New phone system puts Cost-U-Less in the fast lane for helping auto insurance customers
“The second our phone system went live, our sales went through the roof. The hold times went down from about 5 minutes to less than 30 seconds. We were able to manage the calls because we could now see what was going on, and we get alerts at critical levels….The folks over at SOS are probably the best vendor I have ever worked with in terms of the actual installation and their engineering expertise. The staff they assigned and the rollout of the system were flawless.”
— Chris Ewing, CEO, Cost-U-Less Insurance
One of California’s largest non-standard auto insurance brokers and related companies were losing business due to an inefficient phone system at its contact center that was dropping calls and not providing any real time data. SOS implemented a new system that guaranteed reliability, tied the phones with real time reporting and integrated web chat, increasing efficiency while saving money for the customer. Sales went up 15 percent just in the first month after installation, and the new phones also helped Cost-U-Less save on payroll.
Cost-U-Less Insurance Center has been in the auto insurance business since 1980 and has grown to a network of 70 offices in California, plus administrative offices and a contact center in Rancho Cordova. But its old phone system wasn’t keeping pace.
Make that “phone systems.” Cost-U-Less is part of Keenan Holdings, which also runs Stonewood Insurance Services, Statewide Insurance Services and other related businesses in the insurance industry.
“Each of those entities had a different phone system,” says Christopher Ewing, president and CEO of Keenan. In fact, Cost-U-Less had several different systems in its administrative offices, retail offices and contact center.
The phones worked, Ewing says, but Cost-U-Less was trying to manage the system in the dark. There was no real-time data to see how well the contact centers were being managed, calls were getting dropped because customers were spending too much time on hold, and making changes was inefficient. The system for agents to chat with customers over the Web was completely separate and expensive to run.
Cost-U-Less had already gone through one failed VoIP deployment through a different hosted-solution provider and consultants who didn’t bring value. It had cost them business and lost calls, and the company had actually removed the old VoIP system out and taken a step backward.
SOS had already established a track record by solving a lot of networking issues for Cost-U-Less and its sister companies, setting up virtual private networks in various retail offices. The consulting that SOS provided allowed Cost-U-Less to build up a robust, reliable network, capable of providing transport for VoIP, and proved to Ewing that SOS consultants and engineers were trustworthy, skilled, and followed best practices.
After the positive network experience, SOS got the nod early in 2006 to upgrade the contact center phones as well.
“We did a lot of talking up front,” says Steve Hofer, the SOS account manager who handled the deal. Design took up much of March and April, by July the system was being put into place, and by fall Cost-U-Less was reporting great bottom-line results.
“We proposed somewhat unique design: a dedicated IP voice network, just like a traditional phone PBX,” says Hofer. It could even work as a hybrid with the old phone lines until Cost-U-Less became convinced that this time VoIP would work.
But the new system goes further, integrating phones with Web chat. Cost-U-Less now uses the Interactive Intelligence suite for contact centers, the Customer Interaction Center. The modules include interactive voice response, automated call distribution, end-to-end reporting, dynamic alerts, and the option of call recording. SOS designed and installed a system with redundant fail-over servers.
“One thing that was really valuable to Chris was having the management of their interactions integrated with Web chat,” says Hofer. Web chat is nothing new to Cost-U-Less. In fact, the company had been using a robust Web chat system already, but one that wasn’t integrated with the phones.
Implementation went smoothly and on schedule.
“The folks over at SOS are probably the best vendor I have ever worked with in terms of the actual installation and their engineering expertise,” says Ewing. “The staff they assigned and the rollout of the system was flawless. We did not have a single major issue with the rollout. That says a lot.”
Jeff Driscoll, who runs customer service for Cost-U-Less, said that the first day the system was up and running was the smoothest Monday they had ever had.
SOS increased Ewing’s level of comfort by giving a written guarantee, says, Hofer, but very quickly Cost-U-Less started to see a big return on its investment.
“The second our phone system went live, our sales went through the roof,” Ewing says. “The hold times went down from about 5 minutes to less than 30 seconds. We were able to manage the calls because we could now see what was going on, and we get alerts at critical levels.”
Sales went up 15 percent just in the first month after installation.
“I can’t attribute it all to the phone system, but certainly some portion of that increase was due to our customer service levels being significantly increased,” says Ewing.
The new phones also helped Cost-U-Less save on payroll. The old phone system was so inefficient that the company had been planning to add four or five agents to keep up with the old volume of calls. With the new system, the IVR module deflected many calls to the Cost-U-Less self-service Web site, while the reporting module kept real-time lists of which agents were available to take new calls. The company was able to take two of its 40 agents out of the call center and put them on other tasks.
One agent even moved to Thailand and was able to continue working for Cost-U-Less.
“We have him on Voice over IP in Thailand answering calls after hours,” Ewing says. “It sounds like he’s right next door to you. He logs into our system here over a VPN, and when calls come in he’s just in the queue like everyone else.”
The greatest thing about the installation, says Ewing, is that the integrated phone and chat system cost no more than what Cost-U-Less had been paying for its old chat function alone.
“We basically took the money we were paying for chat and got the phone system for free,” he says. “If a call center is not using Web chat, they’re nuts. Web chat melts away factors that could become prejudicial, things like an accent, gender, ethnicity or tone of voice. The information is simply transmitted, such as ‘your policy has been reinstated.’ ”
In the months since the installation, SOS has added a pre-chat survey to the system while Cost-U-Less has added a post-chat survey. Ewing has great praise for the ability to make his own modifications.
“A huge component of the success of the system was that after they installed it and I wanted additional training, they went above and beyond the call of duty to get me that, including flying me out of town to see how someone else was using the phone system,” he says. As a result, Ewing was able to add at least 10 different features he otherwise might not have used, or even known about.
“The IT staff manages the day-to-day stuff, but when it comes to ‘can we do this’ and ‘how does the system work,’ I can make those decisions without asking anyone else,” he says. “You can make very sophisticated changes in a fairly easy user interface.”
Looking ahead, SOS and Cost-U-Less plan on customizing the IVR module to accept credit cards in a totally automated process. And at some point in the future, Ewing hopes to expand the new phone system from the call center throughout the retail offices.
About Cost-U-Less Insurance
Cost-U-Less has been in the insurance business since 1980 and we have been growing ever since. While many of our stores are located in Northern California, we are expanding all over the State, and we are pleased to have our first locations in Southern California with the opening of the Anaheim and Palmdale stores.
We now have over 60 convenient locations to serve you throughout California. With over 100 auto insurance programs to choose from, get a free online quote and see why over 600,000 Californians have purchased insurance from Cost-U-Less. Remember, for the rate that’s best call Cost-U-Less at 1-800-390-SAVE (7283). Visit Cost-U-Less online at www. www.costulessins.com