Off Center
You know you are doing something right when your contact center is based in Florida and your average customer satisfaction rating is higher than the average daytime summer temperature.

With C-Sat consistently in the 96%-100% range, New York Life’s AARP Operations center has little room to improve. But that doesn’t stop them from trying. Rather than rest on its laurels, the contact center is committed to forever bettering the service it provides customers. Few centers do more in terms of collecting and analyzing customer data and feedback, or provide as much training to new hires to ensure they are equipped to deliver consistently positive customer experiences.  

“By capturing customer feedback and incorporating it into our business practices, we continuously build customer loyalty,” says Darrell N. Robertson, VP for NY Life – AARP Operations. “Success is achieved through accountability and full engagement, where everyone understands how their individual goals are tied into the business goals.”

Capturing Feedback to Elevate C-Sat

One of the contact center’s most powerful C-Sat measurement and management tools is its automated (IVR-based) post-contact caller survey. The automated survey is comprised of a few concise questions about the experience the caller just had with the agent, including whether or not the caller felt the issue was fully resolved, and whether the customer had called about this issue before. Such a keen focus on first-call resolution and customer needs is a big reason why NY Life/AARP has been able to consistently achieve an enviable FCR rate of 83% or higher. (The industry average for FCR sits in the high 60% to low 70% range.)

Other key instruments in the center’s C-Sat success are its Voice of the Customer (VOTC) access database and its Verint speech analytics tool – both of which capture ongoing customer comments and sentiment that help the company spot emerging trends and changes in customer expectations.

But the company’s success isn’t about capturing feedback/data – it’s about acting on it.

And act, it does. According to Robertson, “Over the last three years, we’ve deployed over forty processes, product, and procedural changes/enhancements as a direct result of comments captured in the VOTC database, customer survey feedback and speech analytics.” Examples of such enhancements include improved customer correspondence via letter automation, better IVR call-routing and self-service functions, and improved payment processing over the telephone and the web. “These enhancements had an immediate and direct impact on service delivery and efficiency of our operation,” adds Robertson.

Getting Rookie Reps Ready

Of course, high C-Sat and FCR performance cannot be attributed to improved systems and processes alone. It is strongly driven by the actual service that agents provide customers, which is why NY Life -AARP doesn’t skimp on new-hire training.  Prior to earning their headset and a workstation, all new agents must complete a rigorous yet compelling six-week training program that features a diverse range of learning methods and tools – all led by a dedicated training team. Among the key areas covered during new-hire training are customer service skills, sales skills, e-support skills (email, chat, web collaboration), written communication skills, and complaint management.

In addition to undergoing traditional classroom training, new-hires complete engaging e-learning modules and take part in role-playing exercises for more practical application of their skills and knowledge.

They even get to handle some actual customer contacts. It’s all part of the center’s “transition training” period, where trainees – after a couple weeks of didactic and practical training – take basic calls in a highly controlled setting. The transition training area is staffed with several managers and team leads who are available to quickly answer any questions a rookie agent may have while on a call. If necessary, the manager/team lead can take over the call. 
“The six-week training program involves extended periods of on-the-job training, ensuring that agents have successfully mastered the material and acquired the skills necessary to sell to and serve our customers,” says Victor Verastegui, Corporate VP for New York Life. “We utilize a state-of-the-art training environment, and the program is updated annually based on process changes and newly deployed technologies.”

The contact center uses several methods to measure the effectiveness of the training provided, including formal tests for learning comprehension, trainee self-assessments, quality monitoring (during role plays and transition training calls) and direct feedback from agents following a training module or activity.

While trainees complete the new-hire training program in six weeks, the learning never stops. Continuous training for all agents – fresh graduates and seasoned veterans alike – is a big part of the center’s success, Verastegui says. “Training continues throughout their career and is documented in our online career path guide.”

Something else that continues after new-hire training is the strong bond that forms among agents from the same training class. The center embraces the “nesting” concept, where new agents who started together stay together in what is called the “Skills Development Team” once initial training is over. This nesting period also allows the employees to learn in a controlled environment while adopting the New York Life culture. The approach has had a positive impact not only on agent engagement but on performance, as well.

“The entire onboarding process from recruitment through nesting, works together ensuring we live our value proposition for our customers,” says Verastegui. “It is an important aspect of our operation and a key factor in improving individual performance, agent morale, and ultimately employee retention.”
NY Life - AARP – the Big Picture: 
Location: Tampa, Fla.
Hours of operation: 14 x 6
Number of agents: 200
Products/services provided: Provides stellar customer service and support to new and existing AARP members.
Why I like them: Excellent C-sat measurement/management practices and a world-class new-hire training program.

JR Hardenburgh
10/4/2010 11:26:16 pm

Good article on the Tampa operation. Somehow the words Centerfold and AARP in the same headline do not conjure up a pleasant image. Just my perverse mind at work. Take care.

Melissa Kovacevic
10/4/2010 11:27:36 pm

The quote from the Operations VP really says it all: "Success is achieved through accountability and full engagement, where everyone understands how their individual goals are tied into the business goals.”

Accountability and understanding how you as an individual impact Customers is so important.

Thanks for sharing this great success story!

10/4/2010 11:32:46 pm

Thanks, JR -- for your praise and your perversion. Contact centers can still be sexy after 60.

10/4/2010 11:37:26 pm

Amen to that, Melissa. They have such a strong employee-centric and customer-centric culture in place at NY Life's AARP Operations call center.

I felt they were very deserving of the attention. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!



Melissa Kovacevic
10/4/2010 11:44:32 pm

Greg, can you add social media "buttons" for posting on these? I'd love to do quick Twitter or LinkedIn shares using that if possible instead of copy and paste. Or am I missing the buttons???

10/4/2010 11:57:18 pm

I will certainly look into that, Melissa. I know that we have a "follow me on Twitter" button on the website, but no such buttons for particular posts.

Thanks for the suggestion -- and glad to see that you are eager to spread the word!

Warm regards,



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