INSURANCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND MORE
Brokerage of the Future: Adapting to 21st Century Technology
30 years ago, Universal Pictures released Back to the Future, the classic 80’s comic sci-fi adventure film that took Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett L. Brown back and forth through time in their famous DeLorean time machine. In the sequel, Back to the Future Part II, the characters travel to 2015 where they see inventions ranging from high-tech innovations like hover boards and flat screen TVs to 3D technology. In 1989, those things seemed pretty far-fetched, but 26 years later, nearly every invention in the film exists today.
So what does Back to the Future and the insurance industry have in common? Change. Consumer demands are changing, the marketplace is changing, the workforce is changing – and so too must the ways in which insurance brokers manage their business to begin adapting to the technological shifts and opportunities present today.
Technology enables you to streamline operations, drive efficient business operations and reduce E&O. Simultaneously, it is evolving insurance consumer expectations for constant communication and customer servicing through multiple channels. Like in Back to the Future, the key is embracing technology changes to meet evolving demands. The 21st century brokerage will continue to transform into a digital workspace that’s mobile savvy and data-driven.
Characteristics of a 21st Century Broker:
- Stays ahead of the curve
By leveraging a modern brokerage management system, brokers can quickly scale business operations across multiple locations and easily integrate acquisitions. And through the use of digitally driven interactions and optimized workflows, leading brokerages have gone paperless – cutting costs associated with paper filing and creating additional physical space to expand their employee base. Standardized data also provides a single view into a book of business, empowering the 21st century broker to service clients better and identify opportunities to cross- and upsell.
Ensure your systems are modern and flexible. Technology such as the cloud provides anywhere, anytime access to information while protecting important data in a secure online environment away from a physical office. Investing in cloud technology delivers remote access to data, lowers costs associated to maintaining your IT infrastructure and increases business continuity.To improve broker productivity, mobile technologies are breaking down the traditional workspace and enabling brokers to deliver personalized client service away from the office while maintaining access to the latest client information. Consider mobile applications that enable access to your brokerage management system, as the next wave of insurance professionals are more mobile-connected than any other generation. Leveraging mobile can help you attract and retain top talent to drive business growth and profitability.
- Meets clients online
A recent Ovum study found that 74% of consumers now use more than three channel’s when interacting with an enterprise brand or organization for customer-related issues. To deliver superior client servicing, leading insurance brokers have expanded their online presence by building out their company website and amplifying their social presence. This multichannel servicing allows companies to provide the best all-around customer experience, differentiating their business proposition from that of aggregators.
To deliver a superior customer experience, empower your employees with the latest software to ensure they can reach their clients at multiple touchpoints, like social, mobile and online. Provide business updates and advice via social media to encourage client engagement. Consider a customer self-service portal that delivers 24/7 online access to policy information and documentation and the ability to initiate and track claims processing. By delivering a multichannel customer experience, you will be able to remain connected to your clients on their preferred channel, increasing client satisfaction, retention and future client growth.
- Is data savvy
According to Forrester Research, data volume in the enterprise will grow 50 times year-over-year between now and 2020. With the exponential growth of data, leading brokers and insurers are evaluating ways to extract and analyze pre-existing data in an easy-to-consume visual format to make more informed business decisions. Brokers can evaluate their book of business to better understand retention rates, growth markets, and leading lines of business. Business intelligence solutions also provide information about business metrics such as how efficiently a business operates, how quickly tasks are being completed, workflow bottlenecks, and how many employees hit their sales goals.
Take advantage of brokerage data to better understand your customer and accurately segment. Invest in technology that can enable you to more quickly and effectively analyze data to cross/upsell and determine which clientele are fit for certain products.
Technology is leading brokers into the future. The ability to harness the power of innovative software to automate business operations and meet changing consumer demands will elevate your role as a trusted advisor and further differentiate your business. By implementing technology innovations and becoming a 21st century digital broker, independent brokers are well positioned to accelerate an organization’s growth, profitability and agility both now and in the future.
“Your future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one.”
–Dr. Emmett L. Brown, Back to the Future
Jeffrey D. Purdy, senior vice president of international operations, is responsible for Applied’s Canadian and UK operations. Purdy began his Applied career in the company’s Canada operations in 1989. In 1993, he was named president of Applied Systems Canada, assuming responsibility for Canada product development, sales, implementation and customer support. In 2002, Purdy relocated to Applied’s U.S. headquarters as vice president of Diamond Implementation and Account Services, departments within the carrier division then operated by the company.
Keep Your Feet on the Ground and Head in the Cloud
Has weather ever kept you off the roads and away from the office? Have you ever feared that your data and clients’ data has been exposed to external threats? If the answer is yes to either question, it is more important than ever for your organization to develop a business continuity plan to ensure your business remains financially and operationally viable regardless of external factors or unforeseen events.
Market intelligence firm IDC’s recent survey reported that 72% of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) expect to increase their investments in business continuity over the next 12 to 24 months. And 81% of SMBs are considering improvements to their existing business continuity strategies. Business continuity plans require you to assess and adopt technology, tools, and processes that ensure your business continues to operate at all times – particularly when customers need you the most.
From a systems standpoint, the cloud enables agencies and brokerages to protect important data in a secure online environment within off-site data centers. The cloud is a delivery mechanism for IT services and data exchange over a secure network, providing on-demand, remote access to information. Data centers deliver a high level of security and also provide redundancies for power and back-up sites, so in the event a data center is in a disaster location, the redundant site will take over to ensure business continuity.
