There's no question that mobile technologies can improve the performance of insurance companies.

A report by Frost & Sullivan (sponsored by Sprint), for example, outlines numerous benefits, but cautions that implementations will take time. While the report observes that the insurance sector has historically been quite conservative in adopting new technology,” mobile is an area that can be quickly adopted across the industry, enabling faster, higher-quality communications among customers, field agents and management.

Two key growth areas for mobile are improving the capabilities of field-service employees, and reaching out to and servicing customers. As the Frost & Sullivan report observes, the rise of tablet and iPad form factors is helping to address many of the frustrations seen by field-force employees.

“While smartphones have been popular with field employees, their small screens have been frustrating. Many crucial documents and forms are still too difficult to view on the smaller displays. However, tablets can satisfy the field agent’s demand for richer, more easily accessed information and functionality right on site. Weighing around one pound, being less than half an inch thick, and offering 7- to 10-inch touch screen displays, these devices are eminently portable—making them easy to take on the road and fire up in meetings and sales calls.”

Improving the mobile experience of customers, however is a different story, since insurers cannot control what size device they are using. CSC recently published some guidelines for managing the customer experience via mobile technologies—regardless of what they’re using.

Don’t confuse internal and external mobile strategies: “Just because your applications work for your claims adjusters in a crisis, that doesn’t mean they’ll be embraced by your policyholders and claimants,” says CSC. “Employees are captive users of your technology, while your customers are not. Ease-of-use and convenient self-service are must-haves or customers will simply not use your mobile app.”

Consider the perspectives and needs of each potential user: Whether it's a policyholder, an agent, a claimant or a prospective customer, it's important to “include features that make their lives easier, even if those features don’t actually have anything to do with your product,” CSC says. “For example, the ability to locate and contact the nearest mechanic if your car breaks down.”

Integrate with back-end systems: This has always been a challenge for distributed systems, and also weighs heavily in the mobile computing age. “Mobile users are more likely to use apps if you give them real-time, once-and-done service,” says CSC. “If a customer makes a payment through your online app, your customer service representatives should be able to verify it when the customer calls in to double-check.” The report cautions that integration can be complex, especially with complex legacy system environments. Adopt a service-oriented architecture approach to surface legacy applications as standardized services that can be employed into a mobile environment.

Know your customer segment: Different generations of customers have differing levels of comfort with technology, the report states. “If the insurance product you’re selling appeals mostly to senior citizens, the mobile channel may not be the best investment at this time. Conduct a customer segmentation analysis first, and if your market turns out to be mobile-savvy Gen Xers and Millennials, you can target your product features, functions and marketing materials to them.”

Support multiple platforms: There are iPhones, of course, but also BlackBerry devices, Nokia’s Symbian phone, Windows Mobile, Google’s Android or the Palm Pre. “Each environment is unique and cross device development standards do not yet exist. This means you’ll likely support multiple operating systems and coding requirements.”

Introduce services that add value: “Identify the services that add the most value over the mobile channel and harness the power of devices,” the report advises. For example, it states, “in addition to providing contact information for your agents, you could provide GPS directions to their office—or offer a live video chat with your agent from any location.”

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

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