The fourth quarter open enrollment train is rolling down the tracks and the inevitable thought in every benefit enrollment organization is: How are we going to handle the sudden increase in call volume?

Most organizations try to handle the additional OE call volume, not by adding staff, technology or other support efforts, but by relying on the old standby: voicemail.

No greater disaster awaits a broker’s benefit enrollment center that utilizes voicemail to handle calls that can’t be answered live. You will effectively destroy any customer experience and goodwill by using voicemail as part of your open enrollment strategy.

Why does voicemail fail?

Some organizations provide a voicemail option for the caller to leave a message when the enrollment center is closed. Providing this option is a debatable strategy for another day. Let’s focus on when the enrollment center is open. Is it a good idea to route callers to voicemail when there are too many calls to be handled by live agents? In theory, you would think this is an acceptable way to provide alternative service options. The reality is that you’re basically telling the caller they’re not important enough to handle their call right now. A simple but powerful question that underscores everything most organizations want to represent: How can we create an exceptional customer experience?

Bloomberg/file photo

First contact resolution (FCR) is a term used to describe the percentage of contacts that are handled during the initial call or other inquiry into the enrollment center. Does voicemail provide this? No, it doesn’t. Voicemail quickly sets unrealistic expectations and challenges for the caller: When will there be a callback? Will someone be available to answer the return call? Do you have the staff to handle callbacks? Many questions that lead to callers, again, not getting the level of service that creates a positive customer experience. What has been created is a “no-win” situation that compounds the real issues during the hectic open enrollment period.

So, with the many variables involved in open enrollment, how can you boost your service capabilities by killing voicemail once and for all? Let’s examine the real reason for voicemail: inadequate staffing. Most open enrollments are completed during the fourth quarter of the year. During this time, call volumes typically increase 60% or more. Instead of hiring additional staff that increases costs, voicemails are used as the low-cost equivalent. Is it really a lower cost alternative?

Brokers must own technology guidance
If they don’t already, clients will be expecting advisers to train them on how to better utilize tech services, says 2017 Technology Adviser of the Year Manish Kumar.

First, determine the cost per call or contact in your organization. Now, add in the cost to serve voicemail callbacks. What typically happens with callbacks is at least 50% of these calls will either leave another voicemail. You’ve then created a cycle that increases frustration. If you were in this situation, would you be happy? I think not, especially as it relates to enrolling in your benefits, making benefit changes or even asking benefit questions. You have a certain timeframe to complete open enrollment and the delays increase frustration and compound the problem. This becomes an even bigger issue if the phones are your primary means of serving your customers during open enrollment.

The power of multichannel service options
You can stop this runaway train and boost your enrollment numbers by creating alternative methods of servicing your customers. This is done by focusing on a goal of handling all contacts with 90% FCR during open enrollment.

Create a staffing plan not only built on your year-round core staff, but also a seasonal staff of no more than 25%. Have the seasonal staff handle calls and other inquiries that are simpler and require less training. Focus your core staff on the more complicated and skilled areas of open enrollment. Schedule staff based on peak days and hours. The busiest days of open enrollment are the last three before the enrollment period ends.

Not only should you have a phone team, but you need to invest in a live chat and email team, along with automated call technology that will provide more self-service options. Millennials love self-service and mobile assistance. For calls holding in queue, have a callback feature in place. This allows the caller to request a callback and is provided with an estimated time for the callback while still retaining their place in the queue.

All these methods will contribute to increase enrollment numbers and improvements in the overall customer experience. Voicemails create frustration not only for the caller, but also for your internal staff. Eliminate that frustration by eliminating voicemails during open enrollment and see your numbers skyrocket, along with your customer satisfaction levels.

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