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MetLife Boosts CSR and IVR Capabilities

Competing for external recognition has helped MetLife's call center operations leadership identify the capabilities it needs in order to deliver best-in-class service.

As supposedly solid financial institutions evaporate into thin air, the steady, changeless qualities of an insurance brand are doubtless reassuring. When it comes to service, however, meeting customers' expectations and sustaining a customer-friendly brand means trying to score as the goalposts constantly move. Bearing that challenge in mind, MetLife ($521.3 billion in total assets) has driven relentless improvements in its call center capabilities, aimed at continually improving service even as it seeks to reduce costs.

The New York-based carrier recently relaunched its customer service representative (CSR) Knowledge Assistant application on a KANA (Menlo Park, Calif.) knowledge management platform, reports Todd Fusco, VP of MetLife's business solutions planning unit. The revamped application puts more relevant information at CSRs' fingertips, reducing the time that they need to search for it and that customers have to wait, he says. MetLife also has deployed Nuance (Burlington, Mass.) interactive voice recognition (IVR) software to boost self-service capabilities, making it easier for customers to complete inquiries with fewer steps, Fusco adds.

Among the improvements in MetLife's customer service performance -- owing to a combination of the KANA and Nuance applications as well as existing routing and forecasting capabilities -- is a CSR availability rate increase from 67 percent to 85 percent, according to Fusco, who points out that Nuance IVR capabilities have contributed to an increase in self-service efficiency, freeing up CSRs for more-demanding inquiries. He notes that 74 percent of the carrier's customers report being "very satisfied," compared to an industry average of 53 percent.

Karen Hemenway, VP of MetLife's customer sales and service group, relates the latest call center capability improvements to the carrier's quest for continuing recognition as a "Certified Center of Excellence" by Purdue University's Center for Customer Driven Quality. Call centers compete for the distinction on their ability to exceed their industry peers as measured by 28 performance categories. According to Hemenway, in October 2008 MetLife's call center received the designation for the fourth year running, outperforming the industry in 18 categories and demonstrating improvement over its own 2007 performance in 12 categories.

"We have earned internal accolades for high quality and productivity, but we see value in seeking external validation," says Hemenway. "We have learned through the Center of Excellence certifications that there are areas of opportunity for further improving our effectiveness and efficiency."

Optimization Phase

The addition of the KANA-based Knowledge Assistant represents the call center's transition from a building and consolidation phase to one of optimization, according to Fusco. "We're taking steps beyond the core capabilities that any call center should have," he says. "We are focused on both implementing new capabilities and getting the most out of things we've invested in in the past."

For example, KANA has boosted the capabilities of MetLife's MetCare unified service delivery desktop for CSRs, Fusco suggests. Built on Chordiant (Cupertino, Calif.) software implemented in 2000, MetCare connects to disparate systems to draw vital data needed by CSRs. Prior to the deployment of KANA, the Knowledge Assistant application transmitted unstructured data on MetCare through IBM's (Armonk, N.Y.) Lotus Notes.

"While we had the ability to do keyword searches and other queries, there was an onus on the CSRs to look for what they needed in the context of the call they were taking," Fusco recalls. "KANA offers you the ability to create unique knowledge bases and compartmentalize information to maximize and automate search capabilities -- it's the ability to deliver knowledge when and where you need it."

MetLife purchased the KANA software in early 2007 and began analysis and content redesign over the following four months. Building and testing followed through much of the year, and group-by-group deployment began in the fourth quarter. "The larger part of the initiative was rethinking our store of knowledge -- how do we rewrite and rebuild it in context of a customer phone call?" says Fusco. "It was rationalized to the questions customers ask and need, as opposed to being broadly available in volumes of reference materials."

MetLife licensed the Nuance IVR software at about the same time it added KANA and spent most of 2007 analyzing processes and building menus designed to get answers to customers' questions with a minimum of steps, Fusco adds. "The build of development happened throughout 2008, with our first group going to pilot over the summer," he says. "The balance of groups will be rolled out over the next few months, with 100 percent deployment by the end of the third quarter of 2009."

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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