Moving core software applications to the cloud is fundamentally a decision about how to maximize your investment in the people, systems and strategies to grow your book of business more profitably. With a cloud solution, agencies and brokerages can increase their return on investment as applications and supporting software update automatically, so your business continually runs the latest software without incurring delays or extra expenses that may be required for manual updates.
5 Reasons Why You Should Adopt the Cloud
With spring weather season in full swing and cyber threats on the rise, I encourage you to consider adopting the cloud for these five reasons:
- Improve your business continuityWith the cloud, your critical applications and data reside in a secure data center, which provides redundancy for power, Internet access and a physical infrastructure that offers greater protection from natural and man-made disasters and other unpredicted business interruptions. The ability to remotely access and use your core business systems in the event of a disaster enables your agency or brokerage to maintain operations and continue to serve your clients anywhere, anytime.
- Reduce costs to maintain and manage IT infrastructure
The average agency or brokerage staff has .5 dedicated IT personnel, meaning that many insurance agencies and brokerages operate without dedicated IT personnel and lack the expertise to deploy and manage multiple IT applications required in business today, as well as the hardware and software needed to run these systems. Cloud technology eliminates many requirements for hardware and software on-site and can significantly reduce your budget and capital costs for IT. It also reduces the need for personnel to manage IT infrastructure, freeing up time and money to focus more on core insurance activities.
- Increase information security and data management
With weekly news stories on the latest corporate data breach, maintaining data protection has become table stakes for business success and client loyalty. In the cloud, you gain an extra layer of data defense by maintaining critical business information in secure data centers. In addition, your business benefits from implementing more efficient data management and data access processes. The cloud ensures you are running the latest version of your software applications, including any antivirus programs. By offering an exponential amount of data storage, the cloud allows you to focus on growing your business and clients without the concern of running out of storage space.
- Provide better customer service
If weather keeps you at home or travel has you on the road, the cloud provides you and your employees remote access to up-to-date client and policy information using virtually any connected device, enabling you to reach and service clients at any time regardless of location. Instant access to information enables agents, CSRs, producers and others to provide clients faster service that can lead to higher productivity. In addition, reduced staffing for IT allows you to assign more employees to client-facing activities that improve customer service and satisfaction.
- Increase your ability to grow fast
The flexibility of a cloud solution can be ideal for insurance agencies and brokerages that need to scale their business quickly to meet changing needs, such as a business acquisition or rapid growth, without the time and expense of adding or integrating new IT capacity. Since applications are hosted remotely in data centers and accessible via the Internet, new users can quickly connect to systems of record and gain access to data across your business enterprise, improving collaboration and productivity.
Today’s insurance marketplace continues to move at an accelerated pace, requiring you to provide information in a more timely and effective manner in order to enhance your competitive value and serve as a trusted resource. Integrating cloud solutions and emerging communication channels enables businesses to increase their operational flexibility and security while reducing downtime and bolstering connectedness to both an agency or broker’s internal operations and clients, enabling you to uphold your role as a trusted advisor and better service clients at times when you are needed the most.
How is your agency using the cloud for business continuity? Share your thoughts below.
Kris Hackney, executive vice president of customer experience, is responsible for Applied’s customer delivery strategy and operational execution for the company’s Professional Services, Support and cloud-based solutions. She is the former vice president of Worldwide Enterprise Solutions & Services for Chicago-based SPSS Inc., a leading global provider of predictive analytics software and solutions, now part of IBM.
The Mobile Moment: Winning Customers in the Moment of Need
It’s 9 p.m. on a Friday night and I’m stranded in Newark. With my flight canceled and no knowledge of the Newark area, I pick up my phone and say “O.K. Google, find a hotel near the Newark Airport.” Then, “O.K. Google, find train transportation from Newark Airport to New York City.” Within minutes, I’m able to book alternate transportation by train and bus to arrive at my final destination. Although I arrived at my destination a little less than 12 hours after originally scheduled, I was able to find transportation and book accommodations before the airline had re-booked my flight, which would have been 3 days later!
This moment makes me wonder how we ever functioned before mobile technology. Consumers like you and me have the capacity to access services that assist us at our moments of need, and insurance customers expect the same experience from independent agencies and brokerages.
Making Mobile a Priority
I think the first time I realized my agency needed to become more engaged from a mobile perspective was when I queued up for an airline departure and realized that several other passengers had digital boarding passes on their smartphones. Later, I saw iPads used to display digital menus and integrated flight update information in the food service areas of a major airline terminal – no waitresses to take orders and the opportunity to get immediate flight updates while you waited, plus access to the Web for anything else you wanted.
Today, limited understating among independent insurance agents of the potential of mobile technologies has kept many from adopting this technology even though mobile can be an incredibly useful tool. The market paradigm has changed and an alarm is sounding for independent agencies and brokerages. When clients have fender benders, can they take pictures and submit claims to your agency via mobile? If your clients are on vacation with no computer access, can they use their smartphones to make a few quick changes to the policies? Does your agency or brokerage offer these options?
Starbucks Knows Mobile
When people are on-the-go, they expect information to be relevant and timely. Starbucks has mastered the art of delivering targeted information at tiny little moments. In a book I recently read, “The Mobile Mind Shift: Engineer Your Business To Win in the Mobile Moment,” author Ted Schadler discusses the mobile movement across the globe. A compelling example he shares is Starbucks’ mobile strategy. Realizing that many of their customers already use mobile devices to surf the Web while in their stores, Starbucks saw an opportunity to “connect with customers” who were already online.
