VSP Cuts Staff, Serves More Callers With IVR Upgrade

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Vision Service Plan, Sacramento, CA, one of the nation's largest providers of vision care for corporations, HMOs and government entities, recently saw a dramatic increase in the use of its interactive voice response system after making some "customer-friendly" changes.

With two call centers, one in Sacramento and the other in Columbus, OH, handling 10 million calls a year, VSP has more than 500 representatives. It decided to make the changes in its IVR based on information it received at a recent seminar conducted by Enterprise Integration Group, San Ramon, CA, as well as from caller survey results and from an in-house list of applications it felt could be automated.

"We felt there were two areas of our IVR system that needed to be addressed," said Laura Costa, director of customer service at VSP. "First, we wanted to take existing applications and improve those. Then, we wanted to improve the automation and central applications that were not there before."

The changes included reducing the number of recorded voices, anticipating caller questions and volunteering that information up front, simplifying the menus and shortening the greeting.

"Before we had about five or six menu choices," Costa said. "What we did is limit it to between three and four, and place the most frequently discussed topics at the beginning of the menu. In general, we designed it to flow more like a conversation instead of giving someone orders."

For the greeting, VSP decided to use fewer words to get to the reason for the call as soon as possible.

Before the changes, VSP had three to four male and female voices on its IVR that callers dealt with. Now it uses two female voices, which Costa said it tries to blend together so that the rate of speech, tone and volume of the voices are similar and consistent.

The changes were made in the beginning of this year, and within two months Costa said, the amount of callers receiving all of their information through the IVR and not zeroing out has doubled. She would not discuss the exact numbers.

"I can't say exactly how many calls are now reaching completion through the IVR system," she said, "but it is a very significant increase, which has resulted in fewer staff having to be on the phone as well as us not having to hire new representatives."

VSP primarily receives calls from patients and doctors within the health plans. The use of the IVR by doctors has always been high, Costa said, but it too has seen an increase in completed calls.

"But since it was previously high, it just isn't as dramatic an increase as our patient usage," she said.

According to Costa, it usually takes about three to six months to see the results when changes like this are made.

"When putting in new applications like this, there is a learning curve for callers," she said. "The improvements will be seen if they are done well. But most of the time you have to wait quite a while to see the benefits."

As a result of the success of the changes, the need to hire new representatives has been reduced.

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