How to Use Smart Forms to Make Your Commercial Lines Application Process More Efficient
Inefficiency is a core problem in the business world, costing companies both time and money. For many insurance agencies, one of the main inefficiencies is still sending paper and PDF supplemental carrier applications to clients rather than using digitally enhanced smart forms.
For instance, agents compile a large number of these applications every year to send to the insured to fill out and send back. It is a highly time-consuming way of doing business and heightens the chance of inaccurate information. And not only is it an annoying process for the insured, but the agent has less time to act as a consultant for the customer as well.
Despite the downsides, many agencies still rely on the traditional application process because it’s the way the process has been done for years.
By using digitally enhanced smart forms, your agency has the opportunity to move off of a paper system and stand out from the competition. Smart forms also create a quality customer experience and make your agency’s operations more efficient.
Why Traditional Applications Are Inefficient
Traditional supplemental carrier applications are inefficient for both the agent and the insured. The agent has to spend time gathering the right forms (both current and last year’s applications), writing a long email with directions, and attaching multiple files to send to the insured. The insured has to carefully sort through the attachments and refer back to steps listed in the email.
Other problems with traditional applications:
- Time intensive and tedious. Manually completing data entry is a long process for the insured. Between logic-based questions, long forms, the amount of data rekeyed from one PDF or paper application to another, hand-delivering applications, and the lengthy waiting time for the insured to fill out the application and send back to the agent, the process is nothing short of frustrating.
- Creates errors in the application process. Questions on paper and PDF application can often be filled out incorrectly or missed altogether by the insured. If any important data is missed, errors and omissions (E&O) can be a major concern. In addition, the insured’s handwriting can be difficult to read and decipher by the agent. Paper and PDFs are also not easily edited, which can be problematic when mistakes do occur.
- Confusing for the insured. There are many sections and questions on forms that will not apply to every client. But unless otherwise specified by the agent, the customer is likely not aware of what information is relevant and what is not. This leads to “not applicable” sections being filled out.
This type of inefficiency hurts not only operations but also customers’ perceptions of your agency. If your competitor is using an easier (and less painful) process to complete applications, you’re likely to lose customers.
What Are Smart Forms?
Smart forms are digitally enhanced forms that are super easy to read and fill out. Unlike paper and PDFs, smart forms aren’t static documents. Rather, they are able to capture, store, validate, display, and submit customer information.
And these forms aren’t just convenient — their deployment time is fast (sent as links instead of as attachments), speeding up the time it takes for the insured to get a quote and reducing the back-and-forth between the agent and the insured. Data is also easily accessible, and both the agent and the insured save on printing costs.
Quite simply, smart forms improve the overall application process. This is good news for both you and your clients. Providing a simple and fast solution to an otherwise overwhelming process improves the customer experience and demonstrates to your customers that you are a client-centric agency.
Auto-Population: Reduce Customers’ Time-to-Answer
A major problem with traditional applications is that the insured has to fill out the same information across multiple forms. Whether it be basic business details, a name, an address, a company name, etc., continually filling in the same fields is tiresome and time-consuming for the insured. Not only that but if the insured misses a field, the agent has to contact the customer and send the form again.
That’s where auto-populating information comes into play. Also known as automatic mapping of fields, auto-populating means that the insured only has to answer a question one time rather than multiple times on many different forms. Common answers transfer to the same fields on other forms. For example, let’s say the insured types her name into a Business Auto Supplemental form. When using a smart form, her name automatically appears in the BAM E-Risk form, the Liability application, etc.
Conditional Sections & Questions: Create Shorter Forms
In paper and PDF applications, conditional questions typically ask the recipient of the form to read a list of conditions and hypotheticals and answer a question yes or no if they meet any of those conditions, as in the screenshot below.
Too often, these follow-up questions (or “conditional questions”) are irrelevant or don’t apply to the client because of the answers they provided on previous questions. When combining this inconvenience with the sheer volume of questions asked on an application, the task of reading and filling out paper and PDF applications becomes quite confusing for an insured.
