charter Communications, a broadband communications company, serves more than 6.2 million customers in 37 states. It has 14 care centers and 3,000 agents. While already supporting a sizeable customer base, in 2005, Charter launched a company-wide initiative called Focus on Excellence that was designed to help acquire and retain more customers. The initiative highlights and reinforces positive behaviors among those CSRs, improves call quality and consistency, and identifies opportunities for business improvements. To support Focus on Excellence Charter turned to Witness Systems' Impact 360 quality monitoring and evaluation software, hoping to create a more personalized approach to serving customers by changing its call observation guidelines. The first step was to provide approximately six weeks of training. Coaches worked intensively with small groups, enabling CSRs to master one technique at a time and to use Impact 360 to observe calls, according to Brynn Palmer, director of customer experience and corporate customer care. The process evolved through many changes as Charter added subject matter experts in each care center to conduct huddles with reps. "We continued to do that to master each technique, the cumulative end to which was the new opportunity to serve our customers and train our CSRs," Palmer says. As the company evolved it allowed its reps to use a more conversational style, which makes sense for the entertainment business. "We don't count how many times a CSR says please and thank you. We teach them professionalism and polite interactions. We let them put their personality into that call, and drive the call from a more interactive style," Palmer says. When customers call in with problems, the company wants CSRs to listen to those people, remedy the situations, and then talk to them about products and services and how they want to be entertained. "The concept of huddling up with individual CSRs and helping them feel comfortable with what they're doing is a very personal process Charter has put in place," says Nancy Treaster, senior vice president of global marketing for Witness. "When you're up at the sophistication level Charter is, it becomes a strategic business tool for the company." The company established a baseline close rate prior to the summer launch as a way to calculate sales initiatives in each of its care centers. By combining processes and training with the Impact 360 tool, Charter increased its close rate by 376 percent. Focusing on training before the rollout helped improve call quality and consistency, increasing service levels by 50 percent, lowering abandonment rates by 40 percent, and improving quality scores by 22 percent. "Our secret sauce was, the CSRs embraced it," Palmer says. "We asked them to take the information they have and have a real conversation with the person on the other end of the line--like they were talking to a neighbor. The customer didn't feel like they were put in a process. They enjoyed the experience more." Striving for excellence is not a one-shot deal, however. This winner of a CRM magazine 2006 Service Elite award continues testing the customer experience through outbound surveys and asking for employee feedback. As customers' needs change, Charter adjusts internally to meet those needs. In 2006, the company also plans to make more use of Witness's content-editing tool, which enables Charter to provide reps with clips of customers' voices and understand how they respond to a particular marketing campaign. "That's very powerful, because our company gets data, but when you take that personal emotion about how they feel about something, it gives our data a soul," Palmer says. Charter is so advanced in its use of Impact 360 that the company helps Witness determine which features to develop for the future, Treaster says. "Charter is one of the powerful examples of the kind of customer who's taking the tool, evolving the process, and using the solution under the covers. The solution is only as good as the customer who's using it and the processes they put in place." [ Key Results ] Charter Communications
  • increased its close rate by 376 percent;
  • lowered abandonment rates by 40 percent; and
  • increased service levels by 50 percent. --Alexandra DeFelice Health Net Providing good healthcare coverage today is a daunting task for insurance providers, but Health Net has the right prescription. As a result, the healthcare outfit is our 2006 Service Elite winner in the speech solutions category. The California company faced a handful of call center dilemmas. Health Net, which provides coverage for 6.4 million individuals in 27 states, needed to migrate to one IVR application after acquiring a managed healthcare provider in late 2003, and needed to upgrade its own call center infrastructure to support VoiceXML capabilities. Health Net was using one voice-self-service provider's IVR product, but the acquired company had already started implementing version 6.2 of Aspect Software's Customer Self-Service (CSS) solution at the time of the acquisition. And, because most claim inquiries went straight to the CSRs, Health Net needed to automate the process and give the CSRs basic claim information before picking up the call. However, Health Net also had to comply with HIPAA security regulations. The company sought an IVR solution equipped with voice-printing functionality. "We wanted to standardize both call centers on one application," says Remus Siclovan, senior systems analyst at Health Net. "We looked at both [vendors], evaluated them, and decided to go with Aspect, because we wanted to implement speech, gain more functionality, and because Aspect looked like the better product moving forward." Health Net implemented version 7.0 of Aspect's Customer Self-Service solution, a standalone IVR platform that also provides speech recognition, text-to-speech, voiceprint identification, and support for