Optimizing Sales and Service in Insurance

Insurers with a holistic view of their customers can offer products and services that they actually need. Amber Stokes explores how Microsoft Dynamics CRM can help them to achieve this
Net new premium is hard to come by in mature markets and insurance product penetration is high, meaning the drive for organic growth is imperative today. Insurers are therefore under increasing pressure to better serve their existing customers to avoid attrition, while identifying the next best product to up-sell and cross-sell.
As Tony Jacob, managing director of worldwide insurance at Microsoft explains: “Economic situations can also have an adverse effect on the sales of some discretionary products. This is particularly the case with life insurance or wealth management products. The challenge for carriers is to find a way to keep hold of their existing customers and to then make them more profitable.”
Achieving organic growth from the existing base of policy holders requires a sharp focus on customer service and a commitment to creating an environment in which it is easy to do business for both customers and agents or brokers.
“Carriers must provide their agents with the data they need to effectively market and sell to their prospect base, which could be based on geography, speciality or both,” explains Tap Haley, director of insurance solutions at customer relationship management (CRM) firm Customer Effective. “Carriers must have the data organised and readily available to share with their agents. And the mobile world we now live in demands that this data be delivered on a variety of devices, including smartphones and tablets.”
But it is often a challenge for insurance carriers to gain true insight from this data. In many cases, insurers create a new customer information file (CIF) every time a customer purchases a new product, and those files are stored on disparate systems. This can hinder carriers from truly knowing their customers, marketing to them effectively, serving their needs efficiently and helping their producers identify the next best insurance product to offer.
“Carriers have to aggregate customer information so that they have a single view of the customer,” Jacob explains. “From that single view, they can identify the next best product for the customer. Rather than get that single view with expensive and risky core system modernisation, carriers are working with us to use the CRM database as the customer database of record. They overlay or wrap their older core systems with CRM and aggregate the customer data in the more modern database.”
By doing this, the CRM database becomes the customer database of record, the activities and updates occur in the CRM system and the core systems are isolated to what they do best – maintain the policies. “This is effective because carriers can modernise toward the single customer view without tackling the expensive, risky legacy systems,” Jacob explains.
Haley says that more organisations recognise that they need to gain a more holistic view of their end customers, but aren’t making the best use of their customer relationship management systems to be able to do this. “The need for a ‘360-degree view’ of the customer is perhaps the most overused term in the industry. Nonetheless, the lack of a 360-degree view continues to be the Achilles heel of an effective CRM solution,” says Haley. “Policy administration and claims systems are typically focused on the policy itself as opposed to the individual behind it. Policies don’t have preferences, social tendencies or households – people do.”
Once carriers have aggregated the CIFs, the data volume can sometimes be very significant, but carriers have new options with Microsoft for data warehousing at commodity hardware and commercial software price points, Jacob says. They can also combine their newly aggregated customer data with social media data and insight from other channels to provide better customer service, identify new product opportunities, better identify risk and better inform marketing strategies and programmes. “This method also allows for ‘house holding’, which is very useful for carriers wanting to upsell more effectively,” says Jacob. “For instance, an agent could use their customer insight to see the life milestones of not only the core policy holders, but also the other family members, like the child who reaches driving age for instance and offer them relevant insurance products. By having a holistic view of the primary policy holder and the entire household, agents and carriers can build lifelong and profitable relationship with all family members.”
Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which can be deployed on premise or as a cloud offering, is a real differentiator in this space. The architecture allows for two-way data integration, which is essential for using customer insight for more effective selling and customer service. “This means carriers can aggregate the data from their legacy systems and share it back again across all channels,” says Jacob. “We wanted to allow our customers to own the data and have the ability to support two-way data integration so that all channels can benefit from it.”
Microsoft partner Customer Effective helps insurance companies reverse traditional ways of managing customers as policies, and leverages Microsoft Dynamics CRM to aggregate all policy data tied to an individual or company. “By doing so, insurance companies can see the holistic view of their customer, which enables better customer segmentation, improves marketing effectiveness, increases cross-selling capabilities and enhances customer service,” says Haley. “Dynamics CRM is the aggregator of disparate customer information sources enabling carriers to communicate more effectively with agents and carriers to communicate more effectively with customers.”
Customer Effective provides its Agent Portal Framework, which is a purpose-built solution allowing agents to access customer data from any device, helping them to stay ahead of customer service issues and other important data points that ensures customer retention.
Another differentiator for Microsoft Dynamics CRM is the mobile-first approach Microsoft has taken with the application itself. “We’ve designed the latest edition – Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 – to have a great mobile user interface through Windows 8, allowing us to bring all the capabilities of CRM into a mobile application and on a secure mobile device,” says Jacob. “It offers the same ease of use and level of insight but also links to telephony, portals, and internal and external social media feeds to enable the agent to view the one conversation history occurring with the customer across all channels, find the product information or expert they need to close their business, and ultimately better serve or sell to the customer from any location.”
