The Right Route to Loyalty

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The 1996 merger of two major insurance companies, Paul Revere Co. and Provident Insurance, created one of the country's largest carriers. When the new company, which carried the Provident name, merged with Unum in 1999, another major player, UnumProvident Corp.--an industry leader in disability income--was born. With annual revenue of $9.4 billion and approximately 13,000 employees worldwide, we are truly an international company that makes about $3.6 billion in annual benefit claim payments. A key to servicing claims clients is our call center, which handles about 15,000 calls a day from groups seeking information and from individuals making claims. Perhaps more so than in other industries, it is imperative that clients can count on knowledgeable and sympathetic call center reps. This is because of the emotional trauma clients often experience if they have to claim disability benefits. We feel that clients should not be made to wait for the second or third ring for a call to be answered. Yet, with the formation of UnumProvident the company found itself potentially unable to answer a portion of our call volume according to our directive for highly responsive customer service. We had toll-free call center operations in Portland, ME, Worcester, MA, Chattanooga, TN, and Glendale, CA. The center in Portland had Unum group disability expertise. While the Glendale location was also primarily a claims call center, the Worcester and Chattanooga locations gave out a lot of sales quotes and information. Our goal was to have customers call a single number and be routed to the right location. Since our groups' competencies were distributed, we made the decision that we wanted to network these locations instead of operating separately. To achieve this, the first step was to bring every location to the same standard. At that time every location except Chattanooga was using G3 switch technology, which we then brought into that locale. Next, we purchased a workforce management software package. The next major--and we feel, most important--aspect of our plan was to cross-train our reps across all our business sets: group, individual, and sales and support, which included talking with plan administrators and answering billing questions. On an annual basis we now log close to 50,000 training hours for our agents. We also began to integrate teams at each specific call center and the switch let us redirect calls through skills-based routing. The G3 technology includes forecasting software that lets us manage operations in real time. Our managers monitor which customer representatives are on the phone, the number of calls in queue, the quantity of abandoned calls, and the length of calls received. Revamping call center operations has had some major, tangible benefits. We have been able to reduce staff requirements, provide 24x7 service, achieve 99 percent of service level agreements, and most important, garner a 90 percent satisfaction rating from customers. Because of our new network we were able to set up a distinct toll-free number in the days following September 11, 2001, for victims of those attacks. Our training solutions helped reps ramp up on the particular needs of this customer set, including call escalation to qualified help personnel if a client was particularly emotionally distressed. The workflow management software kept us abreast of the call volume, so we could determine how long to keep the special number in force. This experience taught us a valuable lesson about an intangible benefit of the technology we've implemented: peace of mind to those most in need.
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