Supporting its more than 12,000 exclusive agents is at the heart of Farmers Insurance Group's CRM initiatives. The centerpiece of this strategy is a branded program called Agency Dashboard, which enables agents to obtain ongoing insights on policyholders' needs.When Farmers agents log onto the secure intranet site, located at www.eagantfarmersinsurance.com, they must key in a user name and password and then are connected to a personalized Web portal that provides real-time data and policy activity of their entire book of business.

From this portal, Farmers agents access relevant customer data across six main insurance segments: personal, business, life, financial, value-added and specialty insurance. More specifically, they're able to view all insurance quotes that have been saved within a specific line of business. They can also access relevant data broken down by specific category of activity: quote new household; quote new line of business/existing household; and quote new application/existing household.

Another key feature of Dashboard is that agents can click a button called My Alerts, which notifies agents of customer policy activity. Separated into six categories, agents can click on urgent messages, policies that have been cancelled, pending cancellations, new business leads and policy renewals.

Another button, called My Stats at a Glance, provides agents with customer data at their fingertips, such as policies in force, sales count, life policies issued and paid, auto dollar gain loss and fire dollar gain loss. The Dashboard also provides daily news briefs that apprise agents of insurance news that could have a bearing on their sales strategies.

Farmers executives realize that even the most astute agent can get distracted when viewing Web pages with a lot of links and content. So Farmers developed a color-coded alert button that continuously changes hues based on customer account developments. For instance, if an agent's customer files a claim, a red triangle will flash. While the alert feature may simply be designed to alert agents of the claim, agents might want to follow up with a customer, particularly if the claim involves a significant loss.

Although Farmers makes certain that CRM-related efforts always flow through agents, the provider also realizes that a key staple of CRM is enabling customers to perform tasks independently online, without agent or call center intervention. That's why Farmers began testing a customer self-service program for policyholders. Currently being tested in Oregon and Washington, customers can log onto www.farmersinsurance.com to make real-time policy modifications (change of address, beneficiary change, etc.). Basic policy changes are updated in real-time, while claim-status inquiries are updated within Farmers policy management system every 30 minutes, says Riko Metzroth, vice president, business and technology integration, at Los Angeles-based Farmers.

Eventually, Farmers hopes to expand the customer self-service program nationwide.

In providing this service directly to customers, Farmers realizes though that even the best-intended plans connected with CRM must be carefully considered. Giving customers a self-service option is good for them, but might concern agents who view it as an encroachment on their customer territory.

"When the Web began to expand, many agents feared that insurers would sell directly to customers, thus bypassing the agent," says Metzroth. "We worked hard to assure agents that wouldn't happen. Now, with customer self-service it's the same thing." To assuage its agents, Farmers keeps all its exclusive agents in the loop on any customer self-service activities undertaken, automatically updating the activity within each agent's Dashboard.

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