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"Measurement is the cornerstone" of any effort to improve customer service and turn it into a competitive advantage, advised Sharon Ritchey, SVP, The Hartford, P&C Service Operations, and keynote speaker at last week's Customer Service Leadership Forum.

"Measurement is the cornerstone" of any effort to improve customer service and turn it into a competitive advantage, advised Sharon Ritchey, senior vice president, The Hartford, P&C Service Operations, and keynote speaker at last week's Customer Service Leadership Forum in New York (produced by Insurance & Technology).

Ritchey, who oversees the P&C operation's nine service centers around the country, outlined a recently completed initiative that not only redefined the carrier's approach to service, but also instituted a detailed and ongoing system of measurement and tracking that is being used to improve quality in the service centers and upgrade the total customer experience. The challenge, Ritchey related, was "how to create service as an offensive weapon? How do we differentiate ourselves compared to the competition? Service as an offensive weapon will differentiate us." Additionally, there were three major goals of the initiative, according to Ritchey: to manage costs, generate revenue and improve the experience of customers.

Previously, the P&C company's service centers tended to be "siloed by business segment," (e.g. affinity personal lines, agency personal lines and business insurance), Ritchey said. Management determined that the approach needed to be "one face to the agent. Now there is more of an enterprise orientation," focused around two main channels—agency (business and personal lines) and direct (affinity personal lines).

In addition to the reorganization, there was also a rethinking of what service actually means to key customers (agents and policyholders). The typical carrier approach is to ask, "How do we define service?" according to Ritchey. What The Hartford is trying to do now is focus on "how our customers define service, any time they interact with us. What are the customer touchpoints? These are critical requirements to deliver customer service." Although these touchpoints include functions such as billing, renewals and loss control, the most critical, according to Ritchey, are new business and claims. And among the "critical requirements" that drive the customer experience are timeliness, accuracy, agent accessibility, policyholder accessibility, and communication, she noted.

Ritchey told the CSLF audience that the service center initiatives can be summarized as: People, Process and Technology, which should come together to create "operations excellence," she said. "And leveraging operations excellence will deliver the expected outcomes," or goals.

Specifically, The Hartford has developed the Customer Experience Management System (CEMS), which, as Ritchey explained it, "captures 100 percent of all calls and screen flows" taking place in the service centers. This is more effective than the usual sampling approach, she emphasized, because "sampling is just measuring averages." The system is based on technology from Eyretel (subsequently acquired by Atlanta-based Witness Systems). It was implemented in 2002 to support The Hartford's AARP affinity business.

The information captured enables The Hartford to do much more effective coaching—based on what Ritchey calls "self discovery"—of its customer service representatives. Reps are asked to analyze things like "what you did well on that call?" and "if you did that call over, what would you do different?"

One measurement of the improvements the system has helped drive is that, in the past year, "hold time" in the service centers has decreased from 24 (of calls) to 16 percent, Ritchey reported. And, for what Ritchey considers to be the most important metric—first contact resolution—the rates are now exceeding 80 percent of contacts for the first time.

The initiative is already showing measurable results, Ritchey told the CSLF audience. "Our cost-benefit analysis projected a return of about 28 percent, and we're now seeing a more than 40 percent ROI. This is real and we're realizing the benefits," she said.

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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