Off Center
Back in 2008, Allianz Global Assistance (formerly Mondial Assistance) won ICMI’s Global Call Center of the Year Award (large category). I chaired the selection committee during that year’s competition, and was thoroughly impressed by how good Allianz was at customer care and contact center management.

I saw first-hand how the company backed its claims of customer-centricity by focusing intently on things like C-Sat data/feedback and contact quality; how they nailed an ambitious service level goal and other accessibility objectives without hammering agents over the head about Average Handle Time; how they created high levels of agent engagement and retention via an impressive array of rewards & recognition programs; and how they sustained such levels of engagement and retention by empowering staff to participate on teams and task forces aimed at continuous process improvement.

As a contact center, you can’t really do much better than that.

Leave it to Allianz to prove me wrong.

I recently touched base with the good folks at Allianz and discovered they have hardly become complacent since winning the aforementioned coveted award. With a new state-of-the art facility being built as we speak, a burgeoning home agent initiative in place, and a proud culture of corporate social responsibility, Allianz is redefining what it means to be a world-class customer care organization.

Moving on Up

When I heard Allianz had recently outgrown its contact center in Richmond, Va. – with its spacious workstations, ergonomic furniture, stylistic meeting rooms and ample natural light – and was planning to move at the end of this year, I felt bad for the hundreds of employees who will have to say goodbye to the impressive facility.

Until I heard about the new one.

“We have hired a team of leading designers and architects to ensure that this will be the most associate-friendly building of its kind in the area,” says Daniel Durazo, Director of Communications (USA) for Allianz. “The build-out has just begun, but we expect to have an expanded cafeteria, a state of the art fitness facility, a coffee bar, video conference-ready meeting rooms, and much more.”

Employees needn’t worry about any major changes to their commute – the new site is just a hop, skip and a jump from where they work now. “We’ll be moving into the former Circuit City headquarters,” Durazo says, “located a couple of miles from our current location. We can’t wait to move in!”

Remote Agent Program Bringing Home Results

As excited as the Allianz crew is about the new digs, not everyone will be making the move. A team of 75 agents – roughly 15% of the center’s frontline – currently handles customer contacts from home, and are more than happy to be staying right where they are.

That’s a pretty significant number of remote staff, especially considering how new Allianz is to the work-at-home model. “The Remote Agent Program was piloted in December of 2010, and then graduated to an ongoing program in July of 2011,” explains Durazo. He points out the initiative was a direct response to the company’s annual agent survey, which revealed that agents were looking for more job flexibility. “Fortunately, the initiative turned into a win-win situation by ensuring we were meeting the needs of our associates while providing for our growing workspace needs.”

Allianz will likely add more remote agents in the near future, which should come as no surprise considering the positive impact the program has had on engagement and retention throughout the contact center. 

“The feedback we have received has been very positive. This role has been received as a privilege and associates look forward to being able to join this team,” says Durazo. "The home agent program is a very attractive benefit in the eyes of our new hires. It is one of the most frequently asked questions in new-hire training.”

Many agents may ask about home-based work, but only a relatively small number qualify for such popular positions. To do so, an agent must first work at least six months on site, consistently meet or exceed all performance objectives, demonstrate the ability to work independently, and be highly customer focused. Each candidate must also have a home office that is free of noise and interruptions, and that is equipped with high-speed Internet and a hard-wired phone line.

Having such comprehensive selection criteria has paid off thus far, not only in terms of engagement and retention but performance as well. As Durazo explains, “We’ve been able to achieve both a slight increase in quality as well as a reduction in unplanned absenteeism for associates working remotely.”

Not Your Typical “CSR

More than its new facility and remote agent program, Allianz prides itself on the memorable service it provides. Not just to customers, but to the local community and beyond. Where in most organizations CSR stands for “Customer Service Rep”, the acronym stands for something different at Allianz.

“We have a comprehensive Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program that provides opportunities for all associates to become involved,” Durazo says.

Among the CSR initiatives and activities that agents, supervisors and managers participate in include assembling food-kits to be sent to hungry families in developing nations, volunteering at Ronald McDonald house, painting houses for Elder Homes, and more. In addition, whenever an employee gives a donation to their favorite charity or non-profit organization, Allianz matches it.

Durazo doesn’t like to toot the company’s own horn when it comes to social responsibility, but with a program as popular outside the organization as it is inside, it’s hard not to.

“Our CSR program is well liked [by agents], and the community recognizes us as a responsible corporate citizen.”

Allianz Global Assistance – the Big Picture:
Location: Richmond, Va.
Hours of operation: 24/7/365
Number of agents: Approximately 500
Products/services provided/supported: Provide support for a number of products/services, such as travel insurance, event ticket protector, concierge and third party administrator services.
Channels handled: Phone, email, web self-service
What’s so great about them? Their focus on contact center facility design, a burgeoning home agent program, and a culture of social responsibility keep staff inspired and performing at optimal levels.