Insurance Agencies Guide to Removing Operational Inefficiencies
For insurance agencies, efficiency isn’t just a matter of cost savings or improving internal operations. Rather, the more efficient your processes are, the more time and energy you can invest in your customers and the higher your revenue.
Consider the technological evolution and its impact on efficiency over the past 20 years.
In 1993, your average insurance agency employee produced about $80,000 in revenue a year. That figure has now risen to over $177,000. Even after taking into account the increase in dollar value ($80,000 in 1993 is worth over $141,000 in 2019), agencies are still generating over $36,000 more revenue per employee.
What’s the reason behind this major increase? Improving operations through technology is a large factor. Thanks to the widespread use of printers, internet, email, mobile phones, etc., the work of the insurance agent have become faster and more efficient.
An employee can do more in an hour than they could in 1993. Rather than mailing insurance forms, agents can quickly email applications to the insured. And instead of the insured having to wait to call an agent on her office phone, they can send text messages to their mobile number. That gain in efficiency is a direct gain in revenue per employee.
Innovations like the ones above were part of the first wave of tech. However, the next wave is still happening. Think of digital documents, online databases, and chatbots — all viable technology that can improve operational efficiencies within your agency. The more efficient you can become through the use of technology, the more revenues and profits you’ll eke out.
The key to operational efficiency is to stay abreast of technological innovations — constantly look for ways to improve. You’ll not only be more competitive, but your efficient operations will improve the entire customer experience.
Three Key Areas Damaged by Operational Inefficiency
Operational inefficiencies are caused by spending too much time on activities that don’t add value — value that your agency just can’t afford to lose. A recent study by Accenture found that 52% of insurance hunters demand a high-service level for their money.
Types of operational inefficiencies within an agency include drafting bulky email messages during renewals stuffed with attached documents and PDFs, as well as looking for changes made by an insured within their application data or comparing changes made to exposure data in an excel spreadsheet to the previous year’s.
It’s also inefficient having to follow up constantly with clients to find out the status of their applications. Did they get your email? Did they start filling out the application? How long will it be until it’s completed? Not to mention, the difficulty getting back applications from insureds that are ready to go-to-market the first time.
Not surprisingly, these operational inefficiencies typically have negative effects on your agency. Three things that are seriously impacted include:
- Time. Not only does it take a significant amount of time for the agent to compile applications for the insured, there can be customer delays or mistakes that have to be remedied in the forms.
- Accuracy. If an insured’s address change is missed or their exposure data is inaccurate, they can become wrongfully insured, insured for something they no longer own, or lose their insurance altogether.
- Profits. Inefficiency costs companies anywhere from 20% to 30% of their revenue every year according to research firm IDC.
Operational efficiency doesn’t have to be a major struggle. Here are four basic ways that your insurance agency can remove operational inefficiencies.
1. Use Smart Supplemental Carrier Applications
One powerful way to improve your operational efficiency is to use digital smart forms instead of paper and PDF applications. Smart forms both decrease the time spent getting an application from an insured and reduce the incidence of errors.
Paper and PDF supplemental carrier applications are a highly time-consuming part of doing business, and they can also lead to serious mistakes. This fact is not surprising.
Consider the number of supplemental carrier applications that the agent has to compile and the insured has to fill out. The insured has to spend time manually completing data entry from one PDF or paper application to another. They then have to deliver the applications to the agent. There’s also a possibility that the insured becomes confused and that paper and PDF application fields are filled out incorrectly or missed altogether. This creates the possibility of errors and omissions (E&O).
These types of inefficiencies hurt not only operations but also customers’ perceptions of your agency. If your competitor is providing insureds an easier (and less painful) process to complete applications, you’re likely to lose customers. This is where digitization can be a life-saver.
According to the 2018 Agency Universe Study, the “paperless office has increased for both personal lines (from 45% in 2016 to 58%) and commercial lines (from 38% to 46%).” Fully digital documents are the very first element of a high-performing digital insurance business.
And don’t think that clients will shy away from digital documents just because paper is the traditional insurance method. 44% of agencies are more likely to agree that clients are just as likely to accept e-documents as they are paper (9% increase since 2016).
An easy way to get started with digital documents is by using an online portal that comes pre-loaded with all the smart supplemental carrier applications and forms that your agency uses. Stored in a single location or database, agents can use smart forms to see in real time how much of an application an insured has already completed and what they have not. They can also add things like conditional questions, comments, directions, and e-signatures directly within the forms to make it easier for the insured to understand and fill out. The agent can then direct the insured to the forms via a single link instead of drafting a long email stuffed with attachments.
In other words, smart forms speed up the time-to-market, reduce the time spent going back and forth via email or phone, and otherwise improve the overall process.
Automatically map form answers
Indio’s smart forms take the pain out of the insured having to fill out common fields over and over. After the insured has filled out the submitted application with Indio, the information maps back to the carrier’s original PDF supplemental application. The agency can then download, print, and send it off to the underwriter.
