A crowded insurance marketplace means that consumers who are not satisfied with a carrier's quality of service can find viable options elsewhere. As a result, more and more insurers are making concerted efforts to improve their customer service. "At the end of the day, if you don't satisfy your clients, they're not going to stay your clients," says Jeffrey Stoll, SVP and CIO of the Individual Business and Customer Response Center at MetLife.
Carriers' efforts have resulted in a marked increase in insurance companies' 2006 customer satisfaction scores on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), says Claes Fornell, a University of Michigan business professor who heads the Ross School of Business' National Quality Research Center (NQRC), which produces the national, cross-industry report. Ratings are based on customer surveys and, for insurance companies, reflect how customers rate their carriers based on criteria such as price and claims servicing.
The 2006 ACSI shows encouraging improvements in parts of the insurance industry. The life insurance segment saw a 5.3 percent improvement over its 2005 scores, and health insurance gained 5.9 percent. While the property and casualty sector's overall score stayed the same, Geico (Chevy Chase, Md.; $21.2 billion in 2005 assets) and Los Angeles-based Farmers Group (a subsidiary of Zurich Financial Services; $67.2 billion in revenue) each gained more than 6 percent.
From a value standpoint, premiums remained relatively flat, according to the study. While that certainly helped customer satisfaction scores, Fornell says, the quality of service -- a big part of which is call centers -- also improved. "Insurance companies don't have that many points of interaction," Fornell explains. "When they do have them, in large measure, it would be at call centers."
MetLife (New York; $481.2 billion in total assets) recently invested in its call centers, which could help explain why its customer satisfaction score jumped by nearly 10 percent. About five years ago, MetLife's Stoll relates, the carrier invested in common technology -- from Chordiant (Cupertino, Calif.) -- for all its call centers. Since then, the technology (known internally as MetCare) has evolved from a complex, server-based architecture to a more agile, Web-based architecture, he says. "The call center technology allows us to track calls and keep case history and access all the various systems from MetLife through a single desktop," Stoll explains. "What we do is increase the customer experience and reduce the time that they're on the phone."
Call center technology "has to be technology that the customer can understand, and it cannot impose any extra time commitment on the caller," according to the NQRC's Fornell, who notes that the group currently is conducting a research study on call centers. If those criteria aren't met, customer service technology can have the opposite of its intended effect, he asserts.
This year, MetLife's Stoll says, the carrier will roll out Nuance (Burlington, Mass.) Voice Platform 3.0 speech recognition software across all sections of its call centers, following a successful pilot implementation. The goal is to reduce the amount of number-pushing required of customers before they get where they want to go. "Satisfactions, from the pilots we ran, really went up to a relevant number that allowed us to increase that investment in speech recognition," Stoll recalls.
MetLife also is investing in knowledge management solution provider Kana's (Menlo Park, Calif.) Agent IQ version 8, in an effort, as Stoll puts it, to reduce the learning curve. "[It] gets the call center associate to the knowledge they need, to the right system, to the right document" in order to respond to customers more quickly, he says.