Many insurance e-business experts agree that establishing a single source of customer data is a key to making customer relationship management (CRM) succeed. A single source of data produces a unified customer view across the enterprise, in turn enabling insurers to generate a clear and concise profile of customers.Once established, insurers can confidently proceed to configure customer needs profiles, such as realizing specific and changing needs within a mutual fund portfolio. Using analytics, insurers can separate their customers into demographic "buckets" from which they can determine specific needs.

While configuring new products for customers is a priority, basic customer service activities performed within CRM can't be overlooked. Industry solutions providers say that how well, or poorly, insurers perform in this space can make or break a relationship.

From a customer service standpoint, many insurers-lacking a single source of customer information from which to operate-have found it a challenge to provide what's known as real-time event notification. Event notification enables companies to respond to customer events in real-time, such as life changes and relationship events.

Realizing the relevance of event notification, Atlanta-based DWL Inc., a provider of enterprise business services software, upgraded earlier this year its DWL Customer solution. Based on a "services-oriented architecture" and built on J2EE standards, DWL Customer is an enterprise customer hub for real-time customer management.

"Few organizations are able to easily inject real-time event notifications because they are not generating the information from a single source of customer information," says Bruce McPherson, vice president, strategy and product management, DWL. "Event notification is relevant for all financial services companies and being able to execute on customer events, such as life event changes, relationship events or customer-product events, is integral to a customer-centric operational model."

DWL Customer works by recognizing customer events, and transmits event notifications to various applications to trigger critical enterprise customer processes, such as cross selling across lines of business, explains McPherson. DWL's hub maintains centralized customer knowledge and transactions as well as the business rules that govern customer events and communications with other systems.

Insurers have a long way to go before they master the single-source mandate that they'll need to compete in an ever-changing financial services marketplace. Many gaps still remain in place. Ron Young, general manager, Siebel Insurance, Siebel Systems Inc., a San Mateo, Calif.-based provider of multichannel e-business applications software, explains that the root of this deficiency occurs often when sales and service divisions within a financial services provider are not joined. "It's a matter of blending these environments together-the processes feed each other," Young explains.

Young told of a customer based in Asia that began deploying Siebel's CRM solution from a customer contact center. Prior to the implementation, the customer had struggled mightily to get a handle on the tendencies of their own policyholders.

"A customer with a life contract might place multiple calls to a call center over the course of a year inquiring about policy surrender value," Young says. "There's a critical mass where after so many of these calls, a CSR should recognize these inquiries as a red flag for policy surrender.

"An effective CRM program that links service with sales and marketing would be able to feed this data to the sales organization, which in turn could make an attempt to salvage the account. Maybe the agent or producer could offer the customer a better alternative to surrendering, such as a policy loan option. But this scenario won't occur if sales and service are not joined," he adds.

As CRM solutions evolve, there are other pressing matters that insurers will have to consider. As insurers create single views of customers, they will also have to answer to data privacy and security requirements.

In response, DWL developed what's known as rules of visibility (ROV) and transaction security functions within DWL Customer. ROV helps enforce privacy and security for customer data within the enterprise hub and across multiple channels and systems. Unlike user interface or transaction-driven security models, ROV governs users' permission to access specific customer data attributes and filters inaccessible data from the transaction response. This increases productivity while enforcing security and privacy by guaranteeing transactions won't be interrupted due to the users' inability to access specific customer data.

ROV also enables financial service providers to enforce privacy rules in one location, the customer hub, negating the effort of re-coding those rules into each system and ensuring more consistent organization compliance to the customers' privacy preferences.

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