The word of mouth can start unwanted rumors as well as positive trends inside a company. At AAA Carolinas, Inc., a Charlotte, NC-based personal auto insurer and agency that also offers a host of other services, such as road-side assistance, leisure and corporate travel planning and life and health insurance products, word-of-mouth helped spread the news of a powerful, Web-based tool.
"We started using the product in marketing," says Christine Talbert, marketing manager, e-commerce, "and now the product has spread over almost the entire company. The surprising thing is that we did not intend it to be used this way. Once the other departments saw how easy to is to use, it spread by word of mouth."
The product Talbert refers to is Bozeman, MT-based RightNow Technologies' Web 4.0, a customer self-service application that reduces call center loads and incoming e-mails. "We are a service organization; having great touch points is a top priority," Talbert says. "When we moved forward with our Web site," in late '98, "it was obvious the site had to become more interactive," she adds.
When AAA Carolinas began to explore upgrading the site, it didn't find many options. "Back then, there weren't many companies offering affordable technology that would help us," Talbert recalls. "Building it internally was our only option, but the resources...were not there at the time."
AAA Carolinas' initial objectives were to provide automated access to frequently asked questions (FAQs). "We also wanted the system to be able to provide management reports to help us understand what products and services our members were interested in, and if there were any trouble spots," Talbert says.
While the FAQ functionality sufficed initially, Web traffic grew and AAA had to increase site functionality. "Now, we have 'escalation' and workflow rules so a customer's request is sent to the proper person," Talbert says. Then, if the request is not answered within a certain amount of time, it is forwarded to a superior. Now most email is answered within hours.
As the marketing department efficiently responded to customer inquiries, word spread around the company. "The acceptance of RightNow throughout the organization surpasses everyone's expectations," Talbert says. RightNow has expanded from the marketing department to two call centers, AAA's dispatch center, the group that handles road calls for stranded motorists; the membership accounting department; the emergency road service department, which manages all of the tow truck contractors; AAA Carolinas' two new auto service centers, where members can bring cars for service; and the travel department.
Not only does RightNow Web 4.0 efficiently route customers through the FAQs, but AAA Carolinas has expanded the functionality to more of a complete customer relationship management system. "Call center employees are getting the biggest bang for the buck with RightNow's technology," Talbert says. "The call center manager says the department is running much more efficiently." For instance, if a customer emails AAA Carolinas with a request and then decides to contact the call center, the CSR can see a complete record of all customer/company interactions.
In fact, although call center volume has increased, AAA Carolinas' CSRs are handling more calls, more efficiently. "Ninety-seven percent of calls are answered with less than a 25-second hold time," boasts Talbert. She adds that because CSRs can quickly find information, they can answer questions and move to the next call. "Last quarter, our call center 'customer satisfaction' increased by two percent, despite an increase in call volume. And you have to believe that as customer satisfaction goes up, so will our membership base."
Currently, RightNow Technologies hosts and maintains AAA Carolinas' functionality on RightNow servers. "They have modified the presentation so a customer doesn't know they have left our site and gone to RightNow," Talbert says. However, Talbert says bringing the technology in-house remains an option for AAA Carolinas.
AAA Carolinas will most likely expand live chat functionality. "Our Internet travel department is using live chat with a lot of success," Talbert says. "Anything that has us communicating more effectively with the customer is important."
Case Study Closeup
AAA Carolinas, Charlotte, 1.1 million members, not-for-profit organization.
LINES OF BUSINESS
Auto insurance; travel services; a reseller of life, health, and pet insurance.
RightNow Technologies' (Bozeman, MT) Web 4.0.
Improve customer satisfaction by providing speedy responses.
Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio