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CUNA Mutual Improves Sales with Voice Signature Technology

CUNA Mutual develops voice signature technology and dramatically improves sales conversion rates in its call center.

As announcements regarding carrier-vendor contracts for e-signature technology continue to flood the wire, there can be no denying that insurance companies have recognized the power in closing business at the point of sale. But while e-signature technology can help insurers close sales online and even in person, it is a far less effective tool when conducting business over the phone. In response, some insurers have implemented voice signature technology, and they are seeing impressive results.

"It's underutilized compared to what it could be," says Kevin Miller, VP of IT customer operations and sales and marketing at Madison, Wis.-based CUNA Mutual ($13.2 billion in total assets), of voice signature technology. "The technology side of it isn't that complex. The key to it is having the right processes in place around the technology."

After piloting a voice signature process in late 2008, Miller reports, CUNA Mutual's Sales and Marketing Interaction Center (SMIC) realized a 74 percent improvement in completed sales. The SMIC unit takes calls from prospective customers who were targeted through mail marketing campaigns. Previously, if customers indicated to SMIC agents that they were interested in purchasing CUNA Mutual products, the agents would have to mail them paper applications to fill out, sign and send back.

"In the old days ... we'd mail [prospective customers] a kit that had the application form and other forms they'd need to fill out to buy our product," recalls Miller. "The problem that we were having from a business standpoint was that we'd send out those kits and we'd only see about 20 percent of them actually come back to us. We lost 80 percent of the applications in the process."

Those poor returns, Miller relates, drove CUNA Mutual to consider new methods of closing business via the SMIC. Clearly, he says, if customers were calling the SMIC, they were interested in one of CUNA Mutual's products; if the company could complete the application process during those calls, sales numbers should improve. "We looked at all options in the e-signature space, but since it was a contact center and a voice channel, voice [signature] seemed like the right option for us," Miller comments.

Constructing the Process

CUNA Mutual's voice signature solution was developed primarily in-house. "There's no easy way in the market right now to go buy this solution with all the pieces," Miller asserts. "It really does take a combination of different technologies to make it happen. None of the technologies in and of themselves are extremely complex."

The carrier's IT team developed a custom application that sits on the desktops of SMIC contact center agents. When the agents are ready to close business, they click a button to open the application on their screens. After an agent leads a customer through a series of questions -- essentially filling out an application for the customers over the phone -- the agent clicks another button that activates a Plantronics (Santa Cruz, Calif.) device attached to the phone. The device records the actual voice signature, which is a scripted conversation during which the customer verbally agrees to purchase the product.

Behind the scenes, SMIC agents are completing a sort of e-signature process themselves in order to initiate the voice signature-enabled new business sale, according to Miller. He explains that the custom-built app logs the agent's name, user ID and credentials as well as the exact time and date of the sale. "All that information is put in a package along with the voice recording [from] the Plantronics device," Miller details. "All that is sent to our third-party provider. They take all that information and store it via a PDF document with the voice recording embedded within [the PDF]."

Miller declines to specify the third-party vendor with which CUNA Mutual partnered on the voice signature project, noting that the two groups are still in negotiations as the carrier seeks to move from the pilot phase into a broader rollout.

Currently the carrier leverages its voice signature process only for its whole life and term life conversion products. In addition to expanding its voice signature process to other products, Miller relates, CUNA Mutual is looking to leverage the technology in servicing areas -- when a customer wants to change beneficiaries or change automatic clearinghouses, for instance. "Anything from a servicing standpoint that requires a wet signature, we're starting to look at now [to see] how we can use this same technology to make that service more efficient," Miller says.

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