Published: October 22, 2009 | Comments
In some organizations, agents are considered rock bottom: At MassMutual’s U.S. Insurance Group (USIG) Service Center, they are considered rock stars.
MassMutual recognizes and values the tremendous impact that frontline staff have not only on fostering customer satisfaction and loyalty through excellent service, but also on facilitating enterprise-wide improvements by capturing key customer data and feedback on a daily basis. As a result, customer service reps (CSRs) are actively involved in various types of meetings, activities, discussions and decisions.
Among the ways that MassMutual empowers CSRs to share their knowledge and insight include:
•Skip level meetings – enable management to gain insight into agent perspectives, increase two-way communication and broaden leadership visibility.
•Monthly manager one-on-ones – while these are times for managers to review performance and motivate improvement among staff, CSRs are encouraged to freely share feedback.
•Monthly team meetings – at the end of each of these meetings, time is always set aside for roundtable discussions. “This is another avenue for employees to share their feedback and offer solutions in a professional and productive way,” says Kate Quinlan, director of operational effectiveness at MassMutual’s USIG center.
•Frontline idea generation program – dubbed 'iOpeners', this program encourages staff to submit process improvement ideas for enhancing the ease of doing business with MassMutual. Once submitted, all ideas are reviewed by management, and feedback is promptly delivered to the CSRs who submitted them. Even more importantly, CSRs actively participate in implementation of their accepted ideas, are recognized by senior leadership in quarterly meetings, and get rewarded in performance evaluations. “The program empowers staff to continually look for ways to improve the customer experience and to improve productivity, making it easier for them to service the customer,” says Quinlan, who adds that 105 CSR ideas were implemented in 2008.
•All-Associate meeting with department heads – each quarter, department heads schedule an hour-long session for all CSRs to attend. During these meetings, leaders share information company information, and solicit feedback and questions from CSRs.
•Listen Up - Speak Up – an internal executive “job shadowing” program designed to help senior managers gain insight from CSRs and see things from their (and the customer’s) perspective. “’Listen-Up – Speak Up’ not only helps executive leaders identify business improvement opportunities, it expands their understanding of frontline functions and experiences,” explains Sylena Echevarria, director at the contact center. “They sit and interact with an associate for one hour every month to understand their role and learn about their successes and challenges.” Afterward, execs identify and follow up on any action items they can help with to improve the employee or customer experience. In addition, they send each CSR they sit with a card thanking them for their time and willingness to share information.
Diverse Agent Training Methods
Strengthen Learning and Performance
Further evidence of the high value that MassMutual places on the CSR position is the contact center’s comprehensive training programs – a powerful, blended approach to CSR development. Whether it’s for new-hire or continuous training, the center incorporates a diverse range of training techniques and channels, including instructor-led, web-based, on-the-job, “mock” calls (realistic role plays), and interactive games.
“We find a mix of styles is more effective than standard classroom training,” Quinlan explains. “And due to the impact of top-notch customer service on MassMutual’s bottom-line, as well as our desire to ensure our representatives are comfortable and have access to the tools they need, our training programs are extensive.”
Training last anywhere from five weeks for the company’s simpler products, to 15 weeks for more complex products and lines of business. New-hire training is followed up with extensive mentoring of CSRs by team specialists – a relatively new initiative in the center that has helped to enhance performance, CSR comfort levels and the customer experience.
Ensuring High Levels of Agent Motivation and Retention
When MassMutual CSRs aren’t busy handling contacts, attending meetings or providing/receiving coaching and training, it’s likely you’ll find them receiving some sort of a reward or formal recognition. There is no shortage of incentives at the USIG center, which helps to develop and maintain a high level motivation and retention on the frontline, while simultaneously helping to enhance performance center-wide.
MassMutual CSR Katie McFarlin handles a customer call
Among the many programs and rewards that inspire CSRs to continually improve include a quarterly bonus program (which rewards the top 10% of performers each quarter), monthly quality recognition awards, and a “Kudos Board” that lists CSRs who have received a compliment from a customer for whom they’ve provided excellent service. In addition, the center has an Employee-to-Employee recognition program that enables CSRs to draw attention to and thank peers who have gone the extra mile on the job.
But perhaps the biggest honor in the center is the Winner’s Circle Service Excellence Award, which rewards CSRs who have demonstrated stellar service and a commitment to customers. “This program allows anyone in our organization to nominate a colleague to be considered for the award,” Quinlan explains. “Service Excellence winners are selected after an extensive review of all submissions, and announced to the entire company. They attend an award celebration, are highlighted on internal websites and all employee publications, and a sub-set are invited to attend an off-site Summit on Service.”
To ensure that every CSR is fully engaged and that morale is high, MassMutual administers employee satisfaction surveys annually, discusses the findings openly with staff and enlists their help in bring about key improvements.
Rather than rely solely on passive annual surveys to measure and maintain employee engagement, MassMutual has implemented an Auxiliary Committee, staffed with CSRs who are charged with planning activities to ensure the work environment remains positive. “By tapping into our frontline representatives, we can ensure that we are hearing the true voice of our employees, as opposed to making assumptions as to what is on their minds,” says Quinlan.
Centering Metrics Around Customer Experience
The only people more content than MassMutual’s CSRs are its customers. Just about every move the contact center makes is done with careful consideration of the impact it will have on the customer experience.
This is clearly evidenced by the key performance metrics that the center places at the forefront. Rather than covet such traditional and productivity-laden metrics as number of calls per hour/shift, managers and supervisors at the USIG center emphasize such metrics as first-call-resolution (FCR), service level, quality, forecast accuracy and customer satisfaction.
Not only do managers focus on these metrics, they strive to get the right training, tools and processes in place to ensure that CSRs, supervisors and workforce management staff are able to continually meet and exceed the center’s ambitious objectives for said metrics. For example, the center has invested in robust desktop software that enables CSRs to quickly retrieve and provide customers with accurate and timely information, thus enhancing CSR’s ability to resolve issues on the first contact – efficiently and with quality.
Naturally, providing such efficient and effective service has a positive impact on customer satisfaction. Nevertheless, MassMutual makes no assumptions; the center has a comprehensive customer satisfaction measurement and management process in place to constantly gauge customer opinion – and make improvements based on the feedback collected. The keystone of the center’s c-sat measurement process is a transactional survey (phone-based, soon to be email and phone) that customers complete following a contact with a CSR. The timely and concise survey focuses on the customer’s satisfaction with the quality and efficiency of service received, and provides the center with invaluable data regarding customer expectations and preferences – critical information that the center shares with relevant departments within the enterprise.
At times, the transactional survey serves as a customer savior. The survey system’s Action Management feature alerts the center’s dedicated Service Resolution Team whenever a customer indicates significant dissatisfaction via the survey, at which point a Service Resolution Team member may contact the customer to discuss the problem in detail, and then take necessary action to restore customer confidence and loyalty.
“Having a centralized team allows us to have accountability for turning around an unsatisfied policyholder’s experience,” says Quinlan. “Our team has many years of experience with customer service, and excels in establishing strong customer relations.”