VoiceXML technology from Nuance. "CSS is a traditional IVR that has VoiceXML capabilities, so it's both an IVR and a voice portal," says Elizabeth Magill, product marketing manager at Aspect. Nuance was the speech technology provider and The Primas Group was the systems integrator for Health Net's implementation. The CSS upgrade began at the end of 2004, and was completed by February 2005. Since deploying CSS Health Net has automated the claims application process and has reduced call volumes into the call center by 50 percent. The company has also leveraged CSS's speech recognition for "fax-back capabilities," Siclovan says. Previously, Health Net customers looking for information on subjects like benefits and claim status were met with a series of prompts via a touch tone menu. Now, if a caller wants to check and see if a claim was paid, she is prompted to simply speak the date of the claim. CSS then automatically queries the database to identify whether Health Net made the payment and how much it paid. To help comply with HIPAA's member privacy guidelines, Health Net is using voiceprint identification. Insured members calling the contact center for the first time record a voiceprint, much like a bank keeps a signature card. Any time thereafter members can access their private health information by speaking their name. The voice-enabled automation tool has helped Health Net realize annual cost savings of more than $2.2 million in the past year. Plus, the company states that the automated system is averaging a 90 percent customer satisfaction rating. "A 90 percent customer satisfaction rating for an automated system--you just don't see that [high a customer satisfaction rating] often," Magill says. "Health Net has done a great job of implementing CSS in a very practical way from one call center site to another, and [of] making the appropriate adjustments to the solution." Health Net plans to implement natural language to make call flows more efficient. "Customers could tell us what they are looking for and we could give them that data instead of making them go through all those menus," Siclovan says. "It's all about automating the call process to make answering our customers' questions easier for them and for ourselves." [ Key Results ] Health Net
  • has saved more than $2.2 million in the past year;
  • achieved a 90 percent customer satisfaction rating for its automated system;
  • reduced call volumes into its call centers by 50 percent; and
  • complied with HIPAA security regulations --Colin Beasty Ulta Salon, Cosmetics & Fragrance When it comes to beauty aids, Ulta Salon, Cosmetics & Fragrance has the experience of a veteran, and like its customers wants to look and feel fresh and energized. So the company, which sells its beauty aids and salon and spa treatments through more than 150 stores in 21 states, searched for a technology makeover. It turned to the growing hosted contact center services market. Like their CRM-suite counterparts, the appeal of hosted contact center applications is rising. DMG Consulting's 2005 report "Hosted Contact Centers Are Ready for Prime Time" projects that 20 to 30 percent of all new contact center seats will be hosted by 2007, which is why CRM magazine is introducing the Hosted Contact Center Services category this year. Ulta's willingness to use hosted contact center services brought the company face to face with Echopass. The upshot? Not just better than expected results, but also a Service Elite award for the Hosted Contact Center Services Category. An outsourced Web-response company handled inbound emails from Ulta.com, the health and beauty retailer's Web store. Ulta's four in-house call center agents handled escalated inquiries--issues that couldn't be handled by the individual stores--using what Ron Brown, director of service and communications, describes as "a pretty archaic system." A receptionist answered all inbound calls, then transferred them to one of the in-house reps. This prevented the center from tracking critical stats like caller abandonment rates, according to Brown. In addition to touching up its overall call center performance, the company wanted to incorporate self-service functionality for customers seeking common information like directions. Through a recommendation from its CRM vendor, RightNow Technologies, Brown turned to Echopass for its Call Center On-Demand service. Echopass's Call Center On-Demand includes IVR functionality, automated outbound dialing, CTI, customizable routing, and VoIP capabilities. Through the EchoSystem, the company's service integration platform, it delivers technologies that include IP and routing capabilities from Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories and CRM applications from providers like RightNow. "The fact that we didn't have to purchase large, expensive hardware that could be outdated relatively quickly--that was a huge plus for me," Brown says. Ulta's deployment went live May 2, 2005. "[We gave Ulta] a completely integrated solution that allows them to have a much more integrated approach to how they handle customer service," says Bruce Dresser, chief strategy and marketing officer at Echopass. The integrated approach enables Ulta to strengthen its call-routing ability, while more adequately accessing its overall center performance and delivering a faster and more effective service experience. FAQs are listed on agents' screens, enabling them to provide quick and consistent answers to customer inquiries, according to Echopass. Now, agents can handle phone and email queries though a central interface. The strategy paid off: Ulta's call abandonment rate dropped from 25 percent to 10 percent, and customer wait times are down from an average of 3.5 minutes to one minute. The company has also seen its inbound calls decrease by 36 percent due to its self-service efforts. And, 95 percent of all customer issues are resolved within 24 