J-Direct line was the first direct provider of insurance in the UK when it started 13 years ago. How many call centers does the company now operate?
G-We have 6 regional centers which employ between 300 and 700 people each. In total we have about 3000 staff in our centers.
J-Why did the company decide to offer its products directly by phone and internet rather than the usual way through insurance brokers or high street shops?
G-Well, the major reason was probably cost. You see with a call center you don’t have to pay high rents for good high street locations or pay commission to brokers and agents. You can then pass on these cost savings to your customers through competitive pricing of your products.
J-Right. And how does a call center affect the quality of service a customer gets?
G-When a customer calls, they get on instant response. The computer database shows all the customer’s details, which saves a lot of time. This means we can offer our customers good products, quick service and lower premiums.
J-And what products does Direct Line offer?
G-Our insurance policies include motor – we’re the UK’s biggest direct motor insurer – house, travel and life. We also offer financial services such as mortgages, personal loans, savings and pensions. We’ve also recently started to offer a vehicle breakdown service.
J-Gosh, so many. Are your operatives able to deal with all these different products?
G-Some operatives only deal with one product, whilst multi-skilled staff can deal with 2 or 3 products. But the system is programmed to guide operatives in dealing with 80-90% of enquiries and claims, so they don't’ have to make any decisions themselves. Unusual or large risks are assessed by supervisors. The important thing is to get as much information at your operative’s fingertips as possible. The more information they have in front of them, the less training they need.
J-How do you see the future for call centers?
G-They’re definitely here to stay. But as more and more new call centers are set up, it’ll probably become harder to find good staff, so companies will have to offer conditions. In the future staff might even work from home on closed computer networks.
J-George, we sometimes read negative stories about working conditions in call centers. Is it true, for example, that you know exactly where workers are for every minute of their shift?
G-Yes, the computer system does monitor whether operatives are at their desks, but we make sure that they get an hour for lunch and plenty of other breaks.
J-Does the monitoring affect their pay?
G-Yes, but in a positives way. Operatives receive bonuses based on the number of calls they take, the products they sell and the mistakes they make. This way we reward good work.
J-So what kind of hours do the operatives work?
G-They work flexible shifts of 35 hours a week. Plus overtime if they want it.
J-What do you mean by flexible shifts?
G-Well, the computer system works out a shift plan based on the calls it expects and plans exactly the right number of operatives for each time of day. So shift times are flexible.
J-So, do the operatives also work evenings?
G-We’re open from 8 till 8 Monday to Friday and fro 9 till 5 on Saturday. A lot of our operatives are young mothers of students, so they’re happy to work evening shifts.
J-And what about job satisfaction?
G-Some people believe that working in a call center isn’t the most exciting job in the world – so it’s very important to remember that your operatives are human. So we organize them into teams. The team that sells the most policies, for example, wins a prize. We also organize fun competitions during big sporting events like the World Cup or the Olympics.