Starbucks identified three types of mobile moments:
Starbucks’ capitalizes on customer loyalty by providing a mobile payment option for customers already at their stores. The company recognized additional loyalty opportunity moments by analyzing traffic patterns throughout the store and plotted specific opportunities to create a loyalty moment. (Image at right shows the identified moments)
A manufactured moment occurs when you can help a customer with a problem. Another word that describes a type of manufactured moment is “Youtility.” A new buzz word, Youtility occurs when a business helps consumers with problems that are not directly related to the products and services the business sells. By being useful, we can elevate our brand in the minds of the individuals we help. Then, when it comes time for those individuals to buy our products, they will think of us first because of the Youtility we provided in their time of need. For example, Clorox has an app called MyStain that provides practical guidance on how to manage clothing stains. Say you’re at a restaurant and you spill spaghetti sauce on your white shirt. No worries because the Clorox MyStain app tells you how to use products that are most likely available at the restaurant to manage your stain until you can return home to treat it properly.
Finally, a borrowed moment is when you engage someone who is already “someplace else” like on Facebook or some other mobile application. An example would be purchasing advertising space on the mobile app of your regional newspaper. The “reader” was not there to see you but you “borrowed” their attention from the forum to which they voluntarily subscribed.
Overall, what has become incredibly evident is that we have only BEGUN to see the tip of mobility’s potential and, because it provides opportunities to create truly customized experiences or “moments,” it is changing the world. At my business, Thousand Islands Insurance Agency, and as in the Starbucks’ example, it’s about delivering a small snippet of information at just the right time. Being able to identify, for instance, details of a client’s physical damage coverage and servicing that client at 10 p.m. on a weekend is a great way to build loyalty and a long-term relationship.
No Longer a “Nice to Have”
Mobile is here to stay and the sooner we adopt ways to become “mobile-ly engaged” with clients, the sooner we can take advantage of the benefits that mobile access can provide. An example is the availability of an insurance identification card through a customer self-service portal. We live near a military base where vendors are barred access to the base if they cannot provide proof of insurance at the entrance gate. On numerous occasions, we have driven to the base gate with an insurance ID card to accommodate a client. Now, our customer self-service portal allows clients to retrieve electronic identification cards on demand with their mobile device hence satisfying their moment of need.
Mobility is no longer just a nice to have and independent agencies and brokerages need to think more about staying connected 24/7 – both in the field and with customers. At our agency we use Applied MobileProducer, a mobile insurance app for producers that brings client, policy and sales information to iPad or Android tablets because our producers need to stay connected when they’re on the go. We use it to retrieve information from the management system regarding recent transactions and activities and to confirm coverage when providing clients our 24-hour claim service. It also allows us it to complete documentation during out-of-the-office in-person meetings with clients.
To close, I challenge agents and brokers to better and more comprehensively understand the electronic mobile landscape. Personally, I’ve committed to learning and implementing at least two new useful applications every month for 2015. In these first few months, I have discovered how wide the spectrum of mobile applications is and the variety of solutions that they provide. I encourage you to take the challenge yourself!
Is your business using mobile technology? How are you finding it beneficial? We welcome your thoughts below.
Ed Higgins, vice president of Thousand Islands Insurance Agency in Clayton, N.Y. and chair at Applied Client Network, has been an active independent agent since 1974. Ed is a Past President of the Independent Insurance Agents Association of New York (IIABNY) 1995-1996. He has also served at the national level of the on Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, Inc. as State National Director representing New York (1998-2002) and as chair of the Agents Council for Technology (A.C.T.) (1998-2003). Ed does insurance agency automation consulting on practical applications of agency automation and other technologies to enhance agency workflow & maximize customer service.
Breaking Down Business Intelligence
In an industry that generates an immense volume of data every day, insurance agency and brokerage executives are increasingly turning to new business intelligence (BI) strategies and solutions that provide additional, data-driven visibility into their clients, prospects, internal operations and carrier relationships.
For many executives, business intelligence solutions build upon the established capabilities of traditional reporting. Traditional reports typically allow executives to examine “what happened” using data based on a defined set of criteria as of a specific moment in time. By contrast, BI solutions extend traditional reporting to focus on “why something happened” by using visual representations of data over time that are both interactive and multi-dimensional, allowing agencies to drill into a particular aspect of the business for deeper understanding.
Crucial capabilities and insights at your fingertips
BI solutions put these crucial capabilities at your fingertips, with easy-to-understand visual illustrations of key performance metrics such as retention rates and hit ratios, as well as complex analysis of client growth, book of business trending, carrier response rate and employee productivity. By looking at data from multiple perspectives, you can gain greater business insights and better understand the cause and effect of what drives your business and how to respond to new business and market opportunities.
For example, when evaluating your organization’s book of business, you can cross-examine and splice data to:
- Identify coverage packages that are popular and profitable within one industry and determine new industries that need identical coverage
- Track active regions for business expansion and net growth
- Know the best insurers with the highest likelihood of writing specific types of business
- Measure business activities against book of business trending, identifying efficiencies and improved productivity
To get a better idea of just how a BI solution could help your agency or brokerage, let’s take a look at some specific scenarios.
