Today, it’s all about doing more with less. But how do insurance agencies increase productivity while decreasing expenses?
For many agencies, technology solutions are critical. If the focus in the first half of the year was pulling back, digging in and trying to ride out the recession, the rest of 2009 and into 2010 will be about re-evaluating current processes and systems to identify areas for improvement.
Now more than ever agents need tools that can streamline the workflow and quickly generate return on investment; solutions that simplify and automate traditionally manual processes or facilitate more efficient and effective communications between agents and carriers.
But deploying new technology solutions and platforms isn’t always that simple. Before an agency decides to make a change, it should take a close look at the key factors that will drive its business forward. In today’s economy, the answer would most likely come from a combination of the following three aspects:
- 1. Customer retention and great customer service. In a slowing economy the first thing you need to focus on is retaining good customers, and providing great service is a key to doing this.
- 2. Revenue growth and a deeper understanding of customers. Growth is not easy to come by these days, and you must search even deeper for new avenues for business expansion.
- 3. Streamlined operations and improved business processes. Maintaining and improving operations is vital these days. But reducing costs and improving delivery are two aspects of business that will never go out of style.
At the highest level, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is a technology trend that’s perfectly suited for the insurance industry. SaaS-based, or hosted, solutions enable organizations to minimize upfront investments in software and hardware and begin using a product quickly.
Additionally, the ability to quickly access information from any computer within an agency’s network is crucial when responding to customer inquiries, and it also allows agents to process policies more rapidly. Thus, the agency’s return on investment eaning is achieved faster. Many families of products are available in a hosted environment today, from agency management systems to comparative rating solutions to reference content and producer lifecycle management products.
In addition, supporting and servicing customers in off-hours and in disparate locations becomes much easier. If one of an agency’s largest customers suffers a loss or accident over the weekend or during off-peak hours, the client can contact the agency, and the agency staff can immediately log in and begin the necessary processes. And, it can all be done remotely, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without having to be in the office.
From an administration and maintenance perspective, SaaS-based solutions allow organizations to deploy core technologies such as agency management systems without having to invest heavily in IT infrastructure. Further, these systems alleviate IT headaches and ensure that an agency’s technology will scale effortlessly as it grows. Agencies can thus focus on what they do best, selling and servicing customers.
But while a good agency management system is the cornerstone of a well-run agency and provides a major step toward increasing productivity and revenue, it’s not the last word in agency automation. In today’s economy, several other categories of tools have emerged as must-haves for agencies that want to remain competitive and profitable, as well as continue to provide the highest level of service to their customers.
A key element to streamlining operations is to better manage the paper trail that remains at the core of the insurance businesses. A modern content management system is necessary for agents to optimize their workflows. Content management technologies enable agencies to easily accept information from customers, assign specific tasks to specific people and even process the paperwork straight through to carriers, thus eliminating multiple steps and possibilities for errors in the paperwork. Business activity monitoring gives the agency visibility into aspects of the process, such as how long it takes to complete certain tasks and where bottlenecks are, which ultimately allows agencies to increase revenue per employee.
Comparative rating tools have also become important to retaining customers and providing superior customer service. Along with ensuring that their customers are getting timely service and accurate information, agents must also make sure that they are getting customers the most competitive rates possible. Consumers today expect information to be available at their fingertips when they want it, and real-time rating solutions are one way for agents to compete with the increasingly popular online tools available. These solutions allow agencies to search across multiple carriers to find the policy that best fits their customers’ needs and immediately provide a quote. This can be a key differentiator in today’s market, where agents can’t afford to let the customer off the line while they search from site to site comparing rates.
It’s critical that agencies take the time during the coming year to evaluate their processes and identify areas that can be improved with the help of technology solutions. It is these technologies that will enable agencies to remain competitive and retain customers, provide superior customer service, uncover new revenue streams and increase workflow productivity. Implementing these new technologies will positively contribute to the overall revenue of the organization.
Morgan is senior vice president of Product Strategy & Marketing at Vertafore, a provider of software and services to the insurance channel.
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