Insurers have used customer relationship management (CRM) systems for years to gain greater insights into their clients' preferences, so they can better serve them and uncover new marketing and sales opportunities. But with ongoing changes in customer behavior, such as the growing use of the Internet, social media and mobile devices to gather information about services and policies, companies are having to re-evaluate their CRM systems and strategies to best respond to the shifts.

"The promise of CRM was to help companies get a better view into how their customers behaved, and to generate a unified customer view across lines of business and systems," says Craig Weber, SVP at Celent, a research and consulting firm. "Insurers that have thought these issues through over the past decade probably have in place many of the tools they need. But recent behavioral shifts, such as the exploding popularity of social media and mobility tools, have put more useful data in play. So re-evaluating the tools and data sources, and taking a fresh look at behaviors, makes sense."

There are some obvious benefits to this strategy, Weber says, such as easing the friction felt by consumers when their insurer doesn't make good use of available data. "For example, insurers should be smart enough to know that customer preferences for communication for one type of product might apply to other products the customer owns," he says.

There are also more subtle benefits, such as making fine-grained analytical thinking possible. For instance, by combining data about mobile website usage, bill payment behavior and social media transactions, "carriers might be able to target certain types of users with add-on product offers or niche services," Weber says. "Ultimately, it's all about making the customer comfortable and building a better relationship."

Crump Life Insurance Services, a wholesale distributor of life insurance, in 2010 entered into a partnership with systems integrator iPipeline to build a CRM tool using the Microsoft Dynamics platform.

The idea of the new CRM tool, called CrumpCRM, is to use technology and human resources to gain insight into the behavior of customers and the value the firm can deliver to those customers, says Sherri Lindenberg, SVP of marketing at Crump, whose team has worked closely with the IT and sales departments to implement the tool.

"With an effective [CRM] strategy, we can increase revenues by profiling our customers, understanding customer needs, leveraging our data to understand customer buying patterns, maximizing sales results, offering better customer service, cross selling products more effectively, retaining existing customers and managing the onboarding of new ones," Lindenberg says.

Prior to the launch of the current system, Crump had a third-party-developed legacy application that was no longer meeting its needs from a functionality and performance standpoint. Based on its integration capabilities and ability to leverage a suite of Microsoft tools, Crump selected Microsoft Dynamics. Internal technology teams worked closely with iPipeline and Crump sales and business units to determine requirements and specifications that would support the company's objectives, Lindenberg says.

One example of how Crump is using the new CRM tool is to capture customer data through a process the company calls profiling. "Profiling enables salespeople to document key attributes about customers, reaching beyond current and historical sales data to include preferences, hobbies, business structure, etc.," Lindenberg says. "Having deeper customer knowledge at their fingertips allows sales associates to better target their messages and offers to meet specific customer needs."

It also enables Crump to develop targeted campaigns to smaller groups of customers with higher potential interest, rather than mass marketing to "uninterested producers and burning our goodwill through message overload," Lindenberg says.

With the first phase of the CRM implementation behind it, Crump is looking to launch phase two and is building a list of deliverables for phase three.

"We're in the process of tweaking the system to meet our diverse business needs, within Crump Life Insurance Services as well as in our two sister company divisions, Crump Property & Casualty Insurance Services and Ascensus," Lindenberg says. "Along with added functionality, performance enhancement and system fixes, we'll be focusing on training and communications, to accelerate the user adoption rates and learning curve."

Organizational Use

Meadowbrook Insurance Group, a Southfield, Mich., property/casualty insurer, is also benefiting from its latest CRM efforts, launching initiatives in different parts of the organization. At the corporate level, it primarily uses ACT software from Sage North America to gather useful business information based on interactions with customers.

"The main purposes for our use of ACT is maintaining a database of industry contacts and logging [and] tracking of new business opportunities," says Phillip Gajewski, assistant VP of business development at Meadowbrook. The system allows the company to gather data that can lead to new clients or sales, and log and monitor these opportunities as they "evolve to their natural conclusion," Gajewski says.

The data includes individual's contact information, their affiliations with specific industry groups, areas of specialization and associated opportunities.

The CRM data tracking "is most likely invisible to the customer," Gajewski says. But the software contains "trigger functions" that let users of the system know when they need to review information, respond to queries, etc.

Gajewski says the "out of the box" templates provided with ACT have, for the most part, addressed any requirements the company has had for data gathering and tracking, so Meadowbrook has not had to alter the software much to meet changing customer needs and preferences. Conversely, at the field level the company is using CRM systems from and FrontRange Solutions, and these systems have been highly customized to particular divisions' business processes and goals, Gajewski says.

"In particular, GoldMine [from FrontRange Solutions] requires a high level of programming and setup to configure for specific business purposes," Gajewski says. "For example, we use GoldMine to track all members of association-endorsed programs to capture expiration dates of current policies and to run marketing campaigns to select groups."

Meadowbrook foresees a potential need to deploy its ACT CRM system at the mobile platform level, either via smart phones or tablet devices. This will enable mobile workers at the company to access CRM data from the road.

"When I meet a contact at an industry function, rather than writing a note on the back of a business card and waiting [until] I return from a trip to log into our CRM, I could do it on the fly," Gajewski says. He could also have the database accessible via a handheld device, so could look up needed information from the road.

"With more than 3,000 contacts in our corporate database, and 50-plus current opportunities at any given time, there's no way I can remember everything, everywhere," Gajewski says.

A Necessity

Even companies that have only recently launched CRM strategies are considering how to adapt their systems to keep up with change.

Midwest Health Plan, a health insurer in Dearborn, Mich., began using CRM when it launched a sales department in September 2011 in response to the new Health Care Reform Act.

The company uses a CRM system from Insurance Dialogue, a division of Dialogue Marketing, to track marketing campaign efforts such as mailers and TV and radio advertising. With the system, "we can capture call complaints and other client issues, and receive a daily report on what was and was not working to allow [us] to adjust our strategies accordingly," says Sal Faycurry, director of sales and community relations at Midwest.

The company's long-term plan is to evolve the sales department into more of a "retention department," Faycurry says, since the State of Michigan has begun auto-assigning all clients that have Medicaid and Medicare in the state to the four participating health plans.

"Sales will become secondary to retention because clients will be assigned to us automatically," Faycurry says. "The key at that point would be to retain and attempt to enroll those that are aging into Medicare or want to switch plans."

As the shift occurs, Midwest will tweak the components of the CRM system. The data that would need to be captured by the system would include information regarding case management, certain chronic conditions a client might have, how often the company needs to contact an individual, the best time to contact, etc.

Through use of the CRM system and Dialogue Marketing's "customer intimacy strategy," which enables communication with policyholders through their preferred method of contact, Midwest has already seen a 40-percent decrease in customer attrition, Faycurry says. "We were targeted with 500 new applications by the end of the year [and] we are currently at 647 new applications for the year," he says.

To get even more out of CRM systems, Weber of Celent thinks insurers can learn lessons from other industries in which the consumer has been more of a focus.

"For example, consumer behaviors have been analyzed closely in the telecommunications, online retail and consumer products industries," Weber says. "By taking some of that discipline on, carriers can learn a lot about their customers and position products and services more effectively."

Bob Violino is a business editor and writer based in New York.

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