Location, location, location
First, let’s examine an issue related to servicing your customers. Consider your agency or brokerage is operating in a region that has experienced a natural catastrophe, like Napa Valley’s 2014 earthquake. As soon as the catastrophic event hits, an owner can instantly tap into their BI tool to visually identify which of their clients could be affected in the geographic area where the event hit. A BI tool can drill down into geographical maps to provide instant access to the critical information (think: who is impacted, what type of coverage do they have, when did the event happen and were they covered, where are their assets) agents and brokers need to proactively reach out to their clients to provide the level of personalized service and guidance expected from their role as a trusted advisor.
Second, let’s take a look a typical challenge related to evaluating new business development. Geographic business intelligence can also visually identify marketing campaign success by region. For instance, an agency or brokerage might be focused on expanding their client base in a specific suburb in their main city of operation. To increase awareness and drive new sales, the owner decides to run an advertising campaign, including local print and TV, for a month targeted at this specific suburb. Following the campaign, an owner can evaluate sales in the region leading up to the campaign, during the campaign, and thereafter to identify any change in the sales trend that could be a direct result from increased marketing activities.
People make or break your business
Insurance has always been a people-oriented industry – defined by personal interactions, relationships, and services. BI solutions can also help with a better understanding of the most important determining factor of your agency’s success: your people. To better understand the growth and profitability of an agency’s or brokerage’s business, executives have to closely evaluate employee productivity and revenue-generating activities to better understand their impact on the growth and profitability of their business.
Executives often consider these questions:
- What is the average revenue per employee at my firm?
- Who are my top performing producers?
- How has adding an additional producer added to business development activities?
While straightforward questions, obtaining this information can take several manual steps, including pulling the data from multiple sources, inputting it into a program like Excel, manipulating it to produce the desired results, and building out simple graphical comparisons. With a BI solution, executives can dynamically evaluate employee performance and business development activities through dashboards that can be adjusted to visually provide different cross-comparisons of data. One view can provide an overall snapshot of how each producer is driving revenue. Another view can rank producers by revenue, added lines, retention, attrition, or a number of any other key business metrics. The ability to quickly toggle between information sets provides executives a user-driven experience to better understand how their staff is driving business growth and profitability.
Collaborating with carriers
When researching services for clients, agencies and brokerages engage with a number of insurer partners to find the best policy for their clients. Agencies and brokerages frequently place more business with insurers that are most responsive and provide the most competitive service. The key to effective negotiations and profitable relationships with your insurers is factual data. How often have insurers provided their own numbers from their own limited or adjusted perspectives, and used their data to attempt to negotiate higher results and/or lesser commissions? Executives now have the ability to track the performance of submission responses, declines, and ultimately what policies were written with each of their insurer partners. With a BI solution, executives can quickly review insurer responses rate to provide clear visual proof that the agency is trying to actively engage with the insurer. Executives can evaluate specific success metrics for their insurer marketing activities, as well as compare multiple insurers down to the submission activities for each policy type.
BI solutions have become a necessity for companies of all sizes, industries and verticals to be highly competitive in today’s marketplace. BI brings insights that will refine an agency’s decisions, permeate client, carrier and employee discussions, and ultimately create new business opportunities and more profitable relationships.
Michael Howe, senior vice president of product management, is responsible for the strategic direction of the Applied product portfolio. Howe joined Applied in 2013 with more than 20 years of experience in enterprise software. He formerly served as senior vice president of Marketing and Product Management at Aptean, a global provider of industry-focused enterprise software. Prior to Aptean, Howe held senior executive management positions at SAP and other leading software companies.
3 Tips Applied CSR24 Users Should Know
Everywhere we go we see people glued to technology. Whether it’s getting directions from point A to B, searching for a great place to eat or browsing Facebook for status updates, the expectation for instant access to information is ubiquitous. This holds true for your clients as well. In addition to phone and in-person contact, today’s insurance consumers expect 24/7 self-service access via mobile or Web. Applied CSR24 delivers that technology, allowing agencies to offer clients immediate access to certificates and auto IDs.
But multichannel client service is only the tip of the iceberg. From the agency perspective, many Applied CSR24 clients find instant gratification in streamlined certificate processing, saving time and resources. With my 25+ years of insurance automation experience and more than 14 years assisting with implementation and training for Applied CSR24, I thought I’d share some thoughts on how you can get the most out of the application.
During implementation, Applied sets up the extract to pull data from your management system into Applied CSR24, saving time for both your staff and clients when filling out forms and requesting information. However if your agency uses Applied CSR24 with Applied Epic or Applied TAM, you can set up Sync, a real-time connection that interchanges data in both directions. This Sync ensures that all information seen by staff and clients is the most current available from the management system, and conversely that any data that originates within Applied CSR24 automatically gets added to your management system’s activities.
With Sync, you can:
- Enable activities along with their related attachments to be automatically written into your Applied management system from portal-initiated transactions. Your staff will get greater visibility into client interactions conducted in the portal, all within your Applied Epic or Applied TAM management system.
- Give your clients access to documents and attachments through the online portal. Never manually send a document to your insureds or upload into the portal again. Instead, click one checkbox in your management system to allow your clients to view and/or retrieve documents stored within the management system in real time.
- Provide a “Claims View” option to your clients through the online portal. Customer service around the claims process is a huge factor in client retention and satisfaction. Give clients visibility into claims status directly from the portal so they can have 24/7 access to the information they need.
