As insurers move more contact center activities to more channels, they must determine if a Web site, e-mail or interactive voice response (IVR) system can replicate what a customer can accomplish when accessing live support.There are communication-level issues with e-mail and IVRs that many insurers are drilling down to identify, and the same goes for deploying the Web site as an alternative to the call center.

Following the deployment of its Web site as a core communication hub in the wake of 9/11, Chicago-based Aon Corp. continually examines how it can best leverage customer/affiliate communications across channels.

"Aon has been very savvy at taking repeatable inquiries or questions that come through a call center and putting that content online," says Lawrence Schwartz, president of Frisco, Texas-based Skywire Software Co. "Customers know they can get the answer online. What's more, Aon positions content in an easy-to-find location that's available at the customer's fingertips."

What if a Web site produces confusion rather than solves problems, causing customers to ultimately engage live support to satisfy an inquiry? As a quality assurance measure, some insurers are implementing Web-to-phone rate analysis, which provides browser-based analytics to call center supervisors about how and why customers using the Web to conduct an inquiry ultimately call for live support.

Wellesley, Mass.-based Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, for instance, offers a Web program-HPH Connect-which enables members to fulfill inquiries online rather than place a call. As the Web activity grows, the provider is examining the implementation of a "shadowing" capability.

Using click-stream technology, shadowing enables a customer service representative (CSR) to track and then "shadow" the activity of a customer on the Web, says Lynn Bowman, vice president for customer service at Pilgrim Health Care. "If a customer is having difficulty inputting data or can't navigate to a screen fast enough, a CSR can provide online assistance in real time-in essence taking over the mouse to complete the task."

In addition to the Web, IVRs are also coming under closer scrutiny regarding what these systems can and can't do for customers. Recently, Harvard Pilgrim scaled back its IVR functionality-actually making it available for fewer customer inquiries.

"We went on what I call an 'IVR starvation' plan," Bowman says. "The current IVR functionality consists of ordering ID cards and member materials and verifying eligibility. We eliminated claims status and FAQs primarily because the completion rate of these transactions was quite low-in other words customers opted out of the IVR to speak with a live agent."

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