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Continual Improvement: Quality Evolution at The Hartford’s Contact Centers

Thomas Hammond, vice president of customer experience management at The Hartford, tells I&T about the carrier’s commitment to service above cost and its ongoing effort to improve the capabilities of its contact center representatives through the use of coaching and technology-driven measurement and feedback.

Effective customer service requires a blend of the human touch and the benefits of technology. In The Hartford’s case (Hartford, $259.7 billion in assets), it involves a commitment to service above cost and an ongoing effort to improve the capabilities of its contact center representatives through the use of coaching and technology-driven measurement and feedback.

Thomas Hammond, vice president of customer experience management, The Hartford Financial Services Group, relates the carrier’s efforts in a recent interview with I&T:

I&T: Where does the contact center fit in The Hartford’s overall view of customer service?

Hammond: Customer experience comes through all touch points (e.g., salespeople, call center agents, advertising, correspondence and Web sites). A company’s reputation -- its brand -- is built off of those touch points. This experience ultimately conveys the company’s value to the customer and is a primary influence for future customer behavior, especially the individual customer’s future value to the enterprise. A poor customer experience is a step towards customer defection, while a good experience builds customer loyalty.

The Hartford's approach is to develop value by understanding the customer, determining clear service expectations, then translating that into specific touch point processes to ensure consistency across channels. We then gather customer feedback and start the process all over again. This customer-centric, closed-looped improvement system enables the enterprise to maximize the value exchange and react quickly to changes in the environment.

I&T: How do you combine technology and the human touch to ensure the highest level of service?

Hammond: Traditional call center technology and general call handling statistics can generally help an organization to handle more calls in a shorter space of time, but it may also result in more of an "automaton" experience rather than a "uman" response. Needless to say, this can sometimes turn off agents, and un-impress customers. In 2001, The Hartford decided to move away from a sole "cost focus" to more of a customer focus. The Hartford developed and installed a system to record 100 percent of the voice and screen activity across eight separate call centers and 3,500 agents. This system would record the sound and visual cues of how those agents were serving their customers, and tag that information with data about the customer and about the agent for analytical review. This review would be used in several ways, not just from an efficiency standpoint, but for effectiveness and, specifically, for customer impact. This system is called CEMS (Customer Experience Management System), and it is a business strategy that captures, evaluates and analyzes customers' experiences to allow the organization to continuously improve processes and establish and measure sustainable improvement. The balance of the portfolio is done through a matrix of efficiency and effectiveness. Efficiency is measured through typical cost-reduction oriented dimensions (Corporate Value), while Effectiveness is measured through Service feedback and touch point satisfaction (Customer Value). Initiatives are evaluated and prioritized to move the results to the upper right hand quadrant of the Efficiency-Effectiveness matrix (High Company Value, High Customer Value).

I&T: How does your coaching program work, and how do you measure your results?

Hammond: With total voice and screen information captured by the CEMS platform, The Hartford realized we needed coaching skills and process management that could easily consume and utilize data of this type.

We created the Customer Experience feedback system to include in-depth analytical thinking, best-in-class coaching and diagnostics, and significant amounts of change management. To help manage this consistently, The Hartford developed a team leader decision support system called Data Driven High Performance Coaching (DD-HPC). This system not only includes online performance metrics and scorecards, but also a basket of tools for every individual leading or participating on a team. These tools include intuitive and insightful online performance reporting; linkages to step by step coaching road maps; customizable individual coaching planners and monthly forms to execute, communicate and track coaching and performance.

An online matrix of individual key performance indicators is accessed through a Web site, and has Site, Unit and Representative drop-down boxes. This decision support matrix allows the team leader to quickly identify where the representative needs coaching. It also assists in identifying root cause by listing the most common causes of poor performance within each category, along with the tools utilized to identify root cause. Following root-cause analysis, training suggestions are populated in categories of individual knowledge, skill or desire. This road map leads to an expectation for coaching improvements. It is the basis for consistent identification, diagnosis, improvement, and validation.

I&T: What are the benefits of this approach, in terms of customer satisfaction, employee retention and efficiency?

Hammond: Ultimately, customer-focused, closed-loop coaching models provide the ability to focus a large organization on a balance between operational efficiency and customer effectiveness. This included a consistent and accurate measurement system to raise the bar on all parts of the organization, improve cost management and provide positive impact to the customer experience. Areas of customer satisfaction cost and revenue, and especially employee satisfaction, have had sustainable improvements.

One surprising benefit was the development of growing operational self-discovery. The ability to record 100 percent of the transactions began to bring in exponential experiences across operations. Seeing and hearing yourself service the customer became the most powerful benefit we had delivered within the system. Each representative has the ability to review any and every transaction, understanding that every customer is important, every contact delivers a lasting experience, and every connection with the customer and the company defines the brand. We have the ability to record every branding moment occurring within the company and measure each one of those moments to help us understand and define the leading and lagging metrics around The Hartford Experience.

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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