Consumer satisfaction with the P&C insurance industry increased by a mere 1% last year, according the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI)--a survey to monitor customer satisfaction levels in various industries. Overall, satisfaction with the P&C industry has declined nearly 5% since 1994--the first year of the survey produced by the University of Michigan.Insurance carriers face a unique challenge with customer communications because they depend on so many different channels. Unlike other service providers, such as banks or telephone companies, carriers don't own every interaction with the customer. Independent agents and third-party administrators are often the main point of contact, slowing down the transfer of information.

WAYS TO ADDRESS CHALLENGES

There are, however, ways to address these challenges. One of the technologies gaining traction in the insurance industry is business process integration (BPI). BPI software can tie together disparate systems and automate manual processes, thereby improving communication between carriers, agents and customers.

Usually, the first experience a customer has with a carrier is requesting a quote-often done through agent channels. Agents are more likely to request quotes from carriers who make the process easy and quick. They prefer to work within their own agency management systems, rather than having to log on to half a dozen carrier Web portals.

There are services--such as IVANS from Old Greenwich, Conn.-based IVANS Inc.--that allow producers to request quotes directly from their agency management systems, but the shared nature of these services also makes it easier to get quotes from competitors. Carriers are reluctant to pay for such services when they could potentially result in agent defection.

A BPI solution builds direct connections between agency management systems and the carrier's back-end systems, yet the technology facilitating this transfer is owned and managed completely by the carrier. Standards-based technologies, such as ACORD-XML and Java, allow for easy exchange of data between the carrier and the agency.

Producers can upload or download data from the carrier without ever leaving their agency management systems. This makes processing easier and speeds up response times.

Another example is underwriting. The component pieces of issuing a policy often reside in disparate systems and must be assembled according to the needs of the recipient. For example, a customer's policy may include a confidential medical report.

AUTOMATING COMPLEXITY

The agent, who also needs a copy of the policy, will not receive this report. The documents themselves may be in any number of formats (PDF, TIFF, text, etc.), and the final package may also include marketing materials tailored to the client's age or income. Complex document packages like these are often assembled manually, a time-consuming process prone to human error.

BPI software automatically selects the appropriate components, regardless of format or storage location, and assembles them according to the intended audience. Cost and errors are dramatically reduced, and the customer receives the policy much more quickly.

With regular and ad-hoc communications, such as renewal reminders or claims responses, carriers must make sure all communications comply with industry regulations, internal business rules and a high level of professionalism and consistency. All correspondence must go through an approval process before it is sent to the customer.

BPI connectors configure a browser-based front end, which enables employees to call up a document template then tailor the template to the specific context.

Once composed, the correspondence is automatically routed through an approval process via e-mail or corporate intranet. In this way, carriers can leverage existing content for consistency and eliminate the risk of inappropriate communications.

The upshot is that even complex, legally sensitive communications with customers can be automated. By implementing a BPI solution, carriers can improve communications with both agents and customers, write more business, improve customer satisfaction and retention levels, and gain a competitive advantage.

Paul McSpurren is president & CEO of Whitehill Technologies Inc., Moncton, New Brunswick.

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