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Buying the benefits of ACD for one-seventh the price.

It doesn't require a lot of money to solve a temporary problem. Delta Service Plans Insurance Co. proved that with a call accounting-based approach that helped turn around its ineffective call handling procedures.

The Atlanta-based operation now uses automatic call distribution to handle dental insurance claims for an 11-state region. Seven benefit agents cover 285 to 300 calls a day. At least they do now; previously, it was hard to say how many calls they handled.

In the past, Delta channeled all its 800-number calls through two receptionists. The first screened incoming calls and sent benefit-related calls to the second receptionist. She in turn directed calls to the specific agent who could help the caller.

That sometimes meant a group policy agent might have two or three calls waiting on hold while another agent didn't have enough to do. Callers-- perhaps already upset--faced long periods on hold while they could stew some more.

Julie Bakker, manager of information systems, knows what it's like to abandon calls in frustration with Delta Service Plans' queue. Before she took her present job, she was with a company that did extensive work with Delta and she had to call the Delta office frequently.

Trying to find a way to better serve its customers, Delta hired Atlanta consultant Mike Nugent of The Nugent Group. He recalls that Delta was ready to spend $32,000 on an automatic call distributor for its leased AT&T System 25 PBX, but never had to.

"We turned this around by spending only $4,700," Nugent says. "Delta was abandoning the System 25 when its lease ends in July 1992, so we bought used equipment."

The purchase included Telemate call accounting software that made the solution possible, plus used telephones and a delayed announcement device.

The first step was to get a handle on call activity. After collecting data from the agents, the Telemate software from Complementary Solutions provided the customized reports that Nugent and Bakker needed.

"What that let us do was design some reports that really emulate ACD," Nugent explains. "We built a quasi-ACD, with the idea that we will replace this with a true ACD in July.

"We were also able to structure customized reports that show comparative agent productivity and distribution of calls by the hour and by time of day."

Nugent and Bakker worked together to get the most out of the PBX and made other changes as well. Perhaps the most important change was making the benefit services representatives a homogeneous group.

No longer does one agent cover a particular state or states, or type of customer group. Now any agent can help any customer.

An 800 number takes callers to an attendant who sends all benefit services calls to a single extension number. The quasi-ACD setup assures the next call in queue is handled by the next available agent.

A software change allowed Delta to program one button on the agents' telephone sets as a group busy light. When all agents are busy, the light indicates that a supervisor or someone else available should join the agent pool.

The results of Delta's efforts have been better service to customers and a sense of control over the telephone system.

"We know service has been shaky and that we had put people through hoops on the phone system," says Bakker.

"People are calling because they don't understand why payment was issued the way it was, or why payment was denied, or they don't understand their benefits.

"If you're dealing with someone who is agitated to begin with, and you loop them all over creation, it just adds to their agitation."

The new approach has also freed up one staffer, the secondary attendant, who used to monitor the benefit services representatives' calls under the old setup.

"The hardest part was at the second console, trying to direct calls and see who was on and who was holding," recalls Bakker.

"I was absolutely dumbfounded at how she (the second attendant) kept this straight. She did, but that's all she did. We had a person we were wasting just watching lights flash. She was behaving as a console."

Now, says Bakker, "The representatives have noticed a big change in the attitude of the public. There is a recorded message when they go into the benefits call group. It thanks the callers for holding, to at least let them know they have not been dropped. We're seeing calls answered faster and more efficiently. It has been a very nice change."

Delta benefit services representatives have 3278-type terminals to an IBM 3090 mainframe at the Delta data center in Sacramento. All information is maintained in real time.

The insurer has 12 incoming toll-free trunks, 10 nationwide and two from Georgia. There are five outbound WATS trunks and seven local trunks.

Delta's plans for further improvement include use of interactive voice response, as well as a new PBX and ACD later this year. Nugent says a PBX- to-host interface based on incoming calling number identification would be a nice add-on.

The company also wants to bring in T1--a strategy that would save it some $2,000 a month--as well as a second 800 number that would go directly to the benefit services representatives group.

Delta plans additional training of representatives, with a goal of accomplishing more while keeping calls shorter.

"We would still like to see ourselves grow in better communication and better service," says Bakker. "But what we have now is about 300% better than what we had before. The headaches have gone away."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Call Accounting; Delta Service Plans Insurance Co.; automatic call distribution
Author:Tanzillo, Kevin
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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