Having instant access to virtually everything, whenever and wherever has led to important changes in the way insurers interact with customers. Mike Hillman, managing partner at Three Rivers Insurance, an independent agency serving Iowa for 30 years, spoke with INN about how the company is responding to the always-on mentality and the cloud-based technology it implemented for employees, agents and customers in an effort to exceed expectations and shorten sales cycles.

INN: What are the biggest changes you've seen in the industry over the past decade?

MH: The biggest overall shift is the change in customer expectations. With mobile devices, consumers have come to expect close to instant access to just-about everything, whenever and where ever they wish.

Customers expect speediness and excellent service from every company, including insurance companies, and may drop you if either is lacking. They expect quicker turnaround on new business quotes, for example. They used to wait a month, and that was standard. Now, they expect insurers to turn around a quote in less than a week, and sometimes in less than a day.

INN: How has Three Rivers changed to meet the customer expectations?

MH: We've invested in technology to increasing productivity, speed and efficiency. This means investing in technology that's aligned with mobile access and training our agents to adapt and adopt it, too.

A lot has changed since we officially opened the doors to our agency in 1989. Together with our carriers, we are now offering customers Web-based access to their insurance policies, so they can view their accounts, pay bills and review coverage information from their computers or smartphones.

INN: What's the most important technological shift your company has made over the past decade?

MH: We've started digitizing our office and work processes to keep up with consumers' expectations. We also began using a cloud-based document management solution, HP Flow CM Professional, and it's changed the way our office works.

We leverage the cloud to store and organize documents and publish links to large files for prospective customers to access. This enables us to collaborate with customers and between our four offices. Even if we're in the field, we can access quotes using a mobile device and then have the quote edited, sent or shared with an underwriter.

Our ability to quote coverage and communicate with clients to present these quotes has really improved. Rating and communication with underwriters used to be done on paper and faxed, mailed or e-mailed. There were more steps, and they took more time.

Now we submit them through portals with our carriers or via PDFs and e-mail. Adopting the cloud into our everyday tasks enables us to increase employee productivity by offering access to documents from anywhere.

INN: How have customer communication and distribution methods changed with the technology you've implemented?

MH: We use different distribution channels to meet the needs of our existing clients and build relationships with potential customers.

Most of our business customers prefer electronic methods of communication, whereas personal insurance customers tend to favor hard copies. We also distribute marketing materials via newsletters, updates on Facebook and posts on LinkedIn. Team members access and refer back to messaging from anywhere once it has been uploaded to the cloud, which then can be dispersed to customers based on their preferences.

INN: How do you think Three Rivers Insurance's story is relevant to other insurers?

MH: The vast majority of insurance businesses are small-to medium-sized businesses, like Three Rivers Insurance, and we've all been tasked with meeting escalating consumer needs and expectations that have been established by much larger companies with extensive budgets.

To compete, we've adopted some of the same technology, but as the insurance landscape continues to evolve, we have to begin to anticipate changes in consumer expectations and adapt this technology to their needs.

INN: How are customer expectations likely to change, and what should insurers do to meet them?

MH: Mobility will continue to play a bigger role in consumer interactions and how we produce quotes; and being able to capture information while meeting with clients and having access to documents through mobile will continue to be important. Customers want to make buying decisions on their own schedules, not ours.

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