New CRM Products Offer Better Integration, Synchronization
Despite the tantalizing potential of customer relationship management (CRM) systems, many insurance industry participants say implementing CRM products is still fraught with pitfalls, with such hurdles as high price tags and often-lengthy integration times.
But in the past year, technology companies have been introducing a slew of new and upgraded products aimed at making it easier for clients to implement a CRM strategy more effectively and helping them to know their customers better. The following are some of the recently introduced CRM offerings designed to meet the specific needs of the insurance industry.
PeopleSoft CRM. After its 2002 release of CRM version 8.8, a product designed exclusively for insurance carriers and agencies, the Pleasanton, Calif.-based PeopleSoft has introduced a number of upgrades and enhancements in the past year.
“Our version 8.8 was one of our biggest releases for our CRM, and last year, we followed that with new products,” says Rohit Bedi, director of product marketing for PeopleSoft CRM. One upgrade comes from the “predictive analytics” area. “Essentially, what this enhancement allows our clients to do is to look at their customer base and based on the information that they have about their customers, they can build models for predicting behavior of customers,” explains Bedi.
PeopleSoft notes that this is an especially useful tool for insurance companies, where there are big customer bases and intense competition. “You want to be able to predict your customers behavior, and, based on that prediction, you can implement the right strategies for appropriate customer segments,” Bedi says.
The company also has started offering another upgrade called Process Integration Packs. “When you look at the CRM industry, in general, and organizations that deploy CRM, its often found that they might have Oracle or SAP back-office systems for order management, service request materials authorization and service fulfillment,” Bedi observes. He notes that this upgrade is an attempt by PeopleSoft to help clients avoid high costs of integration by providing a pre-built, out-of-the-box solution that allows PeopleSoft CRM to be deployed seamlessly with some of these back-office systems. “Once you have these process integration packs, now you might have SAP or Oracle back office, but you can deploy PeopleSoft CRM on top of that, and you dont have to pay for a big integration cost,” he explains.
In 2003, PeopleSoft CRM also released enhanced functionality to address the Federal Trade Commissions “Do Not Call Registry” requirements. This includes a customer preference tracking feature, which makes it easier for marketing departments to comply with the FTCs legislation. It also offers a “quick-customer-create” feature, allowing call-center agents to create a new customer record when opening an e-mail inquiry.
Another new enhancement, called PeopleSoft Infosync Server, offers automatic, server-to-server synchronization between PeopleSoft CRM and Microsoft Outlook and IBM Lotus Notes servers. The company says it is the first CRM vendor to deliver bi-directional, server-side synchronization, which removes the need for the client to load separate synchronization software.
“This can be especially useful in the insurance industry where you have a lot of salespeople. There is a lot of information today that is stored in personal information management systems, such as the Outlook e-mail system and Lotus,” Bedi says. “There was a big request from our customer base that we provide a solution that really allows our customers to easily synchronize data seamlessly between the CRM system and personal information management systems, and Infosync technology allows that.”
All PeopleSoft CRM products are based on Internet architecture, so they can be hosted and managed through PeopleSoft Hosting or through its partner application service providers, the company says. The implementation for PeopleSoft CRM can take 4 weeks or more. The company also offers full training and consulting services, as well as product upgrades and support hotlines.
PeopleSoft declined to provide pricing information.
SmartOffice by E-Z Data Inc. This Pasadena, Calif.-based tech company unveiled its Web-based SmartOffice software solutions in November 2003. SmartOffice, formerly known as Enterprise CRM Platform, is now offered in 3 separate versions to better meet varying business and technological needs of insurance and other financial services professionals, E-Z Data says.
“From agents and advisors, to distributor agencies and brokerages, to the home office, SmartOffice solutions can help streamline operations, improve customer relationships, and increase top-line revenue,” says Darren Peterson, vice president of marketing at E-Z Data. SmartOffice offers contact, calendar, marketing and customer-service features, he explains. In addition, it features more insurance-targeted features, such as support for multi-carrier insurance products, investment tracking, commission/compliance tracking and new business/pending case processing.
One version of the E-Z Data software solutions is called SmartOffice Online, and is designed for agents, advisors and other smaller financial services businesses. This option, Peterson notes, is for organizations looking to “get up and running fast, with minimal cost and headache.” Both hardware and software are maintained in E-Z Datas data center for “any time, anywhere” access to clients applications and data.
“Fully hosted in our secure data center, SmartOffice Online offers practice and agency management, without the burden or cost of managing software and servers,” Peterson explains. “Clients can access their data anywhere, any time, using a Web browser and an Internet connection.” SmartOffice Online pricing starts from $30 per month on a subscription basis.
E-Z Data also offers a version of SmartOffice for small- to medium-sized businesses and for divisions of larger enterprises. This is a Web-based software product deployed in the customers environment, the company says. With a standard database and various insurance industry-specific features, clients can get this product in a package that is easy to install and built to scale for growing business.
Another version, called SmartOffice Enterprise, is geared toward larger organizations looking to deploy CRM across several departments. “SmartOffice Enterprise is built to meet the needs of Global 1000 insurance, banking and financial services institutions–it drives the effectiveness of all distribution channels, enabling career agents and advisors, wholesalers and brokerages to orchestrate their efforts using a single, integrated platform,” Peterson says.
Pricing for both of these version starts at $699 per seat but can vary with volume, the company says.
While SmartOffice Online is accessible to anyone using Microsoft Internet Explorer, the other 2 versions require Web server and database server licenses. They support Microsoft and Unix-based Web servers and a number of database servers including Oracle, Sybase and UDB.