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How The Travelers made a difference by working smartest.

When I started playing tennis, I quickly mastered the forehand and backhand--or so I thought. I executed returns quite skillfully when my instructor gently lobbed balls to me.

One day he arranged a match between another student and myself. I served and my opponent hit the ball back, placing it across the court from me. I had to run to the ball, position my still precarious backhand, keep my eye on my opponent and his changing position, and make the return--hopefully over the net--all at the same time.

Throughout the game, I constantly struggled to reposition myself. Whenever I thought I had my opponent figured out, he would do something different and send me running across the court after the ball. Although I managed quite well when I practiced my forehand, backhand, or serve alone, I quickly discovered I wasn't very good at putting them all together.

But putting everything together is the critical step. It's what playing tennis to win is all about. Top notch tennis players must put all their skills together in order to play winning matches.

Top of the line telecomm managers must do the same. . .a process I call Working Smartest.

Any manager can work hard at my basic entrepreneurial principles: bootstrapping, partnering, employee liberation, and value-added thinking. Applying any on these principles will certainly help you and your department. But it's putting all of them together--Working Smartest--that creates the magic.

For a telecomm manager, the magic is being a respected member of the management team. It's having a telecomm department that plays a key role in the company's competitive strategy. It's having employees who are problem solvers, not problems themselves. The magic means you and your department are recognized contributors to the bottom line.

My friend, Gus Bender, who heads the telecomm department at The Travelers Insurance in Hartford, Conn., creates the magic. He knows how to Work Smartest.

Quality customer service is a top priority at The Travelers. If you call the company's claims information line, a special audioresponsing system will give you the facts you need--even if you're calling in the middle of the night. All you need to know is your policy number.

Just a few years ago, though, before Gus Bender and his people automated the system, clients could only get claims information during regular working hours. As you can imagine, with tens of thousands of clients around the country, the phone lines were busy and it was often difficult for policyholders to get through.

Gus knew banks were experimenting with audioresponding units to provide their customers with 24-hour access to account information.

He wondered if the same type of system might work for The Travelers.

He talked with his people about the idea and they brainstormed with the customer service department. Together, the two departments identified ways audioresponding could be useful to the consumer--claims status, account balances, deductible information, and more.

Gus and his people worked with vendors to develop an audioresponding unit to supply those items. The telecomm department implemented the system, testing and refining as they went. With audioresponding, The Travelers added value to their insurance product.

Through employee liberation, partnering, bootstrapping, and value-added thinking, the department created a system that not only improved customer service--it produced a competitive advantage for the company as well. That's what Working Smartest is all about.

Next month: Working Smartest means asking the right questions.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Entrepreneurial Telecommunications
Author:Jewett, Jim
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:column
Date:Jul 1, 1991
Previous Article:Storm warnings fly over outsourcing, market competition.
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