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04:32 PM
Carolyn Durland
Carolyn Durland
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Standards Boost Customer Service Performance

Agents and brokers know that effective technology deployment is a key factor in increased customer satisfaction and prefer insurance carriers who can deliver "ease of doing business" to them and their customers. Adoption of electronic standards throughout the industry is making an increasing contribution in insurers' ability to do so.

"Ease of doing business" has become one of the most important factors in driving independent agents and brokers to opt for certain carriers, while helping to differentiate themselves with consumers.

Celent Communications' recent producer-loyalty survey asked producers, GAs, principals and CSRs why they gravitate toward certain carriers. The survey looked beyond product and pricing and found that agencies predominantly base their carrier selections on factors such as claims handling, new business and underwriting support, and underwriting speed.

The producer-loyalty survey also found that producers expect their partners to make their jobs easier while getting products in the hands of customers more quickly. When it comes to claims, producers apparently are well aware of the value of satisfied customers, and they recognize that long-term success hinges on selling for carriers that meet customer expectations.

A Gartner survey released last month says agents and brokers want to do business with insurers that provide real-time transaction capabilities to better service policyholders.

Good technology delivers great service As agents and brokers know, effective technology deployment is a key factor in increased customer satisfaction. Broad adoption of electronic standards throughout the industry makes this technology work.

Standards help agencies use their systems to serve customers more efficiently. For instance, information entered into forms -- whether embedded within a management system or standalone and fillable -- can be transmitted without the need for service-impeding data re-entry. This information is housed in the agency's database and tapped when needed. It drives enhanced communication between a range of trading partners throughout the insurance value chain. The ability to get carrier-housed policy information -- in real-time and from within the agency management system -- is significant for many agencies. Data standards let agents and brokers use their own systems to perform billing, claims and other policy-related inquiries, and get immediate response. The growth in the number of such transactions nationwide is nothing short of explosive.

These standards-based capabilities are leading to immediate and broad customer-service enhancements. CSRs no longer have to be processors of customer data, their workflows are streamlined. Gone are the days of client calls triggering a chain reaction of file searches, callbacks, e-mails and voice mails. CSRs -- and other agency professionals, for that matter -- deliver answers immediately, while the customer is on the line or sitting in the office.

Moving from transmission to transactions Standards are helping agencies improve service as carriers and vendors offer ways to transact business, not just transmit information, in real time. Agents, brokers and their staff can work right from their management system and get valid rates directly from the carrier system, then deliver those numbers to waiting customers. The use of standards enables this functionality and lets agents and brokers match (or beat) the speed and accuracy of any competitor.

What's more, similar technological advances allow agents to offer the customer self-service -- a feature many clients find valuable. Again, standards drive this functionality, which is a real customer-service breakthrough for many.

The bottom line is that these advances occurred because carriers and vendors listened to agent and broker input, then worked with ACORD and other associations to drive change. Agencies must reward this initiative by using the time-saving, money-saving, service-boosting capabilities available to them. ACT, AUGIE, user groups and trade associations offer guidance on how to do so. They also communicate directly to vendors and carriers on what agents need from standards-based technology.

Agents should make use of these resources and plan now to get their entire staff to take part in an industrywide survey AUGIE will undertake next year to quantify agency automation information.

By tapping standards-based real time to compete, agencies can move the industry forward, and find it easier to do business with carriers and deliver enhanced service to customers.

Carolyn "Cal" Durland is manager, member relations at ACORD. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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