More than a decade ago, insurance agencies looking for a better way to manage their internal operations began moving away from the cornerstone of industry operations for centuries: paper.
With the spread of computers and broadband internet connections, agencies began envisioning a future where paper could be removed from their operations completely. Yet, today, paper and PDF documents remain at the core of many agencies’ commercial application and renewal process, which continues to be riddled with friction. It’s hampered down by manual processes resulting in added costs, lost sales opportunities, and poor customer experience.
Now, with the emergence of insurtech software built to empower brokers rather than displace them, brokers are in a position to hand more work over to software and automation to generate a true win-win. Agency staff can spend less time processing forms and entering data manually, while clients can enjoy a digital commercial application and renewal experience. The byproduct is happier clients, improved retention, and a new focus towards onboarding new business.
1. Improve Data Entry: Reduce Your Keystrokes
Manual data entry is a pain for both the agent and the client. For the agent, constantly repeating keystrokes wastes time that could be spent on nurturing the client. For the client, not only is it frustrating and time-consuming, but there is also too much room for costly human error.
To put this into perspective, let’s say you have to repeatedly input your name into different insurance forms. If your name is John Williams, that’s thirteen keystrokes (counting the use of the space bar) for just one form. Ten forms x thirteen keystrokes = 130 keystrokes.
Each one of these keystrokes is not just wasted time, but another opportunity for human error to creep into your process. To combat wasting time and inaccurate info, automate your data entry as much as possible.
Keyboard shortcuts and automatic mapping of fields are a couple of ways to reduce your number of keystrokes:
Keyboard shortcuts for input-intensive tasks
Many AMS tasks are tedious and time-consuming to complete if you only use your mouse to click from menu to menu.
If you find yourself repeatedly performing the same tasks over and over, keyboard shortcuts and macros can be a huge boost to your efficiency.
Tools like AMS360 have plenty of in-built keyboard shortcuts that are valuable to learn for anyone who wants to be able to eke out an extra bit of efficiency from their day.
With tools like WinHotKey or Pulover’s Macro Creator, you can create your own advanced actions, or macros, and bind them to the button combination of your choice to take it to the next level.
Agency Management Systems can be tedious but there are tools to make them easier.
Custom macros can perform multiple repetitive actions within your AMS tool, saving you, even more, time and effort. Say you have a member of your team who’s always performing the same sequence of actions when your insurance agency receives a payment—they go to the AMS360 Customer Center, find the customer, hit “Views → Receipts” in the sidebar, hit “New Receipt,” and fill in the information.
With a macro that automatically navigates to the “New Receipt” option, you wipe out 80% of the manual labor involved in that transaction—and save valuable time that your team can put to better use on other tasks.
Customize the function keys on your keyboard to create shortcuts.
Disable the extra inbuilt function keys on a keyboard like the Microsoft Wireless Comfort Desktop 5000 and you can even have your own row of blank slate buttons to place all your new, efficient hotkeys and macros.
Automatic mapping of fields between forms
“Smart-forms” allow for common fields and questions to auto-map from one form to another.
Automatic mapping of fields means that the insured types in answers on one form and these answers automatically re-populate on all other forms with same or similar questions. This saves the insured a significant amount of time and manual labor. The client never has to answer the same question twice.
If it’s a renewal, automatic mapping ensures that answers from the previous year are transferred to the new form. The insured only has to verify the information. The customer experience is improved as the time to complete an application is reduced and the agent doesn’t have to worry about constantly reminding the insured to fill in information.
Another solution that is on the rise to reduce keystrokes is voice recognition. Using voice to input data (talking into software and the software transcribing the words for you) is already being used for search engines and automated identification. However, current solutions are not yet completely accurate and it will be a few years before agents can use voice software with confidence such as to dictate an email.
2. Communication: Connect Automation with the Human Touch
Automating some communication streams is a great way for agents to save themselves and their clients time while freeing them up to devote more energy to work that matters.
It’s a balancing act, however, between human vs. automated interactions. As found in the PwC Future of Customer Experience Survey, 75% of customers in all countries want more human interaction, not less.
Carefully choosing which communication touch points to automate and which still need a personal touch is essential to making a customer feel valued.
Reminding the insured to complete a form, sending a policy renewal reminder, or answering commonly asked questions are tasks that benefit from some type of automation.
Calling a client about policy coverage, engaging on social media posts, or emailing specific policy advice, on the other hand, are tasks that still require human interaction.
One way to expedite the application/renewal process is to choose a tool that sends auto-reminders. Simply schedule a date/time to remind the insured to fill out an application or about an upcoming policy renewal — the auto-reminder will take care of the rest. Other methods to expedite the process include automated marketing messages and chatbots.
Automated marketing messages for customer engagement
Schedule “drip” campaigns (sending pre-written messages over time) through an email marketing automation platform such as MailChimp. Automatically send regular emails to engage current customers or leads.
