Can computers continue to make getting — and keeping — life and health insurance customers easier?
Just a century ago, the insurance industry overcame a major document management and customer relationship management problem – fire – by replacing wooden “pigeon hole” cabinets with steel file cabinets.
The industry moved from the era of steel cabinets and cardboard boxes full of customer contact cards to an era of contact centers, and computers that feed relevant information to contact center reps.
John Rowe, a regional sales consultant at TriNet, a professional employer organization, said he is happy with his Salesforce.com CRM installation, his Chatter text communication software, his tablet, his cell phone, and the many other tools now at his disposal. These days, most of the time, he can even see a prospect’s LinkedIn profile.
“You really have an excellent snapshot,” Rowe said. “I think it’s infinitely better than it used to be.” Better, yes. More options? You bet. GetApp, a software review site, lists 63 different insurance apps.
Companies with products that can help agents and brokers with CRM-related document management include Microsoft, Oracle and other software giants; Genesys and other telecommunication companies; Web-based services, such as Salesforce.com and Dropbox; sellers of more traditional CRM platforms, such as Saleslogix; SugarCRM, Zoho, Zurmo and other open-source CRM software specialists; and AgencyBloc, AgentRun, iPipeline and other companies that focus specifically on the insurance niche.
Some of the most sophisticated users of CRM-document management integration are life and health insurers. Life & Specialty Ventures, a joint company created by four Blue Cross and Blue Shield Carriers, wanted to get 12,000 dentists into its new dental network as quickly as possible. The venture used a Salesforce.com-SpringCM CRM-document management hybrid to enter the dental insurance market in less than six months.
Like the carriers, life and health producers need efficient CRM operations so consumers can continue to work with live human intermediaries, rather than filling insurance needs through the Web.
In addition to the usual financial data concerns, life and health agents face the need to comply with health privacy rules, to help consumers with complicated planning and insurance policy questions, to research and help with claim problems, and to manage interactions with Rube Goldberg commission systems.
In 2003, analysts at Gartner estimated that sales organizations had blown $2 billion on CRM software that no one had ever used. Today, a typical successful life or health producer may be using Salesforce.com or a similar system, along with Microsoft Outlook, Twitter, a Facebook page, and whatever phone game app has taken the place of Angry Birds.
But even enthusiastic CRM users still take written notes.
“I’ll never give up the pen and paper,” Rowe said. One of the major functions of an agent’s desktop computer may be to display a large collection of Post-It notes. For every nine Post-It notes about a need to pick up the dry cleaning, there may be a tenth with a customer’s new phone number.
Few producers have much cash to blow on CRM and document management systems. The economy is squeezing agencies’ customers, the Federal Reserve Board is squeezing life and annuity issuers, and the Obama administration is squeezing the health insurers. Traditionally, developers of software aimed at small businesses have focused on serving companies like retail stores and restaurants, which are outside the financial services sector, and stockbrokers and financial planners, which are inside the sector. Agents sometimes go on public message boards to complain about the difficulty of finding good, affordable systems that can help them see relevant customer documents when they are talking to customers on the phone.
Mark Stanley, a senior principal consultant at Genesys Telecommunications, a contact center technology company, said insurers and producers might have to go through a complicated process just to decide which entity handles which customer contacts, and which entity has access to what customer documents.
Technology continues to advance
In New York, for example, Google has a showroom it uses to help introduce beta users to its Google Glass wearable computer system. In other parts of the country, Google and competitors are building robots.
In the face of the financial obstacles, can life and health agents’ CRMs make their own leap forward?
Genesys thinks of itself as already being forward. It offers small and midsize businesses subscriptions to a family of Cloud-based CRM and document management services. Stanley said center systems can make sure that the people who are talking to consumers get the right information at the right time.
A modern contact center can retrieve extensive information about a caller by simply searching for information connected with the caller’s telephone number. The CRM system may start to retrieve records based on the assumption that a caller who’s recently bought a policy is calling with questions about the new policy, or that a caller who has moved is calling with questions about the change of address.
The information on the screen can reduce the rep’s need to ask basic questions and may immediately give the rep an idea of what kind of help the caller needs, Stanley said.
Can CRM technology advance any further? Stanley said one principle to keep in mind is that, for the most part, a call center is a call center.
“We all say, ‘We’re unique,’” Stanley said. “’We’re special.’” In the end, Stanley said, the people who call or e-mail a contact center have similar motives. “You want to talk to a person,” he said. “You’ve done all the stuff you can do yourself, and now you need someone’s help.”
The following are some ideas about how systems that link CRM and document management could evolve over the next 10 to 30 years.