BenefitLine: fast efficient service for retirement system participants.

Author:Beedie, Jim
Position:State Universities Retirement System of Illinois' voice-response system

The State Universities Retirement System of Illinois (SURS), administrator of a $4.2 billion multi-employer public pension fund, developed the SURS BenefitLine, an interactive voice-response telephone system for benefit information. BenefitLine combines high-tech sophistication with push-button ease, allowing SURS's 85,000 participants and 20,000 former employees to obtain general and personalized information about their SURS benefits, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They also can order forms and brochures, verify their benefit payments and update their beneficiary designations through BenefitLine. Since the system began in April 1990, it has received an average of more than 900 calls a week.

Objectives of SURS BenefitLine

SURS BenefitLine is the successful result of careful planning. SURS could simply have added more phone lines and purchased a toll-free 800 number instead of developing an interactive voice-response system, but system officials were convinced that voice-response technology was a better answer to their many-faceted needs since it could meet the goals outlined below.

Convenience and Cost-effectiveness. SURS handles benefits for participants and benefit recipients of community colleges, state universities, colleges, scientific surveys and other related agencies throughout Illinois, not just in the Champaign-Urbana area. Benefit recipients are scattered across the country; some even live overseas. For most participants and benefit recipients, calling the SURS office in Champaign during business hours could be costly and inconvenient.

Fast, Efficient Service. Before adopting voice-response technology, SURS operators handled more than 50,000 calls each year, an average of 200 each day. If callers requested personal information, they often were placed on hold while the operator searched the records manually. Estimating as little as five minutes per call, SURS benefit representatives spent a minimum of 16 or more hours a day responding to participant requests. Callers often asked routine questions or requested the same information as other callers. Voice-response technology is an excellent way to minimize this type of workflow. By using the caller's Social Security number and a personal identification number (PIN) to automatically access his or her records, BenefitLine can answer 10 calls at once. Busy signals are effectively eliminated.

Accuracy and Consistency. Adopting a technologically advanced system also can resolve some personnel issues. To keep up with employee turnover and the daily flood of calls, SURS has had to hire and train new operators from time to time. Over the long run, it is less expensive to maintain a voice-response system than to hire and train new operators.

The voice-response system ensures consistency and accuracy by providing the same general information to every caller. Personalized messages are accurate because files are updated regularly.

Personal Service. In a survey, conducted before BenefitLine was installed, SURS earned high marks for friendly, personal service: Benefit recipients expressed their preference for speaking with a "live" operator rather than a machine. With BenefitLine, SURS has not had to sacrifice its reputation for friendliness - callers can "dial out" to speak directly with a live SURS operator during business hours at any point in their phone...

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