More and more people are visiting the Web from mobile devices to conduct insurance transactions. For this reason, Applied CSR24 is mobile-friendly and reformats the user interface of your self-service portal so that clients can easily tap and touch from a smartphone or tablet. To see for yourself how it looks, simply visit your agency’s portal from your smartphone.
Within the system administration tools, you can add branded icons to make sure that when clients save the webpage to their smartphones and tablets, it appears as a branded icon for your business.
Providing a mobile service option can set you apart from the competition. Visit the Help File within Applied CSR24 to get a communication template that can be used to announce to your clients that your portal is mobile-friendly.
Did you know that within Applied TAM and Applied Epic you can set up Applied CSR24 as single sign-on (SSO)? Once the SSO is set up, your staff will never have to launch Applied CSR24 as a separate browser session and sign in. Their Applied TAM or Applied Epic credentials will also give them direct instant access to Applied CSR24.
Applied CSR24 enables your staff to easily access the premium certificate processing capabilities directly from your management system. With direct access to the client account within Applied CSR24, staff can begin the certificate issuance process instantly without navigating to the client file or closing out of the management system. It also allows them to efficiently create and modify client accounts for the Applied CSR24 portal.
I hope this information helps you to get even more value from Applied CSR24. For additional resources, check the Help File within your system or the Applied Client Portal, and watch this video on the latest features.
Do you have additional tips to share with fellow users? Share your ideas below.
Bob Zaczynski, senior vice president of implementation/support services at Applied, directs the implementation and training for various products including Applied CSR24, Applied MobileProducer, and Applied certTrax. He also heads the support teams for Applied certTrax, Applied WebEngine websites and Applied InsWorld publications. Bob joined Applied Systems in 2010 and has more than 25 years of insurance automation experience.
Today’s Insurance Customer Experience Imperative
All the rage – and rightfully so
Customer experience (CX) is all the rage. You can’t click to an insurance industry news site or general interest news site, or even pick up an insurance industry trade magazine without seeing exhortations about the need for insurance industry companies, agencies and brokerages to become customer centric, customer focused, or customer engaged. Actually, there should be trumpets blasting the message in every direction you turn about the critical importance of CX to your firm’s ongoing and future success. It’s that important and why we believe it’s imperative that agencies, brokers and MGAs constantly strengthen the CX they provide their clients.
Think of “customer experience” as the total amount of positive and negative perceptions customers have each time they interact with an agency, producers or CSRs for any reason, regardless of the nature of the interaction or the technology the client uses to interact. Moreover, the perception of whether any one interaction between the customer and your firm is positive or negative is entirely up to the customer.
Technology is the culprit and is reshaping customer expectations
Technology advances, including the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets, are ratcheting up customers’ expectations of immediacy, ease of use and accessibility of people and information, regardless of where they are or the time of day. Customers will increasingly expect producers and CSRs to be even more accessible, more responsive and more personal in their interactions.
What we used to call “Moments of Truth,” but now label customer interaction, are quickly becoming high-definition spotlights that uncover every blemish and every age-mark of the quality and timeliness of the service you provide customers. Adding to your workload to support CX, the customer interaction options extend to the information that your firm publishes online: the content must be easy for clients to find, easy to understand, relevant to customers, and equally important and engaging.
The number and type of customer interaction options continues to grow
The days of customers having only the options of meeting face to-face with producers or using the telephone, fax or email to interact with a firm are quickly fading. Customers know they have, and are comfortable using, many more options to reach out and interact with producers and CSRs.
Market Insight Group believes that there are 4 phases of known and potential customer interaction options.
Each phase is associated with time, progressing from the earliest era of geographically bound commerce (Phase 1) to the current and unfolding eras of real-time online digital social media-amplified mobile commerce (Phases 2–4). Specifically:
- Phase 1: Insurance firms conduct business from geographic locations. Insurance firm owners and producers use Yellow Pages, newspapers and telephone directories and participate in community associations to maximize the likelihood of prospective customers knowing the “who, where and what” of the firm and its producers.
- Phase 2: Insurance firms create online digital presences to primarily reach out to and conduct commerce with clients. Insurance firms are constantly challenged to determine how to ensure that prospective clients are able to find the agency or brokerage online – often through search engines – and offer their existing clients information anytime and anywhere they want it via tools such as an online self-service portal.
- Phase 3: This phase is rapidly becoming the “new normal” of online digital communication, collaboration and media consumption. To compete successfully, insurance firms need to acquire social media, digital brand marketing and content management skills to attract prospective customers and keep them engaged – particularly customers using smart devices and expecting increasing functionality as apps for their smart devices. In fact, this phase represents the tipping point from insurance firms conducting business on a transactional basis to conducting business on a more interpersonal client engagement basis.
- Phase 4: This phase is slowly beginning to emerge and encompasses interaction options that enable customers to reach out to insurance firms, producers and CSRs from an expanding set of on-the-go mobile capability choices, including Web-connected vehicles, wearables, interactive TV and other video streams that are personalized for each customer. Market Insight Group believes customers will bring their expectations of personalized content to their on-the-go interactions with insurance firms, producers and CSRs. We are well on our way to live and work in an interconnected real-time digital mobile marketplace.
Adapt or remain the same?
This is the question regarding strengthening CX that you have to answer. Do you truly want to play a status quo game?
Are you, as an agency or brokerage firm owner willing to bet your future competitive success being based on the same capabilities and daily operational activities you use to support clients in the current marketplace?
This blog shares insights from the report “Adaptability: The Insurance Customer Experience Imperative in an Online Digital Mobile Society” by Market Insight Group, sponsored by Applied Systems.
