Adding metrics to customer touch points results in agency's ability to increase first-call closes and improve overall sales.
Insurance.com is an INNovators Award Winner runner-up, chosen for its approach to improving its quoting process.
Actuarial activities aside, insurers in the midst of trying to improve market share don't typically incorporate strategies that include the scientific testing of theories. Time and resources are of the essence, forcing most companies to take a less calculated, full-speed-ahead approach to driving sales.
Insurance.com, the Solon, Ohio, provider of personal lines insurance, may be an exception. With a mission that calls for operational excellence, the company has grown to employ 270 people and log more than $750 million in gross written premiums. Representing 15 major carriers, this year the company passed the half-million mark in policies sold.
The agency's growth has been calculated, but not without challenges. With a business model not unlike that of some of the larger carriers it represents, Insurance.com uses a Web-based approach to attract and retain new business. Personal lines auto customers and potential customers access the site, fill out certain information and culminate the transaction in the company's Sales Center with an Insurance.com call center representative or online.
Not surprisingly, the company's approach to measuring growth, and growth potential, includes a number of factors-one of the more obvious being the impact of call center drop-offs.
"The goal is to bring the customer into the Sales Center call, quickly and accurately close the sale, reduce drop off and agent talk time, while continuing to deliver a positive user experience," says Dave Roush, CEO of Insurance.com.
The challenge, however, was in dealing with multiple-call sales and fewer finalized sales.
"Clients would often begin the quote process without critical information, such as drivers' license numbers and vehicle identification numbers (VIN)," recalls Roush. "This meant that follow-up calls were necessary to gather data, resulting in increased touches per sale, inflated cost per sale and deteriorating bind and conversion rates."
Since many consumers typically do not have that information within reach, it often required a follow-up call by the consumer or sales representative.
"Additional calls lead to higher sale costs. Multiple calls also introduce the risk of consumer drop-off," says Sam Belden, Insurance.com's director of carrier performance.
Roush tasked IT director Joe Singleton to come up with a solution. At first blush, Singleton knew his team would need to take a measured approach.
"Historically, we've applied a scientific approach to most of our issues," he says. "It's about being in uncharted waters. Insurance is a dynamic place, and when dealing with consumers, even solid, common sense assumptions don't always pan out and you risk experiencing bad results."
Singleton points out that the initial catalyst was to shorten the interview. "When you are dealing with many carriers, you need the least common denominator on your question set. We knew we needed to prefill the app and make it streamlined."
That meant finding a solutions provider that could make that prefill data available. After a review that included the checking the firm's data quality, platform compatibility, references and track record, Insurance.com chose Acxiom Corp., Little Rock, Ark. Then the team went about devising a proof-of-concept.
In the proof-of-concept, Insurance.com Sales Center employees asked prospects for permission to pull driver's license and VIN. Upon approval by the prospect, the Sales Center representative simply input the prospect's name and address into a standardized data request/ response interface. In less than a second, Acxiom's Pre-Fill solution verified the prospect's name and address and the availability of state data.
In addition, Acxiom returned a listing of the prospect's vehicles, VIN and driver's license numbers to the agent's desktop.
The goal was to validate consumer acceptance, data validity and touch-reduction assumptions. For the purpose of testing, the Sales Center was divided into three groups:
1. Reactive Group-Used the Acxiom data to supplement a customer's known data. Agents only ordered data that the customer did not provide. For example, if a customer had two vehicles, but could only provide one VIN, the agent would order Acxiom data to pull the VIN for the second car.
2. Assumptive Group-Used Acxiom data to pre-fill as much customer data as possible. This group ordered all data needed, without first requesting it from the customer.
3. Control Group-Conducted business as usual, without the aid of Acxiom data.
"In setting up our control groups and tracking their progress, we made sure the data was clean, and that everyone approached the consumer the same way," Singleton says. "Then we compared-apples to apples-touches per sale, talk time and other key metrics."
Results were tracked on a weekly basis, and reviewed by group and by state. Insurance.com analyzed hits/no hits, single-call closes, touches per sale and usefulness. After a 90-day pilot, the Assumptive Group obtained the best results.
Specifically, the Assumptive Group's results included: 50% fewer touches per sale; 6% lift in Sales Center conversion; 4% lift in first-call closes.
During the pilot, special attention was paid to consumer response to privacy issues. This included gaining the approval of customers to access their vehicle and driver's license information, as well as following the myriad state laws with respect to this information. In addition, the data had to be presented in a way that met customers' approval.
Due to legal issues, the company decided to test the technology only with Sales Center processes-not with online inquiries.
"Surprisingly, customers were not alarmed by readily available data," recalls Singleton. "In fact, they were thrilled that agents were able to quickly look up their information and appreciated the ability to complete the transaction with only one call."
Singleton reports that complete implementation, including the 90-day pilot, was achieved within four months, and with no downtime issues.
The increase in conversion will contribute close to 3% of the Insurance.com total sales target in 2007, confirms Belden. "When you consider our volume, this is a significant amount of policies that can be attributed to just one project. The reduction in touches per sale and increase in first-call closes allows us to fill that capacity with other sources of business, thus increasing the total amount of policies sold."
Future plans call for Insurance.com to implement the same pilot on their Web site, with the same practical, systematic, start-to-finish method of selecting, designing and implementing IT metrics.
"We'd like to approach the consumer through the Internet," says Singleton. "We'll take the same approach, create a pilot, take into account consumer feedback and measure the results."
Editor's Note: The company's CEO, Dave Roush, earned New York-based Ernst & Young's 2007 Northeast Ohio Entrepreneur of the Year award in the emerging business category. The award recognized entrepreneurs and company founders who organize, manage and assume the risks of a business or enterprise early in the company's life or development and are still active in the leadership of the company.
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