Insurance giant builds branchless bank

AMP banking sharpens its customer focus to fine tune its round the clock service.

As a leading financial services group without any physical branches AMP Banking has responded to the 'age of the multichannel customer' with a range of technology-driven solutions.

With nine million customers and 22,000 staff worldwide, Australia' s largest life insurer deployed a telephone and Internet banking solution to met the challenge of providing 24x7 customer banking.

Jane Robinson, AMP' s Internet banking project manager, said there had to be a means of communicating with customers and letting them handle transactions 24 hours a day, so an interactive voice response (IVR) and Internet solution was necessary.

Behind the Web site and IVR is a call centre - open from 8am to 8pm - to handle queries. Customers can also go straight to the telephone banking solution, which provides an around-the-clock service.

Using Edify Corporation's Electronic Workforce (EWF) platform, AMP piloted the applications earlier this year, which led to some additional fine-tuning.

"During the pilot stage, we discovered that we also had to build another application - a credit/risk requirement to have a monitor system that would tell us if the IVR went down," Robinson said.

Integration of the various channels occurs at the back end, which has middleware links to the Web, the IVR and to agent desktops.

Robinson said the database application is an in-house solution referred to as NTBS (New Technology Banking System).

She said customers transacting on the Web at night can contact the call centre the next day and information on their Web transaction will be available.

AMP Banking has 24 ports of IVR running on two Edify servers. The telephone banking solution is handling about 2500 calls a month, but Robinson said this is increasing rapidly as customers become aware of the service.

AMP' s new applications also enable telephone access to AMP Banking accounts allowing customers to transfer funds, pay bills using Bpay, retrieve transaction histories, stop personal cheques or reorder cheque books.

The AMP call centres - which are now called 'communication centres' - handle telephone calls, e-mails, faxes and letters.

"Regardless of how the customer contacts the organisation they are presented with the same level of service and options to do business with us," she said.

As part of the call centre training, AMP' s project manager for communication centres, Michelle Cox, said staff were transformed into users.

"We provided opening funds for staff to set up an account themselves so we could track the path a customer would take and monitor the entire process. It also gave staff a better insight into their jobs because they actually became the users," Cox said.

As a leading figure in the implementation process Cox said there were a range of issues to consider. It is not simply an exercise in cost reduction because sometimes it can "mean more overheads for more revenue."

"There needs to be an awareness of the implications it will have on business processes. That means ensuring the infrastructure supports the application and that there is plenty of design flexibility so you can make changes as a result of customer feedback."

"It is critical that you understand your customer base. Obviously an IVR application is not going to work if your target audience is 70 years old, no matter what the cost benefits are," she said.

CRM consultancy Merchants Group was called in to assist with the establishment of the centres and to oversee customer service operations.

Elizabeth Taylor, Merchants' principal consultant, said managing call centres today is a juggling act because of the pressure to reduce costs and boost efficiency.

"At the same time, there is pressure to extend call length, spend longer with customers to cross- and up-sell as well as develop relationships to increase revenue. When making a cost-cutting decision it is important to consider the impact on the customer," Taylor said.

"Call centres are changing dramatically each year in terms of the profile of staff and the technologies being introduced."

Matt Carroll, Edify' s manager for Australia and New Zealand, said the company' s EWF platform can automate most customer service applications using all delivery channels including IVF, natural language speech recognition, Web, e-mail, fax or wireless devices.

The ANZ Banking Group, which also uses the EWF platform, announced earlier this year that it would integrate Edify' s new wireless Internet applications to allow customers to transact via the screen of their mobile phone.

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