Barry Rabkin, president of the insurance technology analyst firm Market Insight Group, is known for his research focusing on areas where current and emerging technology affects insurance commerce, markets, customers and channels. He has been involved with the insurance industry for more than 35 years. Before rejoining his own company in April 2014, he was a principal analyst at Ovum, where he was responsible for leading the global insurance research stream. Before that, Rabkin was responsible for leading the global insurance advisory team at Financial Insights, an IDC company.
Customer Experience – #1 Strategy for Building Brand Loyalty
As the insurance marketplace continues to evolve and consumer choice grows, customer experience is becoming a leading factor defining brand equity and building customer loyalty. Customer experience is defined by how our customers perceive their interactions with our organization throughout the customer lifecycle, from brand awareness to purchasing products/services to fulfilling on-going needs for support and services.
According to a recent Gartner survey, 89% of companies surveyed plan to compete primarily on the basis of customer experience by 2016. In an industry established on personalized advice and service, today’s independent insurance agencies and brokerages need to create a customer experience framework that anticipates customer needs, offers insight and knowledge and fulfills that need, ultimately earning trust and loyalty during the process.
To develop a customer experience framework, agencies and brokerages should consider these steps and take note of companies that have excelled in these areas:
Define the brand – First, establish or reaffirm the overarching ideas that represent the brand. Agencies and brokerages should use this as an opportunity to emphasize their role as a trusted advisor. By building a brand story, agencies and brokerages increase trust and customer loyalty.
- Who does it well: Nike.
Whether representing world-class professional athletes or building local playgrounds out of recycled shoes, Nike has built and maintained its brand around sportsmanship and health. Alongside the swoosh symbol, Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign perfectly embodied Nike’s image as being an innovative global icon associated with success. Using emotional marketing to put the customer first and tell stories of the hero who overcame physical obstacles, the brand is easy for most consumers to relate to and feel inspired by. This feeling of inspiration and Nike’s positioning as a brand helps everyman achieve goals establishes the company as a trusted advisor.
Know the players – Agencies and brokerages need to re-assess all of the touchpoints in their customer lifecycle, including internal employees, like CSRs and producers, and external communication channels, like online and mobile. As customer experience is defined by all interactions across an organization, agencies and brokerages need each stakeholder actively engaged in the customer experience framework development and execution to ensure consistency.
- Who does it well: Apple.
Apple has a knack for anticipating customer needs and making sure that every Apple employee is equipped to help manage these requests. Apple offers customers the ability to make support appointments at Apple stores to avoid having to wait in line. Once in the store, employees are encouraged to use the customer’s first name shared through their appointment request. In this way, the customer avoids having to introduce himself and the employee creates a personalized experience as if he knows the customer on a first name basis. From there, that employee is encouraged to pass discreet details, such as articles of clothing, about the customer to the other employees encouraging a first name greeting through all interactions with store employees. Even at the point of sale, there is no line to a checkout counter, the transaction can be completed from anywhere in the store. As this Forbes article points out, “the final impression you have is as warm as the first: You’re cared for every step of the way [by every employee], from cradle to credit card.”
Meet the new insurance customer – Agents and brokers looking to build their book of business are focused on the next wave of insurance consumers – the millennials. With an evolving knowledge of the defining characteristics of baby boomers and Generation X, agents and brokers need to shift their focus to millennials to understand their preferences. Whether a baby boomer or millennial, agencies and brokerages should continuously evaluate customer segments and how their varying needs will impact customer experience.
- Who does it well: Zendesk.
Zendesk, a global customer support company, has implemented multiple best practices to attract and retain millennials as consumers. Mikkel Svane, founder and CEO of Zendesk, was interviewed in a recent Forbes article saying millennials are “more likely to tweet about their problem and share their experience with their friends and followers, which makes it hard for companies that aren’t as savvy on social media to handle.” By investing more in these channels and being present where millennials communicate, they can quickly respond to this tech-savvy generation. On top of this, they’ve recognized the need for millennials to want personal conversations and interact by phone. Their approach to phone conversations is not to quickly resolve the issue, but to develop meaningful conversations and act as a trusted advisor. “[We’ve always] tried to “touch” every customer and focus on the relationship more than the sale, and I think we’ve carried all those lessons with us as the company has grown” said Mikkel Svane.This strategy to serve millennials echoes some of Applied’s findings based on a recent survey of millennials, which noted that 67% of millennial respondents said they call directly to interact with their insurance providers and 65% of respondents also said they preferred calling direct as opposed to other methods of communication.
Tap into technology – With the proliferation of mobile and anytime, anywhere access to information via the Internet, agencies and brokerages need to leverage digital technology to deliver multichannel customer service. This includes maintaining a branded, up-to-date website where clients can access the latest product information, and online client self-service portals. Social media also should be used to raise agency and brokerage brand awareness, as well as used as a channel to learn more about clients. Agencies and brokerages also can look to mobile apps to empower staff to service clients away from the office and for clients to use for self-service insurance needs.
- Who does it well: Delta.
Delta has invested in multiple technology opportunities to improve customer service. The Fly Delta app (ranked #1 airline app) allows customers to quickly check in and go paperless through security and gate ticketing with easy access to their eBoarding Pass. What’s even better is the app can keep customers engaged during their flights, giving them the ability to explore different Delta destinations, activities at various destinations, and entertainment options such as music and movies. While technically a robust app, it is easy to use and provides the self-service that customers expect.Delta also uses social media to effectively communicate with customers. Have a question or concern about your flight? Tweet @DeltaAssist and their customer service team will quickly respond. From their mobile app to social media, Delta ensures technology can be used to streamline every touchpoint within each customer’s experience.
