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Impersonal touch? Risk Management Resources' bottom line outweighs criticism of voice processing.


Jay Gardner loves voice processing, no matter what anybody says.

His Risk Management Resources, a 20-year-old third-party administrator of medical-insurance claims, gets at least 800 daily calls.

"I couldn't live my life without it. My partner calls it rude, crude, and insensitive--technologically incomprehensible. People tell me how wonderful it is; others write letters saying that if we really cared we wouldn't use a machine."

The San Francisco based company has offices in Reno, Fresno, San Diego, Anaheim, and Phoenix.

"People will get used to it," says Gardner, who is president. "Will they like it? My partner never will. Some customers won't. They say efficiency is less important than prompt (meaning human) service, and that we're a service organization. No question, it's saving us money."

Problem was, as Risk Management's office grew, receptionists couldn't handle the call load.

"We ahd 15-20 unanswered rings. We had multiple consoles, multiple receptionists. Now we have one."

Callers go immediately into voice mail. Those wanting live human interaction are answered before the second ring.

"Clearly, you get to where you want to faster now," Gardners says.

Transparent Switchover

Seattle-based Active Voice's Repartee voice-processing system, vended through Bay Area consultant/broker Damontel, features automated attendant and voice mail. Data Analyst Chuck Boiler manges the reports the system generates.

Risk Management often talks to customers who think they're talking to Blue Cross.

Chuck Boiler explains:

"Blue Cross contracts out much of its administrative work--record keeping, accounting. That claim form the doctor is adjusted here and stored on an HP system. I call in to check the status of the claim. We may or may not have our people answering the phone when people call."

Risk Management software and hardware handle all Blue Cross data, and Risk Management mails out the claim.

"Blue Cross employees can answer the phone and enter the data into our software. But we also can supply the people.

"We also have special relationships, such as with Intel, a company that funds its own health insurance. We deal directly with them," Boiler says.

Before Repartee and call reporting, the avalanche of calls resulted in a lot of misdirected ones, with few callbacks.

"In-house voice mail, which we viewed then as a secondary issue, we now see as quite important. It's helped us solve those problems."

Software used by Risk Management includes Excel, Fourth Dimension, Microsoft Word, and Appletalk Network using PhoneNet.

Separate and unrelated PC-based call-accounting and, now, voice-processing systems run off the in-house Mitel SX-200 eight-channel private branch exchange.


The voice-processing system, installed in late 1987, drew two kinds of customer response. Some wait for the prompt to get right to a live person. "These include a lot of technophobes," Boiler sneers. Others are happy to go directly to voice mail. Boiler says it's a pretty even split.

Callshort takes data from the PBX and dumps it to the PC, giving Boiler info on:

* data and time of call,

* whether the call is incoming or outgoing.

* if outgoing, what number dialed (which he matches against phone bills),

* and total call volume.

Boiler downloads this information to a program he wrote in Macintosh's Fourth Dimension language, to calculate call duration and end time. Service reps find this data valuable in approaching accounts in the field.

One vital nugget of information is time between calls.

Too much time could mean a certain office isn't doing much business. Too little time may mean somebody is working his tail off. "Maybe someone needs help. Truth is, we've found that people pretty much are doing their jobs around here," Boiler says.

Voice-processing systems such as Active Voice's Repartee give the option of "each" or "batch" distribution. In the former, the box user is alerted to each stored message as it comes in. In the latter, messages are stored together, then sent in a group.

Crunch Period

"You have options calling in," adds Boiler. "The main greeting lets you know you can dial 30 to get to the operator right away. Intel people can dial 44 to get to one of two dedicated persons handling their calls. They're swamped from 10 to noon."

During that crunch period, many callers must wait. The automated attendant apologizes for the delay, explaining lines are busy and suggesting the party hit 1 to keep holding.

If the line continues busy, soon the auto attendant apologizes again and now informs the caller he or she is first, second, or third in line, offering the option of dialing 30 for the live operator.

Though they are both happy with voice mail and auto attendant, Gardner and Boiler have complaints.

Boiler is annoyed at the presence on his PC screen of useless data prompts--vestiges of earlier-generation software.

The vendor promised automatic upgrades, and did so to an extent, except that some old values got dumped into new software.

Boiler is having a hard time getting the vendor to change the screen.

Music A Drag?

Though he updates his outgoing message every day as he flits from one office to the next, and though he considers voice mail essential to letting customers know he cares about being in touch, Jay Gardner would change a few things too.

For one thing, he thinks customers prefer a ringing tone to music, which plays automatically between punching in an extention and called-party pickup.

"People would rather hear ringing," Gardner says with an air of exasperation.

"They don't like that onhold feeling. They hear ringing and they're reassured.

"They don't feel they're being abandoned."

Risk Management paid $12,000 for Repartee.

The big money on a system like this is spent on the two cards that go in the PBX, he explains.

Risk Management bought the PC/AT itself.

A four-line installation didn't have the muscle to enable Risk Managemnet to always be available to answer the phone, so the current system has eight lines.

"We're just about maxed out," says Gardner.

Anything to maximize company profits.

It's not dehumanizing, by his way of thinking.

It's just getting with the program.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Gitlin, Bob
Publication:Communications News
Date:Feb 1, 1990
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