E-Mail Solution Smoothes Workload, Cuts Backlogs

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Electric Insurance Co., Beverly, MA, an online direct marketer of personal insurance, has incorporated new technology into its call center that is allowing available telephone representatives to answer e-mail inquiries in an effort to prevent backlogs and create a more even workload.


As a result, the company is responding to e-mails more quickly. The new technology also has enabled the company to measure and track its e-mail communications in much the same way it measures and tracks phone calls.


EIC, which also serves as the corporate benefit provider for General Electric Co., has a system called eQuote, which allows customers to obtain a quote for auto insurance by filling out a form online. Customers can contact agents by phone or e-mail to ask questions while getting a quote or purchasing a policy.


The company receives about 70,000 e-mails each year, and expects that number to increase to 100,000 this year because of new marketing initiatives, according to Gregory Smith, vice president of operations at the company. Its call center receives e-mails from its own Web site, www.ElectricInsurance.com, as well as from other sites with which it has marketing alliances.


Smith said the dedicated Internet agents often were swamped in their efforts to respond to e-mail messages while phone agents were idle. Rather than hire additional dedicated Internet agents, the company now routes e-mails automatically to available phone representatives when there are at least five idle agents.


"We were getting an increasing amount of e-mails because of the Web and we knew that was going to continue to grow," he said. "The problem we were having was being able to measure it and respond in a desired response time. We did solve those two things with this."


The system routes e-mail messages to agents automatically. Agents' phones ring as though they had an incoming call, and a message is whispered in their headsets that they have an e-mail. At the same time, an e-mail prompt appears on the computer monitor.


Smith said about one out of every nine or 10 calls agents now receive is an e-mail message.


"Being able to spread that volume over the rest of the sales department lets us spread that out over the peaks during the day or the week or whenever else it happens to get that increase in volume," he said.


The company's call center in Beverly, which employs about 120 agents and receives 500,000 calls per year, provides support for three of the company's divisions: service, claims and sales. The recently installed technology, CentreVu Internet Solutions from Lucent Technologies, is used in the sales division, where most of the e-mails are received. The sales center employs nine dedicated Internet agents and about 35 telephone agents who are available for e-mail response.


Customers who send an e-mail receive an automatic reply promising a response within 24 hours, but Smith said that when volume was heavy, it often was difficult to meet that goal before the new system was installed.


The new system also enables EIC to prioritize messages so customers who submit an e-mail after they see a quote they like get routed to the top of the queue and into the phone-call rotation.


"Obviously, that's a great lead, if they see a quote that they like, because then they want us to issue a policy," said Smith. "Because it gets routed to the top of the queue, as long as we have somebody on staff, it will be the next thing that gets done."


Such e-mails that come in after hours - the center operates from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. - are returned the next morning.


Because the new technology is integrated into the telephone infrastructure of the call center, e-mails are tracked and measured in much the same way that phone calls are. Agents now are evaluated based on their e-mail volume and turnaround time in much the same way that they are evaluated on measurements of their phone work, such as talk times. The management now also has the ability to track e-mail volume throughout the day to analyze trends in volume in the same way it measures phone call volume.


The facility also uses workforce management software from IEX that allows it to incorporate data on e-mail volume when creating schedules.


Smith said the company also has been talking to Lucent about the possibility of adding interactive messaging technology that would allow live text chat with customers.

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