Measure and assess – It is important for agencies and brokerages to determine meaningful metrics at the beginning of the process to effectively measure and evaluate customer experience success and momentum. Measurement and analysis should be a continuous component of the customer experience, ensuring each element of the overall experience is seamless and consistent.
- Who does it well: Amazon.
Amazon’s customer-centric attitude and culture is what makes the experience with the company so great. In fact, Jeff Bezos makes sure all employees, no matter what department, know how to properly communicate with customers and cater to their needs. Amazon also makes their experience unique by using customer data collected during each interaction with their site. Amazon’s use of browsing history and recent purchases helps them predict who will order what and when. The use of “predictive analytics” allows them to use past buying patterns to ensure the right items are in stock and recommend alternate purchases.
Developing a customer experience framework requires multiple tactics and commitment to robust planning and process. Agencies and brokerages that develop their own multi-tactic customer experience framework will earn trust, loyalty and ultimately create clients for life.
What tactics are you using to enhance your customer’s experience? Share your thoughts below.
Kris Hackney, executive vice president of customer experience, is responsible for Applied’s customer delivery strategy and operational execution for the Company’s Professional Services, Support and Cloud-based solutions. She is the former vice president of Worldwide Enterprise Solutions & Services for Chicago-based SPSS Inc., a leading global provider of predictive analytics software and solutions, now part of IBM.
Making Insurance Agencies’ Priorities a Reality – A Look into Accenture’s IA Survey
In the recent report “Evolving to Compete and Win in the Long-Term,” Accenture discusses the growing division between the independent agent and carrier relationship – one that is both simultaneously interdependent and competitive. In fact, 39% of independent agents saw carriers’ direct solutions (website and other direct-to-consumer channels) as their greatest source of competition.
To enhance their competitive value, participating independent agents named improving the customer experience and concentrating on providing higher value service to the existing client base as their number one business priority. Additionally, adding sales capabilities is the second priority – yet, with capital constraints, it is a difficult operational objective for many agencies to fulfill.
The report identifies a noticeable and critical discrepancy – agencies are prioritizing customer experience while placing less emphasis and investment in new technology capabilities, which are key in reaching today’s more tech-savvy consumers. To maintain the strength of the IA channel and lay the platform for dynamic growth, independent agencies need to harness the benefits of technology and digital capabilities to improve their customer experience and increase operational efficiency.
PropertyCasualty360 reviewed the survey and published 5 steps that agents can take to optimize their channels. Below I evaluate these key opportunities and how technology can support agencies’ top priorities.
1. Maintaining and improving customer loyalty
Property Casualty 360 says: “Independent agents should focus on providing differentiated services that are important to customers, and selectively choose carriers that have similar goals. Furthermore, independent agents can sharpen the focus on advisory services in order to put an agent in the position to give customers choices, while also assisting them in making sound decisions on complex insurance and financial offerings.”
My technology advice: Recent Accenture research confirms that customers trust the advice provided by independent agents more than others, which is a clear competitive differentiator for the IA channel. However, in order to maintain the trusted advisor role, agents need to have adequate time and insight into their clients to provide superior advice. Technology can streamline business operations and reduce time spent on administrate tasks, creating more time to focus on providing an improved customer experience to drive client loyalty.
Technology allows the agent to automate customer touchpoints, based upon historical and current activity, as well as predict future opportunities. For example, your system can automatically alert you when policy renewal premiums increase beyond a preset amount or percentage, prompting you to evaluate the policy for your client. Additionally, advanced technology can deliver insights into an agent’s book of business, allowing them to identify opportunities for better client coverage – which increases client retention and drives organic business growth.
2. Adopting an omni-channel approach to engage with customers on their terms
Property Casualty 360 says: “Integrating with the online distribution ecosystem, by becoming part of the growth of new and alternative channels, is one way an independent agent can adopt, fostering an omni-channel approach to business.”
My technology advice: Today’s consumer expects access to insurance information anywhere, anytime and carriers are clearly investing in providing this access. Agents need to evolve their customer service model to include multichannel servicing, extending client touchpoints to reach each client through their preferred channel – whether online, in person, or on the phone. By leveraging technology, agents can increase their mobility to service clients away from the office and can extend their online presence to include client self-service portals, providing access to insurance documents and claims processing 24/7.
3. Engaging in advice-oriented sales and services
Property Casualty 360 says: “While selling insurance products is the essential crux of an independent agent’s role, no less important is their ability to address customers’ needs holistically. Agents should work to provide advice for their clients on risk management and value-added services.”
My technology advice: In an effort to increase client retention and satisfaction, agents need to evaluate opportunities to cross-sell and up-sell their current client base, ensuring they provide more complete, full coverage and advice to clients while expanding their book of business. To maximize cross-sell and up-sell opportunities, agents need an advanced, modern agency management system that provides a single view into their entire client base across different products and regions.
4. Creating efficient, effective and adaptive agency operations
Property Casualty 360 says: “Making the most of capabilities provided by carriers, deferring low-value tasks to them while motivating producers to sell and serve customers is key in laying the groundwork for effective agency operations. Agents must also consider investing in new technology solutions that operate business through an integrated and highly efficient platform.”