Girish Phadke, head of Microsoft Centre of Excellence at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), believes that this kind of mobile-first approach is important to the success of the industry. “Agents need to have the latest and most updated information, including leads, contact details and products, when communicating with customers. Without it, they can’t sell products effectively. Adding and updating lead records in real time through a mobile device will result in faster lead distribution and follow up processes.”
TCS has developed a Windows 8 app as part of its insurance CRM solution that integrates with Microsoft Dynamics CRM and provides agents comprehensive insight into potential leads. Through using this app, agents can instil confidence in their customers and consequently increase loyalty and sales. “TCS chose to base its solution on Dynamics CRM 2013 because of its superior process-driven user experience, choice of deployment options, rich functionality and highly-scalable architecture,” Phadke explains.
Dynamics CRM is also helping carriers improve their distribution relationship management (DRM). “When carriers have captive agents, they’re concerned about the productivity of their agents and their sales performance. They want to know how well the agents are serving their customers, what their touch points are, how often they’re talking to their customers and how well they’re supported in their conversations with customers,” says Jacob. “Dynamics CRM provides that layer of business insight on sales performance, new business rates and agent productivity, which is a powerful combination. Microsoft Dynamics CRM is not only a powerful tool for the agents, but for the agent’s managers too.”
Carriers want to make it as easy as possible for their independent agents to do business. If a carrier therefore helps agents by providing new leads and useful customer insight, it is more likely to earn agent loyalty and achieve greater financial gains. “So from a DRM standpoint, we deliver Microsoft Dynamics CRM to agent and broker managers for them to leverage customer insight and leads that they have from marketing campaigns or queries from customers, and push that information out to agents to help them close new business or better serve their existing customers,” says Jacob.
“DRM is not the only way CRM is used at the hub,” explains Jacob. “The call centre is really important because it’s a frequent touch point for customers, too. Carriers have to ensure that the customer experience is positive,” says Jacob. “It also is a less expensive channel than the agents themselves, so carriers want to leverage it as a sales channel.”
Barry Givens, director of product management at Avanade suggests that because customers today are more informed than ever, they are undertaking a lot more on a self-service basis and often don’t get through to the contact centre agents until they encounter more complex issues. “Because customers have done more self-service before reaching the agent, their expectation is that the agent has a full view of the customer and will therefore have a higher skill level for handling the enquiry,” explains Givens. “This means agents need to have much more expertise, which impacts training and readiness and also means ‘level one’ agents need to be more empowered with information, solutions and the ability to resolve issues without making the customer wait for escalation to ‘level two.’”
Microsoft’s Jacob says that call centres are marked typically with old technologies that don’t give call centre reps the full view of the customer they need in order to provide good quality service and sales support. Dynamics CRM can be used for call centre modernisation where carriers can take all their legacy call centre applications – such as the phone queuing system, workplace management applications and the billing system – and use those systems within the CRM application instead. By doing so, carriers can integrate their legacy call centre applications ‘at the glass’, says Jacob, making the call centres a lot more efficient.
Avanade offers insurance organisations Avanade CRM for Contact Centre which, according to Givens, helps to increase agent engagement, productivity, efficiency and consistency. The solution reduces call handling time by creating more effective customer interactions. This is thanks to Microsoft Customer Care Accelerator (CCA) which acts as the foundation to the unified desktop. CCA integrates data from multiple sources and provide agents with a 360-degree customer view. “Avanade CRM for Contact Centre also cuts call resolution time by providing seamless access to find, retrieve and update information in all the right places,” says Givens. “It also allows agents to share knowledge across service teams and provide a more consistent customer experience. This can be anything from sharing calls and call logs for training purposes through to contacting experts about specific customer issues.”
The Avanade CRM for Contact Centre solution is built on Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 and so, with its familiar look and style, Givens says that training times are shortened for new employees and it has reduced operating costs due to faster speed to productivity.
Jacob emphasises that when insurance organisations achieve a full view of their customer, they are more able to serve the customer’s needs. “If they get it right, insurance organisations aren’t selling customers’ products any longer,” concludes Jacob. “Instead, they’re having a needs conversation. How can the agent or call centre rep help the customer with their need, whether that’s protecting assets, securing their family’s future, or planning for retirement? That is a much more positive conversation to have than simply pitching a product. By doing this, carriers are more likely to keep hold of their customers.
“The rise in insurance aggregators and other non-traditional competitors for some insurance products means the market is highly competitive now. Organisations don’t want to simply compete over price – that will lead to unprofitable business. They must compete instead on the level of service they provide, and that will be represented by the skill and intimacy their agents and call centres can convey, or the positive nature of the claims experience. That will help with customer retention, upsell capabilities and the brand reputation that can support organic growth efforts.”