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In today’s totally connected world, consumers expect immediate answers

One of the most annoying customer service issues facing carriers today is the rather mundane issue of timing. When policies and other documents are sent to insureds, they’re also sent to the agents who represent them, but due to the vagaries of the postal service, insureds sometimes receive the paper before their agents.

If they then have a question about the document and call the agent for an answer, the embarrassed agent has to say, “I don’t know. I haven’t received my copy yet.”

Consumers expect better than that in today’s connected world.

Consider the history of customer/agent communication: One hundred years ago, if insureds had questions about their policies, they would send letters to the company and be satisfied if they got an answer in the mail within a week. Fifty years ago, they would call the carrier, pose their question, and expect a call back that day.

Twenty years ago, they would expect their question to be answered while they were on the phone, although they’d understand if they had to be transferred or put on hold. Now, consumers expect the person who answers the phone to be able to access the information they need to answer the question.

How can carriers ensure that agents always have the relevant documents before their customers do? There are a couple of technology options that can deliver the goods on time.

Document Composition

Most carriers have a policy administration system that manages the information about customers and their coverage. These systems do a great job of keeping track of all the information about the policies, but they don’t always provide the kind of printed output the carrier requires. The carrier may want to alter the system’s output for any number of reasons:

o Print on both sides of the paper.

o Convert the output to something that can be run on a high-speed printer for large volumes.

o Add personalized marketing messages to their customer communications.

o Add charts or graphs to make statements easier to understand.

o Simply change the layout of the information.

The technology used to alter the output of policy administration and other back-office computer systems is called document composition software. It is a fairly new class of solutions that emerged from the confluence of several older, more established types of technology.

Document composition evolved from these by taking subsets of each of their functionalities and adding the ability to include specific information–unique to each document–on the fly.

In the case of the policy delivery process described above, imagine the carrier wants to insert a graph outlining the growth in the insured’s investment. The policy administration system obviously contains this information, but can only print plain-text versions of the data in a pre-defined format.

The carrier must use document composition software to alter the data coming off the policy administration system and create the document with the desired layout. Since every policyholder’s information will be different, each chart has to be created individually using data contained in the policy system output.

The document composition software performs all these tasks and automatically routes the completed pages to the appropriate printer. This takes care of the printed documents for the insureds, but what about the agents?

Enter The Internet

While the hard-copy policies are being printed for the customers, the same document composition software that created them can also be making other output formats. One example would be Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF), which is readable on any PC. The PDF versions of the insureds’ printed policies can be automatically e-mailed to the appropriate agents in a few seconds, so they’ll have exact facsimiles of the printed pages days earlier than the insureds.

Another output option would be HTML (Hypertext Mark-up Language–the format that Web sites use to display information). Once rendered in HTML, the document would be ready for presentation in an agents-only secure Web portal or extranet.

This way, nothing–neither paper nor electronic–has to be sent to the agent. When they need to see a copy of their customer’s policy, they can just log into the carrier’s portal and view it online, instantly.

Either one of these alternatives ensures that the agent has access to customers’ paperwork before the customers receive it in the mail. This improves the service they deliver and makes the customers happy. Happier customers mean happier agents, leading to increased agent retention rates.

Another benefit to the carrier is reduced document distribution costs, including paper, toner, handling and postage.

This simple solution to an annoying problem is available to carriers that have already invested in a document composition software package to create attractive printed output, presuming their software can accommodate the alternative output formats.

For those who have not required this type of software in the past, purchasing and installing it doesn’t have to be a huge commitment of time or money. No changes are needed to existing back office systems, so the installation is quick and non-disruptive.

Most document composition software can pay for itself in a few quarters, based simply on reducing printing costs. And that doesn’t even include the “soft” benefits of happier customers and well-informed agents.

Michel Chiasson is vice president of insurance sales at Whitehill Technologies Inc., based in Moncton, NB, Canada.

Caption, for shot of document being passed between two computer monitors:

Can insurers guarantee that agents always have relevant documents before their clients? There are tech products that can deliver the goods on time.