If you've ever felt like your phone is ringing off the hook, you might want to consider the case of GEICO. The Chevy Chase, Md.-based auto policy giant communicates with its 7.4 million customers primarily through its call centers, which are located across the country. "Because GEICO is the fastest growing insurance company in the United States, we deal with a lot of pressure when we are handling the millions of phone calls that come in," Jess Reed, GEICO's chief information officer, tells Insurance Networking News.Indeed, given the company's direct-to-consumer model, the importance of its call centers, and the solutions that enable them, is difficult to overstate. To keep pace with the deluge of calls coming in on a daily basis, the company has long relied on help provided by telecom solutions provider AT&T, which, after a series of recent mergers, is now based in San Antonio, Texas. "It's an AT&T managed service that we overlay on top of a Cisco-based intelligent software manager," says Linda Poe, signature client director for AT&T.

When a customer's call comes into GEICO, the computer system makes sure that the call gets to right person. To achieve this, AT&T employed a network-based solution that automatically balances call flows to GEICO's call centers, based on existing workloads in each location.

The system also relies heavily on the use of business rules to optimize network and human resources. According to AT&T, this combination has allowed GEICO to process several thousand additional calls each month without adding staff, and to answer 90% of incoming calls in less than 20 seconds.

"We have a fairly sophisticated call routing capability. We have business rules in the platform that will identify what type of call it is, where it's coming from, what state it is originating from," Reed says.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

For example, if GEICO's call center for California, located in San Diego, experiences an overflow of calls, the calls will be routed to GEICO's Tucson, Ariz., or Dallas locations. Simultaneously, the business rules, using a number of criteria, will identify the counselor best able to handle the call. "We know who's going to serve that call if it can't be served in the home location," Reed says.

However, more than simple geographic considerations determine how a call is routed. The differing insurance regulations in different states are also a primary consideration. "Our insurance counselors have to be licensed. A counselor might specialize in, perhaps, seven states, rather than all 50," Reed says. "Even though there are some enabling technologies [to keep counselors apprised of regulations], we find that people do a better job when they are focused on a smaller number of states, because there are so many changes in the regulations."

This thicket of overlapping states and legislation was a concern from the very beginning, Poe recalls. "There are regulatory and legal constraints that every insurance company has to take into account. How customer calls were to be routed had to be taken into consideration," she says. "There was some upfront work in making those business decisions."

In addition to their geographic and regulatory distinctions, GEICO's counselors are further divided into sales, service and claims specialties, he says. The business rules imbedded in the platform also take into account such things as how long a call should wait and where it should go once it's waited for that period of time. "It enables the calls to go to the agents who are best equipped to handle those issues," Poe adds.

Reed‚ noting that GEICO is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, says that such a robust system that leverages rules technology and is attuned to the minutiae of the insurance business is necessary to give the customer the highest level of service possible. "We would love to have the 'serve it up to anybody' mentality, but that's not possible because the product is so complex," Reed says.

PARTNERSHIP AND GROWTH

The AT&T system also helps GEICO know their customers better. The platform includes Customer Telephony Integration (CTI) technology, which enables call center counselors to have customer profile information delivered right to the screens on their desktops.

One additional benefit of CTI for GEICO is that it helps the company track the success, or lack thereof, of its myriad advertising efforts.

"GEICO can advertise different 800 numbers in their print, radio and TV campaigns and CTI can automatically track the number of calls generated by each of those channels," Poe says. Thus, GEICO knows which of their successful ad campaigns-its cavemen or its talking gecko-is proving most effective in reaching consumers.

One of the primary challenges to the platform is the result of GEICO's rapid growth over the past decade, during which call volumes have doubled every five to six years. To accommodate this growth, the company has had to open additional call centers to meet demand. Reed says that although some of the call volume has been offset by increased use of the company's Web site, the call centers remain the primary link between the company and its millions of customers.

As it has grown, the company added major offices, and now has seven regional offices and four service centers, in locations ranging from Buffalo, N.Y. to Honolulu, Hawaii. Each new facility requires additional hardware such as routers as well as desktop applications, Poe notes. "Typically it takes four to six months to implement a solution like this," she says.

While the platform is a managed service, it is also, in a true sense, a partnership between the two companies. Poe admits that she sometimes catches herself saying "we" when referring to GEICO. For its part, the insurer does some customization of the platform itself, such as modification of the business rules.

"While they manage a lot of the service, we are able to administrate some of the function and that has been very beneficial to us," Reed says. "We've continued to tweak our business rules."

Poe says that AT&T has worked to enhance and improve the service as a direct result of GEICO's feedback. Reed also credits AT&T's service for evolving alongside his company's rapidly growing and ever-changing needs. "They have continued to improve the product from a functionality standpoint," he says. "The tool has become easier to use over the course of the years."

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