Insurance & Technology is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Data & Analytics

07:30 PM
Connect Directly

Finessing High-Volume Contact

Opus Group helps Foremost Insurance optimize its call/contact center capability through the vendor's process- and technology-focused optimization program.

Success can bring its own challenges, as was the case when Foremost Insurance Co. ($2.1 billion in net written premium) was acquired by Farmers Insurance Group (Los Angeles) in March 2000. The Caledonia, Mich.-based subsidiary stopped selling auto and homeowners insurance - a bread-and-butter product set for Farmers - and concentrated on an enhanced menu of its traditional stock-in-trade of mobile home and recreational property and vehicles coverage. As a result, Foremost's annual growth, boosted by Farmers' captive distribution network, rocketed from less than 3 percent annually to more than 20 percent.

That proved to be an embarrassment of riches for Foremost's call centers, through which the carrier books most of its business. "All this growth meant that we had these calls coming through the same narrow pipeline with the same number of people," says Nancy Treul, VP, Foremost. "There was tremendous pressure on our infrastructure and our staffing to accommodate that growth." The addition of seasonally oriented products to the carrier's offerings - including snowmobile and boat products - resulted in seasonal peaks as well.

Foremost added a further challenge by creating an Internet quoting and booking channel, called Foremost Star, just prior to the acquisition. The carrier opened a dedicated contact center for the Internet channel to field calls and e-mails from agents. "Because they were a different kind of call, we didn't have the expertise that we had in the other call centers," Treul observes.

After trying to deal with the call center volume increase through internal adjustments, according to Treul, the carrier was approached by Chicago-based Opus Group in Fall 2002. Opus Group's proposal was "so compelling that [Foremost] president Bob Woudstra made the unilateral decision to hire them," Treul relates.

Change Is Good

In January 2003, Opus sent five consultants to assess Foremost's call center procedures. After the assessment, a smaller team stayed on to analyze call center activity, develop new scheduling and coach Foremost call center managers in the use of new procedures and reports, which are generated by the vendor's proprietary OPUS software (Operations Productivity and Utilization Summary). The software draws data feeds from Foremost's Avaya (Basking Ridge, N.J.) CMS 11.0 call management system and Blue Pumpkin (Sunnyvale, Calif.) scheduling system, and serves as a front-end management tool, according to Geri Castleman, assistant vice president, managing workforce, at Foremost. As part of Opus' process recommendations, the reports are reviewed in pre-shift meetings.

Foremost implemented the further innovation of a "shift-bid" process in which call center reps rank shifts according to their preference. "We award the shifts by the level of performance, rather than seniority," Treul says. "That was a major change."

The Opus engagement ended in June 2003. It cost "less than $500,000," Treul says, and resulted in improved service. In most of Foremost's call centers, 80 percent of calls are now answered in 20 seconds. In terms of ROI, "Opus promised a 3:1 return - for every dollar spent we would save $3 - and it actually exceeded that," Treul relates. "In one call center, Opus was able to save us $2.28 per call, off an original cost of $3.44." Though Foremost was not able to achieve its goal of holding staff levels, Treul adds, "We hired far fewer than we would have had to if we didn't have Opus' tool and methodology."

Foremost plans to use the Opus tool to improve its Foremost Star Web service. Though the carrier prides itself on its capacity to handle the phone channel, "We have really not embraced e-mail and Web chat as effectively," acknowledges Castleman. "We plan to automate [those channels] and incorporate both into the Opus tool."

Case Study Closeup

Company: Foremost Insurance Co. (Caledonia, Mich.; $2.1 million in annual premium).

Lines Of Business: Personal P&C, including mobile home, snowmobile, motorcycle and personal watercraft.

Vendor/Technology: Opus Group contact center performance center and optimization program.

The Challenge: Handle increased call/contact center volume without increasing staff.

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

Register for Insurance & Technology Newsletters