With smart forms, the questions being asked will automatically adjust, depending on the insured’s prior answers, so the insured doesn’t have to see conditional questions that don’t apply to them. An insured will see certain questions only if they answered the previous question with yes or a specific answer. If they answered the previous question with no, they won’t see all the extra follow-up questions. Smart form’s conditional questions make forms shorter, quicker to complete, and easier to understand.
Smart forms also give you the opportunity to hide sections that contain conditionals that don’t apply to the person filling out the form. Let’s say that the insured is filling out the BAM E-Risk New Business form. While most sections of the form, such as General Business Information, Financial Information, Employment Practices, etc., may apply, the section on Crime coverage might be irrelevant. With smart forms, the agent can hide the section (as pictured below) so the insured doesn’t fill out answers not applicable to their business.
As you hide questions on smart forms, you can also mark sections and questions that are required. This ensures that applications cannot be returned to you until those specific questions or sections have been filled out by the insured. That way, you won’t have to ask or remind the insured to fill out important information.
Commenting: Proactively Address Concerns
If the insured doesn’t understand certain sections or questions on a form, they will typically contact the agent via email or phone to clarify the issue — depending on how long it takes for the agent to respond, the time to application completion is lengthened.
With smart forms, in-app comments can be used to help communicate how to complete applications or specific questions in a more streamlined way. And rather than waiting for client concerns, agents can anticipate questions and make notes for the insured when they come to a particular section. Proactively addressing issues on the front end will save time on the back end.
Notice the example below. The form asks the insured to describe any ongoing training provided to drivers. The agent leaves a comment for the insured to provide “as much detail as possible” so she knows exactly how much information to include.
The insured can quickly reply back to the agent and ask any other questions she might have. Old comments/conversations can also be referenced at any time if needed.
E-Signatures: Decrease Time to Sign
The traditional process of the insured signing forms involves printing, finding the right signatures (an often lengthy process by itself), scanning, and sending to the agent, who then sends to the carrier. Even the newer method of signing digitally on PDFs still requires emailing forms to the right people, which takes time and is not secure.
The solution is to add a fillable signature field to your smart forms to eliminate the need to print, sign, and scan. The insured then no longer has to pass forms around by hand (or email) to reach multiple signers.
Instead, e-signatures can be directly integrated into the form process. Simply make annotations where to sign and the insured can perform the task digitally — whether by drawing their own signature (see above image) or selecting from standard fonts. They can then quickly send the form link to others and then back to the agency. This practice is much easier and more secure than having confidential information floating around via email.
Single Location: Store Forms in One Place
Multiple paper and PDF applications have to be stored somewhere — whether in a file cabinet or in online folders. Not only can it be difficult to find specific forms (especially if your system isn’t organized) based on previous years, but it’s also an inefficient use of your time to find, scan, and send documents to the insured. Even if you use desktop or cloud software to store forms, it still takes time to locate them based on the particular client.
Your smart forms need to be accessible in one single location or portal. Think of it as a secure database. You’ll easily be able to find forms when you need them. This also provides the insured with access to current forms that need to be completed, as well as previous years’ submissions and documents.
Having everything in one place lets you track insured activity to see which forms have already been completed and which ones are left. You then know if you need to reach out and remind the insured to fill out any forms.
Increase Your Efficiency = Add Customer Value
The traditional approach to supplemental carrier applications no longer works. In this digital era, customers expect and demand easy and fast solutions. Their experience needs to be seamless. Otherwise, they will start looking elsewhere for their insurance needs.
Smart forms reduce wait time, increase accuracy, and reduce the energy that you and the insured have to put into the application process. These efficiencies improve customer retention and make you, the agent, more competitive. You now can focus more on activities they provide value to your customers such as consulting them on their coverage, rather than wasting unnecessary time on paper and PDF applications.