My technology advice: Time is money. Leading agencies require advanced agency management systems with pre-built, best practices operational workflows that will streamline processes and reduce time spent on duplicate tasks. Additionally, agencies can leverage ancillary mobile and online technologies that extend access to information within the agency management system to producers via tablet devices, enabling them to service clients and prospects on-the-go, and to clients via online portals, allowing client policy and claims self-service.
For carrier-agency connectivity, Direct Bill Commission Reconciliation and Commercial Lines download are two examples of functions many agencies perform manually (at considerable payroll cost) when there are effective automated solutions. Automated Direct Bill Commission Reconciliation from carrier download can save many agencies up to 15% of their servicing payroll. Implementation and integration of these technologies can increase agency productivity and mobility, allowing agents to focus more time servicing clients and driving higher rates of business growth.
5. Leveraging data to achieve insight- driven actions
Property Casualty 360 says: “Agents need to apply basic analysis to current customer data and interactions to identify relationship building, cross selling and retention opportunities, Accenture claims.”
My technology advice: With the immense amounts of data agencies accumulate daily, insurance businesses’ agency executives are quickly and increasingly adopting new business intelligence (BI) strategies and product solutions needed to provide additional, data-driven visibility into their clients, prospects, internal operations and carrier relationships.
Agencies can leverage BI solutions to better understand “why something happened” – why one producer outselling another, why clients are based in a particular geography, and why one carrier is quoting more business than another, among other key business considerations – to make more informed business decisions. BI brings insights that will refine an agency’s decisions, permeate client, carrier and employee discussions, and ultimately create new business opportunities and more profitable relationships.
What are your thoughts on implementing new technologies? Do you feel technology can help your agency enhance its competitive value?
Michael Howe, senior vice president of product management, is responsible for the strategic direction of the Applied product portfolio. Howe joined Applied in 2013 with more than 20 years of experience in enterprise software. He formerly served as senior vice president of Marketing and Product Management at Aptean, a global provider of industry-focused enterprise software. Prior to Aptean, Howe held senior executive management positions at SAP and other leading software companies.
Top 3 Cloud Myths – What Does it Mean to You?
According to a new forecast from International Data Corporation (IDC), public IT cloud services spending will reach $56.6 billion by the end of 2014 and grow to more than $127 billion by 2018. While demand and spending for cloud services continues to trend upward, there still remains mystery and confusion surrounding the technology among some business and IT stakeholders.
Gartner recently highlighted some of the most discussed myths about the cloud, so I took a closer look at the top three myths that could potentially mislead your agency/brokerage.
The Cloud is Less Secure than On-Premises Capabilities
Gartner says: “Cloud computing is perceived as less secure. To date, there have been very few security breaches in the public cloud — most breaches continue to involve on-premises data center environments.”
Applied’s advice: In today’s more digitally connected world, maintaining security and access to critical business information is a top business priority. With a cloud system, your critical applications and data reside in a secure data center. Our data centers deliver redundancy for power and Internet access, and a physical infrastructure that offers greater protection from natural and man-made disasters and other unpredictable business interruptions. With 99.9% uptime, Applied data centers deliver both data security and business continuity. Most locally deployed environments do not have dedicated security professionals that are monitoring the health and safety of the data. Just having a firewall is no longer sufficient. It is necessary to maintain a comprehensive security program with multiple layers of defense and monitoring. Applied has this multi-layer approach and professionals that are looking out for the interest of all data that resides in the Applied Cloud.
The Cloud is Always About Money
Gartner says: “While it’s sometimes the case that the cloud always saves money, there are many other reasons cited for migrating to the cloud, the most common of which is for agility. Saving money may end up one of the benefits, but it should not be taken for granted.”
Applied’s advice: A cloud solution eliminates many requirements for hardware and software on premises and additional personnel to manage IT infrastructure. This frees up more time and money for core insurance activities like selling insurance. Additionally, your Internet-based applications and software update automatically with the cloud, so your business continually runs the latest applications without incurring delays or extra expenses that may be required with a manual updates. The cloud can deliver both cost savings and business agility.
Migrating to The Cloud Means You Automatically Get All Cloud Characteristics
Gartner says: “Cloud computing has unique attributes and characteristics. Gartner’s cloud attributes include scalability and elasticity; they use service-based (and self-service) Internet technologies; they are shared (and uniform) and metered by use. The most common use case for the cloud, however, is new applications.”
Applied’s advice: The flexibility of a cloud solution can be ideal for insurance agencies that need to scale their business quickly to meet changing needs such as a business acquisition or rapid growth. The cloud eliminates the additional time and expense it takes to add or integrate new IT capacity, including applications. Since applications are hosted remotely in data centers and accessible via the Internet, your agents, CSRs, producers and others can access complete client information – anywhere, anytime – enabling them to provide clients faster service with greater flexibility that can lead to higher productivity. With Applied Online, agencies and brokerages benefit from more deterministic pricing based on individual usage, providing static budgeting for agencies and brokerages that is difficult to determine in other cloud environments.
How are you embracing the cloud? Share your thoughts below.
Tim Sander, senior vice president of IT, Cloud Services, heads global IT operations for Applied’s Cloud Hosting and corporate IT services. He began his Applied career in 1987 as a systems technician and has held numerous technical leadership roles, helping Applied to evaluate and transition to new technologies. Today Sander is responsible for the company’s corporate IT services and oversees the operations of Applied’s four global data centers.