GEICO Adds Internet Telephony, Instant Routing

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GEICO, Washington, D.C., the 63-year-old auto insurer that interacts with customers almost exclusively through toll-free numbers, hopes to cut hold times and improve service to Internet customers through a series of upgrades to its telephone system.

The improvements, implemented as part of a 3- and 1/2-year, $150-million contract for voice and data services from AT&T, Basking Ridge, NJ, include a "call me now" button on the company's Web site that enables customers to get fast customer service while online, and a networking upgrade that speeds the routing of calls to geographically dispersed call centers.

The button, a component of AT&T's OneNet Service, features a photo of an insurance counselor and has begun attracting hits in its first few weeks on the site, said Jess Reed, GEICO vice president.

"When customers have a question they just have to type in their telephone number and one of our insurance counselors will call them right back," he said. "It's more convenient for the customer."

Insurance counselors needed little extra training to handle the request for calls from Internet users.

"They were trained to be aware that this was coming from an Internet user," Reed said. "There is not much they do differently in terms of the conversation, but knowing they are speaking to an Internet customer, they can make references to that."

Currently, GEICO is trying to promote the button by offering a free rate quote for Internet users who click on it.

Through AT&T's Resource Manager, the insurance company has begun automatically routing calls to available agents at any of GEICO's eight call centers around the country, Reed said.

"Before, we had a number of screens that managers would watch and if we saw that there were agents free at one center and another center had people on hold, we would try to move some of those calls," said Reed. "Now, the system recognizes that and it's all done on the network level. The system is connected to the ACD's at all our centers."

While data is currently being gathered on the impact of the improved routing, implemented at the beginning of the year, Reed expects it to cut hold times.

"From the experiences of other companies who have used this, we expect it to reduce abandoned calls, speed up the time it takes to answer calls or - to use ACD language - improve service levels," he said.

Separately, the company has added several other services to its Web site, including allowing policy holders to submit payments over the Web, make modifications to their policies, such as adding or deleting a driver, and access real-time rate quotes.

All representatives can respond to the "call me now" button. There are certain core groups of Web specialists at some of the centers, however, who have been given extra Internet training to evaluate and process customer interactions resulting from some of the newest Web features.

The company has had its Web site up since 1996, said Reed. He would not release figures of how many hits the site is getting, but said that online activity has increased steadily.

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