"The call center reps had access to a lot of this information before, but they had to have as many as 15 different screens open, which is insane if your goal is to quickly serve customers," says Hoberman. In other cases, agents had to forward calls to back-office agents to gain access to records such as death certificates.
For now, The Wall is strictly an internal-facing application designed for service, in part because MetLife can't have 100% confidence that all records shown on The Wall resolve to a single customer. Is John Smith of Barrington, Ill., the same as John E. Smith of Barrington Hills, Ill.? Much like a search application, The Wall displays confidence measures for each record based on the number of coinciding data points.
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Here's where relational database advocates might pipe up about the certainty of having carefully mapped data indisputably resolved to a single customer. But Hoberman says most companies face inconsistencies and uncertainly even when querying records in conventional databases and applications. The Wall, he says, gives MetLife an opportunity to clean up its information and tie together formerly disparate records.
"If one of our employees is on the phone with a life insurance customer, he or she can ask, 'do you also happen to have an annuity with us, and do you happen to have the account number?'" Hoberman explains. "This gives us the ability to get the information right and link records behind the scenes."
The Wall complements an enterprise-wide roll out of Salesforce.com that's also in progress. The idea is to eventually get to just two screens: Salesforce for sales and service transactions and The Wall as the interface to customer records across the company's many business systems.
For now, the usual early-days bugs and kinks are still being worked out of the system, but The Wall is expected to roll out to 3,000 call center and research staff in the U.S. by this summer. The next steps will be going global and supporting sales as well as service.
MetLife is already moving ahead with service deployments in selected European countries, and it's testing a sales-facing prototype in Russia and a predictive attrition app in Japan. The predictive app will alert call-center agents when callers have a high propensity to switch to a competitor. This analytic application is based on real-time analysis of customer profiles and histories, and if attrition is likely, agents will be prompted to offer replacement products. The prototypes are expected to move into production by year end, according to Hoberman.
Another next step will be turning The Wall into a bi-directional application capable of updating legacy systems of record. That's something The Wall will have to support if it is to eventually become a platform for customer-facing self-service applications, as MetLife envisions.
The Wall has yet to go enterprise-wide and the vision extends far beyond the realities of the current deployment. But the scale, scope and speed of accomplishments to date points to a huge success. Looking beyond MetLife and even the insurance industry, The Wall may well be a prototype for the next generation of customer-360 applications.