Templates can be used for a variety of campaigns including welcome messages and thank you emails.
The main purpose of a welcome message is to move users through your onboarding process. Your messages should be warm, personal, and include a Call-to-Action at the end (notice the example below getting the client started with the product). Make sure the message delivers value to the customer.
Thank you emails are beneficial for onboarding and customer retention. Put together an automated template thanking clients for their business. Create two types of thank you emails: one to send periodically to current clients and one to send to new clients. Let them know they’re appreciated and don’t forget to include your contact information so they can easily reach out.
Customize templates according to the audience. Test out different messages and find out which ones get higher click rates. You can also schedule engaging social media posts with similar messages through platforms like Hootsuite or Buffer to automatically post rather than having to manually post content.
Chatbots for customer support tasks
An optional means of communication, chatbots have been gaining popularity with insurance agencies and are a tool you can use on your website or social media. When a customer visits these platforms, a chatbot can be programmed to pop up and ask if it can offer assistance.
Chatbots can be programmed to automatically set up an appointment with an agent or answer frequently asked questions about policies or coverage. Information is recorded and used the next time the same customer interacts with the bot. Have a clear purpose for what you want your chatbot to do (e.g., customer support) and then search for providers. Snaps and Friendly Agent Bot are two such options, but there are much more available online.
Planning and strategically thinking about customer journey touch points sets you apart from the competition. Automated communication also gives you more time to act as the consultant, offering coverage advice or answering difficult questions.
3. Reduce Process Time: Digitize Insurance Forms
When the time comes for a client’s application or renewal process, the agent has to gather paper or PDF application forms and Excel spreadsheets. She then sends a bulky email to the client with directions and attached files. This approach takes significant time for the agent to complete.
In addition to being a pain for the agent, lengthy emails and forms are annoying and time-consuming for the insured. Previous year information also has to be sent to the insured so they can compare with the current year to determine what data to fill in or if changes need to be made. If any important data is missed, E&O can be a major concern.
As efficiency and convenience are what is valued most by customers in their customer experience (see below), you have the opportunity to utilize digitization.
Digitization offers benefits for both the agent and insured. On top of improving the customer experience and customer retention, McKinsey estimates that up to 40 percent of P&C and life insurers’ expenses are locked up in their top 20 to 30 core end-to-end processes—costs that digitization can reduce, and in some cases, eliminate.
“Well, I already use digital PDFs,” you may be thinking. Unfortunately, PDFs don’t qualify as automated digital documents. While they are better than filling out forms by hand, sending PDFs back and forth with the customer is inefficient and also extremely time-consuming as auto-populating answers is not an option. PDFs are also not easily edited.
Digitizing common forms can speed up form completion as well as improve accuracy. These smart forms improve the overall process through hiding sections, conditional questions, and e-signatures.
Hide sections that don’t apply
Allow the insured to only see the questions that are relevant to them. For example, certain sections of a form may not apply to the client such as crime information. Rather than having the client become confused, hide specific questions so they only fill out what’s required.
By applying conditional questions, the insured will only see if they answered the previous question with “yes” or a specific answer. If they answered the previous question with a “no,” they won’t see all the extra follow-up questions. This makes the forms shorter, quicker to complete, and easier to understand.
E-signatures for forms
After a smart form has been completed, build e-signatures into your smart forms to give the insured the option to sign electronically and avoid them having to print, sign, and scan.
With e-signatures, insureds also no longer have to pass documents around in person or via email to get multiple people to sign them. This process can sometimes take a week or more to make it back from the right person, especially if the document is being passed around by hand.
While there are provider options (e.g., EchoSign or RightSignature) to upload documents and add special annotations where signatures should go, the best option is to use a provider that gives the option to add a fillable signature field to your digitally smart insurance applications.
Simply add a signature field and make an annotation for users to sign once information is filled out. For forms that need multiple signatures, a link can typically be sent to easily collect signatures which can be completed either with stock cursive fonts or by hand with a mouse or finger. Another great benefit is that e-signatures are secure and legally binding.
Smart forms eliminate many common problems such as difficult-to-read handwriting, fields being missed or filled incorrectly, and customs delays.
They also help you stand out from the competition. Ernst & Young found that 79% of insurance companies have yet to fully embrace digital adoption. Agents who have digitized forms are therefore more competitive as digitization acts as a differentiator.
Automation leads to operational efficiency
An automation strategy can help agencies implement the above technology with minimum disruption. Agencies can start by looking at existing processes, picking out the most time-consuming and labor-intensive ones, and then identifying the best software to automate those processes.
Maximize results while minimizing both costs and implementation challenges with automation. Not only will you be able to quickly get complete and accurate information to your insured, but you’ll also be one step closer to reducing internal operational inefficiencies.