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Call crunch: ACD service keeps insurance processor ahead of game.

CALL CRUNCH

With call volumes growing at a constant 10-12%, why invest in premise-based switching equipment that will be outgrown as soon as it's installed?

That's the dilemma Dallas-based Internation Claim Service faced last summer. One of the largest bank and credit-card enhancement and travel insurance processing facilities in the U.S., Interclaim could barely keep up with skyrocketing call loads.

"We needed an instant solution," says President Jerry Edwards. To improve service to customers--including Visa and other credit-card companies providing insurance tie-ins (like automatice rental-car insurance)--the company rented and installed its own AT&T System 75 in June 1985.

"It worked great,c says Edwards, "but we had no sooner finished the installation than we realized it didn't have the volume we needed."

With the growing popularity of creidit service-related insurance programs, Interclaim processes an average of 2500 calls a day. Peaks occur on Mondays and Fridays, when all 44 agent consoles are manned. Interclaim Communications Facilities Manager Rick Little says the corporation fields 90,000 calls a month.

Interclaim's customers insist on high quality. Edwards says. The international claims administrator needed a better way to measure quality of its own service. Benchmarks to be examined include speed of answer and the number of blocked and abandoned calls.

"The 5ESS switch [from Southwestern Bell] forces agents to handle incoming calls," says Little. Unlike the System 75, it was designed specifically for ACD applications. It allows no outside dialing. Agents can't talk to each other when they should serving callers.

As a result, average speed of answer is three seconds faster than it was with the System 75. And agents like their phones more since AT&T let them choose from four different headset styles.

Hard-copy chart generated by the system compare individual agent productivity to group standards. Customer-service representatives are more likely to respond to managers' prodding if they're shown black-and-white proof that they're performing below average, Little says.

An End-User First

While Interclaim first considered premise-based solutions, Southwestern Bell Service Representative Jackqueline Law had other ideas. She saw in Interclaim opportunity for the first commercial application of Southewestern Bell's telco-oriented ACD/MIS service.

An add-on to the carrier's Plexar Centrex service, the ACD part of the package answers Interclaim's routing needs, while the MIS portion provides a steady flow of management data and the ability to reconfigure stations on the fly. Interclaim's four-year contract calls for 355 lines of Plexar with 300 ACD stations, 35 ISDN stations, and 20 analog stations. Total cost is undisclosed.

Interclaim could waste no time.

Seven weeks after the order was placed, Interclaim, AT&T and the RBOC engineered a cutover which all involved parties pronounced flawless.

"There is no downtime for them," explains Southwestern Bell Senior Design Constultant Kathy Ashmore. "Theirs is a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week network. We flash-cut it on a Saturday (nov. 22, 2989) at five minutes to 6 p.m."

"It was actually anti-climactic," says Little.

"We stood around, held our breath--and it worked," says Edwards.

The System 75 stood ready for backup, but none was needed. When the switch occured, calls were routed through a Dallas CO rather than through Interclaim. Backup Megacomm T1 lines from AT&T could have been requested with a phone call, but there was no need.

Capital Savings

"There's not way we could have ordered and had manufactured a premise-based switch in that time frame," says Edwards. More importantly, the solution required no capital investment from Interclaim.

"It's safe to say we saved a half million dollars up front," Edwards says. "And we would have needed more and more investment as time went on."

Phone service and long-distance costs are about what they were before the installation. The real savings are in staff utilization and productivity increases.

While the company would have had to hire four additional fulltime employees to man a premise-based switch, its telephone staff stayed at two. They just call Southwestern Bell's experts when they need help.

"I don't have to have a lot of extra equipment sitting by," says Rich Little. Southwestern Bell provides it, along with the management and consulting expertise to keep things running smoothly.

Management information downloaded to Interclaim's supervisor workstations allows the company to re-map routing patterns fast.

"If I have a fire, or some sprinklers go on, I can re-map in a couple minutes," says Little.

The MIS portion of the system's "brains" are in an AT&T 3B2-600 mainframe. The system supports a total of 82 AT&T Agent Communications Terminals (ACTs).

"With the 5ESS," says Ashmore, "the ACD position isn't dependent on your location. The ID you put in the switch tells the phone which queue you want to be part of."

This capability helps Interclaim's foreign-language operations. If a caller needs an opertor who speaks Japanese, Interclaim has one sign onto the appropriate queue no matter where he or she is located. "Floating operators" roam in and out of several call groups, taking theri ID numbers along so the switch always knows who they are.

As if the system's call-handling improvements aren't enough, Edwards really warms when discussing Interclaim's ISDN plans. As soon as nationwide connectivity is available, the 2B+D ISDN link will let claims adjusters exchange screens full of complex insurance information with callers while discussing claims over the phone.

Such capabilities will eliminate cumbersome faxes (the central site sends about 58 pages of claims-status documents around the country each day), printouts, and problems of compatibility with various minicomputer- and mainframe-based information systems at client sites.

The 5ESS switch also will help Interclaim link and more effectively manage its multiple LANs. The company will implement a complete local management information system by linking productivity, quality and financial data in-house, with computer memos and E-mail over the top of the digital network. The WAN integration will be up and running this fall, Edward says.

Meanwhile, Interclaim waits for the rest of the world to catch up to its new ISDN capabilities. Swapping data with Lloyd's of London, for example, as well as sharing information about the Japanese, Australian, and French travelers the corporation supports, will be quicker and easier once those nations are ISDN-compatible.
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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Publication:Communications News
Date:Jun 1, 1990
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