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Process By Design: Let Users Develop The Workflow

Customer-service representatives probably know better than most employees how a business process should work.
Customer-service representatives probably know better than most employees how a business process should work. They deal with customers and they need access to customer information. And when a business process goes wrong, they're often the first to hear about it.

American National Insurance Co. installed a system seven years ago for designing business-process applications. To use that system the company has promoted some of its most promising customer-service representatives into the role of workflow architects for business processes. "Most of our workflow architects started out as customer-service representatives. It's a higher-level job for them," says Gary Kirkham, VP and director of planning and support.

To build the business-process applications, the architects use tools and a proprietary language from Pegasystems Inc. to simulate a business process and design an application. "It looks a lot like Visual Basic," Kirkham says. IT programmers then work to ensure that the right databases and back-office systems are connected to the applications.

"In 1998, we were having serious call-center issues," Kirkham says. He won't provide details, but he notes that new regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act were on the horizon. Call-center practices at the time could have left American National exposed to a possible breach of privacy regulations. For example, if the caller wasn't the insured customer, then only a limited amount of information could be given out.

"Early on, we made a very conscious decision that the business units understood the business and could help us redesign the business rules, rather than just lay out requirements and pass them on to IT," Kirkham says.

The result is better business-process applications. Call-center representatives have more direct access to the information they need to handle customer queries, and first-call resolutions have gone up to 93% from around the industry average of 80%, Kirkham says. The average time to handle calls has been reduced by 30%, and the number of callers who drop off because the response was unsatisfactory or wait times were too long has decreased 44%.

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