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Customer Services Leadership Forum: Strategies for Putting the Customer First

Financial services companies need to value service as highly as sales, while negotiating the problems of implementing cost-effective customer service technology solutions, according to TowerGroup's Jamie Bisker, who delivered the keynote address at I&T's Customer Service Leadership Forum yesterday.

Delivering the keynote address at Insurance & Technology's Customer Service Leadership Forum yesterday, Jamie Bisker, director of research for the TowerGroup's insurance practice, addressed the need of financial services companies to value service as highly as sales, while negotiating the problems of implementing cost-effective customer service technology solutions.

While customer service is a supremely important issue in the insurance industry today, "it is one of the topics that people talk about a lot but don't do a lot about," Bisker said, explaining that companies must first acquire a grasp of the issue. "Customer service is helping the customer, internal or external, with answers to their questions," he asserted. "Those questions must be answered quickly and completely, and must be connected to other answers they might receive," in order to provide "synchronicity" across all customer touch points.

When conceiving customer service initiatives it is natural to gravitate toward a focus on the end-consumer, Bisker suggested, but insisted that a customer-centric ethos begins with the internal customer. "By serving your internal customers you allow your customer-facing activities to be more efficient, better planned and productive of better results," he told the Leadership Forum audience.

Discussing industry trends, Bisker focused on the checkered history of customer relationship management technology, which has been characterized by well-publicized failures and "stealth successes." Of the qualified successes, he related a CIO commenting that "CRM is good; it's just not $10 million good." For those looking for a more profitable implementation of CRM technology, Bisker counseled shorter-term results from smaller-scale projects. He added that CIOs "want to see ROI metrics that meet their needs so that they can quickly deliver information not only to their boardrooms, but to their customers."

As low-transaction businesses, compared to their financial services peers in banking and securities, insurance companies need to leverage all opportunities to collect, organize and analyze information for customer service and cross-selling potential, according to Bisker. "Leveraging CRM technology at the time of a claim is a significant concept that should be expanded at insurance companies," he asserted. "It's an opportunity to leverage the information you only collect at infrequent intervals, so you should make use of it to best advantage."

Finally, in a theme that was sounded throughout the conference, Bisker stressed that as insurance companies prepare to take advantage of next-generation customer service applications, one of the most important tasks they face is getting their infrastructures in order, enabling communication among core systems. Touting the advantages of component-based architecture, he said "unless you have a flexible back-end that you can change quickly, that works for you, not against you, you will always be behind other companies in financial services."

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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