hours. Ulta also brought its online customer service initiatives in house, allowing the company to realize substantial cost savings. "Because of the efficiency of the new software, we are able to manage our previous tasks as well as the Web-site customer service with fewer total agents," Brown says. "Even with adding additional agents to our internal staff there was still a reduction in cost equivalent to a reduction in headcount of approximately 30 percent." Ulta's deployment has also boosted its ability to more accurately schedule agents, and in turn, better serve its guests and stores. "Before it was pretty much a best-guess estimate and we never really knew if [agents] were missing calls that we could have been receiving," Brown says. "Now I'm able to tell by hour how many attempted calls are coming in so that we can adjust the schedules accordingly." For Ulta, its outsourcing arrangement is a thing of beauty. [ Key Results ] Ulta Salon, Cosmetics & Fragrance
  • reduced its call-abandonment rate from 25 percent to 10 percent;
  • resolved 95 percent of all customer issues within 24 hours;
  • lowered customer waits from an average of 3.5 minutes to one minute;
  • decreased inbound calls by 36 percent; and
  • achieved cost reduction equal to a reduction in head count of about 30 percent. --Coreen Bailor ResortCom Your vacation is important, and you devote a lot of time and effort to planning it--especially if you choose to travel. Don't you want the providers of your time-share to devote the same sort of effort to you? This year's Service Elite winner for agent-facing universal desktop allows them to do just that, by taking care of the details that get in the way of keeping you happy. ResortCom is "a full-service, back-office BPO for the vacation industry," says Alex Marxer, vice president of financial services at ResortCom. "We take care of financial services, mortgages, maintenance fees, contact center services, and reservations for our members." Paige Schaffer, vice president of client service solutions, adds: "We have over 150,000 active members," which Schaffer says translates into some 750,000 to 1 million travelers each year. By providing outsourcing services for the developers, ResortCom allows them to focus on the quality of vacationers' stay. How does ResortCom manage so many clients? It began with CRM. "We embarked on a CRM journey about three years ago," Marxer says. "The company we chose as our primary partner had to provide the infrastructure for reorganizing ResortCom around customer-centric processes." The partner it chose was RightNow Technologies. "ResortCom was looking for a CRM tool, and when Alex Marxer saw RightNow, he was drawn to it because it is hosted," says Sue Williams, delivery manager for RightNow. "Alex had good processes in place and had trained his people to get the most out of them; they weren't in a position to take hold of managing the technology as well." The system RightNow implemented for ResortCom went to work tracking and managing incidents within the customer service organization. That was where the RightNow-ResortCom relationship started, and it paved the way for further development. "About a year ago we realized that many of the processes we used to serve our members were still based on paper and email," Marxer says. "We already had an internal system to track the entire customer life cycle. We just needed a wrapper around the existing applications that would be invisible, but provide a few more functions," Schaffer says. "We wanted a seamless tool to make us more efficient in the contact center, tying together incident management, marketing tools, full process visibility, and more." This time, RightNow answered the call with its agent-facing desktop. "We loved the interface and the simplicity of RightNow Service," Marxer says. "The ability to expand its capabilities with Web services was also attractive." The implementation went live in August 2005, and has further transformed ResortCom's business processes. With RightNow Service, ResortCom tracks and manages incidents both within its customer service organization and its back-office functions. If a customer questions a credit card charge, the agent who first handles the call can see on the desktop if the finance office has finished researching the issue. If not, the system automatically pushes out any necessary reminders or notifications. The agent can see the incident status and assure the customer the case hasn't been lost. RightNow Service's universal desktop also reduces the amount of time agents have to spend communicating with each other to check on the status of a particular issue. RightNow Service's agent-facing universal desktop implementation was a wise investment for ResortCom. "Our agents are able to concentrate on resolving the case without getting tied up in minutiae," Schaffer says. ResortCom reduced internal email traffic 30 percent by improving communication between the customer agent and the back office. This has also enabled the company to maintain a flat CSR headcount, despite a 300 percent increase in transaction volume. "But the best metric to prove the work," Marxer says, is the ease with which agents took to the new desktop. "We only had to spend 10 minutes showing them the new technology; the rest of the hour-and-a-half training period involved showing the new processes and where the agent fits into them." "With any implementation, you hit road bumps," Williams says. "We had some challenges, but we also had total buy-in and support from ResortCom." [ Key Results ] ResortCom
  • integrated customer service with the back office;
  • reduced internal message traffic 30 percent;
  • handled a 300 percent transaction volume increase without raising headcount; and
  • brought agents up to speed in 90 minutes, with only 10 spent on explaining the interface. --Marshall Lager
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