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01:22 PM
Tim Carpenter, Gomez, Inc.
Tim Carpenter, Gomez, Inc.
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As carriers focus on the big picture of immediacy, fraud protection and customer data management, they have yet to zero-in on smaller details, which facilitate successful enrollment for the masses.

Providing a concise online enrollment process is a top priority at any financial institution committed to the Internet. Insurers, for sure, are focusing significant attention and effort on the enrollment process. MetLife, for example, has just rolled out its first e-servicing platform -- and several other major carriers are expected to follow suit later this year.

For carriers with established platforms, such as Nationwide Insurance and Progressive Insurance, increasing momentum and demand around technologies such as direct-to-biller online payments only increases the importance of efficiently driving policyholders to -- and through -- the registration process. With leading carriers such as Amica, Allstate and State Farm yet to feature instant online access to policy details via Web enrollment, a virtual standard in other financial verticals, Gomez foresees a concentration of activity in this area.

As carriers focus on the big picture of immediacy, fraud protection and customer data management, they have yet to zero-in on smaller details, which facilitate successful enrollment for the masses. What follows are several approaches that can make significant short-term and inexpensive online enrollment improvements via simple HTML messaging.

1. Introducing The Customer To The Process

While most carriers feature a marketing page for their online services, few do a good job of encouraging enrollment within the form itself. Upon entering the enrollment process at most carriers, the policyholder is abruptly ushered into data collection fields.

Lessons from the banking industry show there is significant value in providing a transition page, reinforcing the services available online, and delivering an overview of steps involved, information required to complete, estimate of time required and level-setting of expectations relative to when functionality will be available.

2. Which Customers, Which Products, Which Functionality?

Insurance carriers face obstacles unseen in other financial services segments relative to providing consistent levels of online service to various customer segments. For example, when a Massachusetts MetLife policyholder enrolls for online access, he learns that his bill is presented online. Policy details, however, are not made available to him as they are to policyholders enrolling from other states. Hence, the Massachusetts customer's user experience suffers, as does his overall relationship with the carrier.

While culture, cost and state regulations factor into availability inconsistencies, conversations with several top IT vendors reveal the most significant constraints are in the disparate warehousing of customer data and the technological complexity of retrieving and presenting customer data. It is apparent that this problem will not soon be solved. It is therefore imperative for carriers to seriously address the setting of expectations.

Nationwide and Allstate are among the carriers that have taken a first step, but there is significant room for improvement. While presenting more transparent information around availability and eligibility acknowledges a certain imperfection, the end result is that trust in the carrier/policyholder relationship is left intact.

3. Prioritizing Completion Over Preferred Channel

The aim of enrollment is to facilitate use of online services that boost satisfaction and loyalty while driving down service costs. While any carrier aims to complete this process in as inexpensive a manner as possible, significance should be placed on success, regardless of whether or not it means a customer picking up the phone. If it results in less abandonment, and thus cheaper transaction costs for future routine service interactions, the one-time charge is well worth it.

However, a great number of carriers are ill-equipped to complete registration for online services via the phone--an example of shortsightedness. Allstate is one exhibitor of best practice, as it clearly states from a link on the enrollment form that agents and service reps can provide help, as well as complete the process offline. Looking forward, the use of e-mail and on-screen messaging to encourage completion/return--and provide alternate channel options --is woefully under-represented in the industry and is an easy target for firms looking to boost success rates.

4. Proof In The Pudding

Enrollment represents a challenge and opportunity. Carriers must make a more convincing pitch to prove utility of their online services, despite various technological limitations that make it hard for many to provide a consistent level and depth of online service.

Moreover, carriers have not enjoyed the enrollment volume--and corresponding experience and lessons--as have their brethren in other financial verticals. The result is that there is much improvement to be had--and banks and brokers can serve as useful role models.

Significant improvements pivot around solving complex systems integration challenges and wider cultural issues, such as training reps and agents to support the channel. Still, the low-hanging fruit relative to expectation-setting, obstacle reduction and the provision of acceptable help options is attainable for firms seeking to drive online enrollment figures ever higher.

Tim Carpenter is an insurance industry analyst at Gomez, Inc., an Internet benchmarking and improvement strategies firm in Waltham, Mass.,

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