The Hartford's affinity program with the AARP is a direct-marketing success story. However, the technology supporting the program is the secret to the carrier's achievement.In 1984, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) approached The Hartford for a third-party affinity relationship that would enable AARP members to purchase auto and home insurance from the carrier.
As the association's exclusive provider, The Hartford has realized $1.85 billion in premiums with 2.3 million policies written for its AARP business, making it the largest affinity group insurance program in the country.
As an added bonus to The Hartford's nearly 20-year relationship with the AARP, the Hartford, Conn.-based insurer recently received the Direct Marketing Association (DMA)'s "Company of the Year" award.
"The Hartford was chosen because it exhibits leading-edge, best-in-class practices with its unique AARP auto and home insurance program," says Shawn Morris, a consultant with JCG Ltd., Brentwood, Tenn., and chairman of the DMA's Financial Service Committee.
"They have successfully engaged many tenets of direct response marketing along with impressive Internet activity and sophisticated call center technology."
To better understand and meet the needs of the AARP's more than 34 million members, The Hartford has six gerontologists on staff to provide information, advice and training. But the key to making the affinity program successful is The Hartford's commitment to implementing technology to support customer service that's geared toward older adults, says George Thacker, The Hartford's senior vice president for personal lines marketing.
For its part, the AARP shares membership research and information with the insurer to help enhance customer value and participation through improved Internet capabilities and programs.
To increase response generated through the Internet, The Hartford embarked on a campaign in 1996 to develop online quoting and billing capabilities. Some of the enhancements added include search engine optimization and the ability to e-mail niche segments. In 2002, the Internet served as the source for 25% of new business for The Hartford's AARP program.
Using The Hartford's online billing program, AARP members can make payments by personal check or credit card, check their balance, verify payment received and obtain the amounts and dates of their next payments.
Auto policy services include the ability to view the policy online, obtain quotes to add another vehicle, make policy changes to add or remove drivers and vehicles, and request identification cards and policy documents. Now offered in 27 states, auto policy services will be available nationwide in September 2003.
The Hartford's innovations in call center technology and particularly its voice-recognition system (VRS) have also relied on AARP data and gerontology information to better serve the group's members.
Call center improvements
In April 2002, the insurer instituted a VRS to streamline the process for AARP members who contact a call center to obtain a quote or buy insurance. Utilizing membership information contained in The Hartford's databases, the system can immediately identify 75% of callers by their telephone numbers.
When a call center representative answers the phone, the customer's name, address and other information appears on the rep's computer screen. In the 25% of cases in which the system does not recognize the originating telephone number, the VRS asks the caller a series of questions that prompts information to appear on the service rep's screen before the call is answered.
This year The Hartford launched a VRS that enables customers to handle a myriad of billing issues 24 hours a day. The system prompts customers to answer questions, and the answers they provide dictate follow-up questions.
To ensure that AARP members with hearing problems would not have difficulty using the system, corporate gerontologists analyzed every word of the scripts so that the questions are easily understood by the hearing impaired, and also slowed the pace of questions so that these customers had more time to answer.
"Our gerontologists also provide extensive training for customer sales and service representatives in the call centers," Thacker says. "For example, representatives are taught to speak more clearly and effectively for those callers with hearing loss."
Because the insurer is often one of the first to be contacted when a customer has lost a spouse, representatives also receive instruction on how to handle these calls and how to explain the special services available to widowed spouses.
The Hartford's direct marketing program with the AARP would not have been as successful without the implementation of leading-edge technology-and support from staff gerontologists-to improve seniors' ease of doing business.
Indeed, the call centers handle more than 6 million AARP sales and service calls annually, and the AARP program Web site received more than 1 million visitors last year.
"Technology is an enabler," says Thacker. "We are going to continue to make the customer process easier so that more and more people who choose to look for personal insurance solutions will know that simpler and easier ways are being discovered by The Hartford and AARP."
Tina Tapas is a writer based in Prospect Heights, Ill.
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