Retailers weren’t the only ones preparing last week for a seasonal deluge of customers.

Employee benefits provider Unum Group was staffing up for the Monday after Thanksgiving, known within the company as Red Hot Monday, when a combination of factors lead to its busiest day of the year.

Unum, which provides short-term disability insurance and other employee benefits, said it experiences an increase in call volume of up to 30 percent at its customer service centers each year on Red Hot Monday. The company is based in Tennessee but has major operations in Portland with about 3,000 employees, including a large call center.

Unum is expecting to receive at least 37,000 customer calls Monday between its call centers in Portland; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Columbia, South Carolina. The call centers usually operate on a combined staff of about 600, but that number was boosted to nearly 700 for Monday by bringing in extra management and former call center workers who have moved on to other jobs within the company, said Shelley Emmons, Unum’s assistant vice president of customer support services and planning.

In addition, employee shifts are extended from the normal eight hours to nine hours, Emmons said. During that shift, each employee can expect to answer over 60 calls on average.

“There are several things we do to make sure we have as many hands on deck as possible,” Emmons said.

But why is Red Hot Monday so red hot? Emmons said it’s a combination of factors.

The first factor is annual open enrollment for employee benefits, she said. Most companies require their workers to complete the enrollment process by the end of November, which leads to an increase in customer questions as workers try to decide which benefits they should sign up for.

Another factor is workers filing claims for benefits such as wellness programs before they expire at the end of the year, Emmons said. Most employers hold open enrollment orientation sessions in November, which often remind workers of benefits they currently have that they haven’t taken advantage of yet, such as membership reimbursement for belonging to a fitness center.

Finally, the fact that Unum is closed on Thanksgiving and Black Friday also creates some pent-up customer demand for the following Monday, she said. Unum’s call centers aren’t open on weekends.

Emmons said Unum tries to make Red Hot Monday enjoyable for its customer service representatives by adding food and fun activities. Even the company’s president and CEO, Rick McKenney, hangs out with them to show his support, she said.

Emmons said the goal of Red Hot Monday is to ensure that increased call volume does not lead to longer customer wait times or other frustrations.

“We start planning in August to make sure that this day is like every other day that somebody would call and experience,” she said. “A lot of times this is the first time they will ever experience Unum.”

 

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