Speed is an important call center objective for American National Insurance Co. because "shaving a minute here or 30 seconds there makes a big difference in costs when you're running a call center," explains Gary Kirkham, vice president and director of planning and support for the Galveston, Texas-based insurer.Yet, flexibility is at the core of the steps that guide customer service representatives (CSRs) through conversations with callers. A key to managing call center conversations resides in workflow-helping the CSR pace the conservation and guide it in the desired direction.

"It's not just about viewing the data," says Earle Tutunjian, manager of strategic alliances for Pegasystems, a Cambridge, Mass.-based provider of CRM solutions. "The technology guides the rep through the interaction." To that end, the software's responses vary-based on the nature of the call and specific information about the caller or the policy, Tutunjian says.

The workflow can be flexible and can follow alternative branches as needed, Kirkham says. An unexpected response from a caller can cause the system to change the direction of the call and present new opportunities for the CSR. Some conversations branch as many as 10 times, he says.

The complexity of the workflow online and at the call centers-and the need to keep pace with the company's dynamics-requires attention, Kirkham explains, and that's why ANICO convened the customer service action team two years ago. The group of nine call center leaders representing every relevant business unit meets every two weeks to discuss common issues, do some facilitated "idea swapping" and share internal best practices, Kirkham says.

"The customer service action team has been a rewarding experience for all the participants," he says. "The spirit of cooperation and business operating knowledge flow freely. A rising tide carries all ships."

The workflow design is created by workflow architects, ANICO employees who've logged plenty of time in the business units. Architects govern what the CSRs see and do by making changes in the Pegasystems rules-based software. The data is supplied by traditional programmers writing application program interfaces to access the needed information.

Pegasystems lets the business unit design the way CRM system functions. "If I am the business unit and I can make the system produce exactly the level of functionality I want, I'm in love with the results," says Kirkham. "The solutions that have been crafted certainly meet the needs of the business."

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