Managed IP Solution Works for the Kansas Department of Labor
Moving to AT&T IP Flexible Reach was a natural progression as we tried to more efficiently manage resources for the state and better serve our citizens."
- Daniel Kuckelman, Director of Technology Services, Kansas Department of Labor
Better ways for citizens to access unemployment benefits
VoIP trunking solution to handle increased call volumes from around the state
Cost effective solution that streamlines and simplifies operations while scaling up as needed
Annual budget of $731.6 Million
About Kansas Department of Labor
The Kansas Department of Labor (DOL) serves residents by administering the state unemployment insurance program, managing workers’ compensation, overseeing job safety for public employees and handling other employment-related responsibilities. Its mission is to advance the economic well being of all Kansans through responsive workforce services. The department’s customers include more than 72,000 employers and 1.4 million workers in the state.
Although unemployment in Kansas is among the lowest in the U.S., the DOL handles well over a million unemployment claims every year. Most people submit these claims by phone, generating between 30,000 and 35,000 calls each week to the labor department. As the number of people seeking unemployment benefits increased during the recent recession, phone lines were jammed and callers experienced lengthy wait times. The DOL looked for ways to make it easier for Kansans to get benefits. Because most state agencies’ budgets had been cut, any solution the DOL considered had to be cost effective.
The Department of Labor chose AT&T IP Flexible Reach, a Session Initiated Protocol (SIP) trunking service that increases capacity by merging voice and data traffic onto a single network. The managed Voice over IP (VoIP) solution provides the scalability that enables the DOL to handle the skyrocketing call volumes that can occur seasonally and during economic downturns. It also contains costs by reducing long distance charges and eliminating the need for hundreds of individual phone numbers within the DOL.
Growing Unemployment in a Land of Plenty
Kansas, the geographic center of the United States, has long been an agricultural powerhouse and one of the country’s major producers of grain. Although farming is still a mainstay of its economy, Kansas today is also a major oil and natural gas producer and home to a growing aerospace industry. In addition, the state has a number of employers in the transportation, manufacturing, food processing, publishing and chemical products industries.
We’re getting a better ROI over the term of the contract and we’re moving forward with technology.”
This diverse economic base, an educated workforce and bountiful natural resources keep unemployment in Kansas at around six percent, generally three full points lower than in the U.S. as a whole.1 Even so, state residents who lose their jobs and those with seasonal employment file more than 1.5 million unemployment insurance claims every year. Processing these claims makes up more than half the workload of the Kansas Department of Labor, which also manages workers’ compensation and a number of other job-related initiatives.
Kansans can use the DOL website to submit unemployment claims, but more than 80 percent file by phone. As the U.S. recession began in the late 2000s and the number of unemployment claims rose dramatically, DOL agents struggled to handle triple the average number of calls – often more than 8,000 per week – and many callers experienced long wait times before they could speak with an agent.
The department was already searching for ways to eliminate the bottlenecks at its call center and improve customer service. When faced with budget cuts, it became imperative for the DOL to move quickly to cut costs and make it faster and easier for citizens to get the unemployment benefits they need.
Designing Customer-centered Processes
Conventional wisdom dictates that organizations can increase operational efficiency by pushing customers to use the Web instead of the phone to conduct business. “It’s less expensive if customers can process their own claims,” said Daniel Kuckelman, DOL Director of Technology Services. “But you have to consider your customer base. Many of our folks don’t have the connectivity or access to a computer to apply online.”
People who are unemployed for an extended time are often forced to cancel non-essentials like Internet service to save money, he said. “We had the dilemma of forcing people to try to find an Internet connection or continuing to be able to provide customer service via phone.”
Since losing a job can be traumatic, the department wanted people applying for unemployment to be able to connect with a human being. “Our goal is to talk to folks in a polite and productive manner so that we can answer their questions, make sure that they’re receiving their payments and assist them in obtaining a job,” he said. “If that’s not possible, we want to make sure we help them carry forward so that their benefits are paid until they can get back in the employment cycle.”
Looking for Other Options
Rather than requiring customers to use the Internet, the DOL began looking for ways to make it easier for people to file claims by phone while controlling costs. The first step was to consolidate its Kansas City and Wichita contact centers into its Topeka center to enhance efficiencies. The AT&T account team recommended deploying a VoIP trunking arrangement on AT&T IP Flexible Reach, a managed VoIP solution that increased call center capacity and reduced telecommunications expenditures.
For customers’ convenience, the department kept the numbers used by callers from the Kansas City and Wichita areas by utilizing an AT&T IP Flexible Reach feature called “virtual telephone numbers.” This ensures that when calling to file for unemployment benefits, customers can dial a local number without incurring long distance charges. The virtual telephone numbers meant that callers were not inconvenienced by the network migration. “The transition to VoIP was seamless for our customers,” he said.
“Moving to AT&T IP Flexible Reach was a natural progression as we tried to more efficiently manage resources for the state and better serve our citizens,” Kuckelman said. “We have a responsibility to use public funds carefully as we are caretakers of the taxpayers’ money. We can now provide phone service to connect callers to a live person via the telephone for a lower cost than we could before,” Kuckelman said. “That’s a positive thing for us because we can continue to provide service over the phone for customers that prefer to utilize that method.”
Benefits Beyond the Call Center
In addition to improving the efficiency of its call center, AT&T IP Flexible Reach saved the DOL money by eliminating the need for hundreds of direct phone lines. “In one location, our main business office in Topeka, we eliminated about 150 phone numbers. That’s a huge savings for us,” Kuckelman said.
Instead of assigning individual numbers to employees, the department implemented an auto-attendant to transfer phone calls. “That has been a small change for the user, but it’s been an improvement because we’re able to automate some call distribution,” he said. The department also reduced its phone bills, since its IP Flexible Reach plan includes long distance minutes resulting in approximately $2,000 in savings per month.
Officials estimate that AT&T IP Flexible Reach reduces DOL telecommunication costs by 15 to 20 percent. “We’re getting a better ROI over the term of the contract,” Kuckelman said, “and we’re moving forward with technology.”
The solution also enabled the use of four-digit extensions for DOL staff members, which makes it easier for them to collaborate.
Scalability for the Future
In addition to saving money and increasing efficiency, the department increased the scalability of its infrastructure with AT&T IP Flexible Reach. “The ability to expand is absolutely important for us,” Kuckelman said.
Now there is no need to add phone lines when unemployment rises. The solution’s SIP trunking uses compression technology to move additional voice traffic onto the DOL’s network. In addition, IP Flexible Reach enables the department to add capacity by increasing the number of call paths to manage anticipated spikes in volume.
Since deploying the solution at its contact center and administration building, the department has extended its savings by adding 50 more IP Flexible Reach calling paths in Topeka. It also plans to introduce the service in its Wichita and suburban Kansas City locations to give each office the opportunity to better manage call flows.
As one of the final stages of its telephony migration, the DOL plans to move its toll-free traffic to AT&T IP Toll-Free Service.
Better Technology Drives Savings
Kuckelman said the DOL’s experience with AT&T has been outstanding. “Our account team has been great at explaining what our options are and what kind of services they could present to us to meet our needs,” he said. “They’ve also been very responsive if we’ve run into an issue and have a good background so they can make suggestions and propose better solutions as we move forward.
Kuckelman said he also appreciates the expertise that extends beyond his account team. “As we do implementations, the AT&T network engineers and support specialists have always been good,” he said.
Working with AT&T benefits the department in important ways, he said. “We knew that we were saving money and that we were improving the technology with which we serve our internal customers,” he said. “This drives efficiency as we serve our external customers, which is always our goal.”
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