Basically, instead of filling out many different forms, the insured only has to answer common questions such as their name, business, and address one time. Answers are automatically mapped to other forms that ask the same questions.
The client today expects and demands an easy and smooth process. They don’t have the time or patience to continually fill out information they already filled out on another form. These features improve efficiency, which increases customer retention rates and makes agents more competitive.
2. Systemize Your Application Process
The traditional application process is both time-consuming and opens doors for inaccuracy as the insured juggles downloading and filling out a number of paper or PDF application forms and spreadsheets. It’s a process that greatly benefits from organization and technological innovations.
Not only does the agent have to spend time compiling and sending applications, the insured struggles with the amount of tasks and questions required throughout the application process, increasing the time spent going back and forth with the agent.
The result? Applications often come back from the insured incomplete the first time. The agency is then delayed in actually sending the application to the carrier and receiving a quote for the insured. Without an easy application process, you’re not only damaging internal operations but also customer retention efforts.
According to the PwC Future of Customer Experience Survey, 80% of customers surveyed listed the following as essential elements of positive customer experiences:
- Knowledgeable help and friendly service
It’s a vicious cycle with the traditional application process. The client becomes frustrated, which only lengthens the time-to-market and the time it takes to actually receive a quote. Speed and convenience are not achieved and neither is efficiency.
The solution is streamlining every part of the application process to get an application back that’s filled out correctly the first time. It will also make the customer’s experience much easier. We’ve already touched on smart forms and automapping answers, but there are other areas of the application process that can be improved:
- Mark certain questions “Required.” Application questions are often wordy and confusing. Your client might be unsure which questions apply to their situation and miss or skip others. When using digitally enhanced “smart” insurance forms, you’re able to mark the questions that the insured needs to fill out as “Required.” The insured then cannot “submit” their application until all required questions are complete. You get the answers you need and the insured doesn’t get lost trying to decide which questions to answer.
- E-signatures. Digitally signing documents is not only efficient (eliminating unnecessary downloads, scanning, insecure emails, etc.), it’s effective. The Agents Council for Technology (ACT) found that Signature Failure Rates dropped from 50-55% down to 1.69% (a fulfillment rate of 98.31%) after companies began incorporating e-signatures.
- Single storage center. Store all applications and forms within an online portal. When you email the insured, you can direct them to this portal — everything is organized and easy to find in one location. No more hunting and sending annoying (and confusing!) email attachments.
Break the traditional cycle. Offer tools that improve the overall application process and increase the chances that an application will be completed the first time. You’ll also create a better customer experience and improve customer retention as a result. And according to a study by Bain & Company, “even a 5% increase in customer retention can lead to increased profits between 25% and 95%.”
operate with an online portal
In 2016, only 23% of agencies offered a customer portal. That number rose to 39% in 2018. An online portal that houses digital applications and documents is a win-win for both the agent and the insured
With an up-to-date database of 5,000+ insurance forms and carrier applications, Indio’s platform provides a single, secure place where insureds can log in at any time. The previous year’s information and documents are available as well as the forms that need to be filled out for the upcoming year. An agency can see what forms and schedule workbooks the insureds have completed and what’s left to be done, eliminating frustrating back and forth via email.
Submission packets are also easy to compile and organize. The agent can simply upload required forms and spreadsheets and send a single link to the insured to fill out their business and insurance information.
The portal prevents agents from having to keep forms up-to-date themselves in a master database or hard drive for their staff or, even worse, agents googling forms every time they want to find one to use. For the insured, they have the ability to access applications, files, etc., anywhere, anytime, from any device. They don’t need to go through paperwork or old emails or files on a hard drive to find their information — it’s fast, convenient, and efficient.
3. Automate Your Renewal Process
The insurance renewal period traditionally involves the agency sending a long email every year to the insured. The agent has to compile and attach last’s year applications, a blank copy for the new year’s applications, and bulky spreadsheets for schedule workbook data, all within an email.
The insured then has to download all of the files, fill everything out, and then send it all back to the agent in an email or through air mail. If one mistake is made, such as an overlooked change to exposure data, the consequences could be a wrongfully insured client.
Just as with digital documents, investing in automation can take a complicated, messy workflow like the renewal process and turn it into an organized system. If used correctly, automation can have a direct impact on business results.
Automation is extremely important on the agency side. Think of the number of manual keystrokes you have to complete during renewals. Also consider having to review exposure data spreadsheets, carefully checking each cell and comparing to last year’s spreadsheets to find and annotate changes.
A major possibility is inaccurate or missed information as the agent compares spreadsheets cell by cell. This increases the risk of E&O exposure for an agency. Choose automations that will enrich the overall experience for your agency, so you can spend more time advising the insured.
- Reduce your keystrokes. Keyboard shortcuts and automatic mapping of fields are a couple of ways to reduce your number of keystrokes. Try tools like WinHotKey or Pulover’s Macro Creator to create your own advanced actions.
- Offer real-time updates to schedule workbooks. Exposure data like SOVs, Vehicle lists, or Certificate Holder lists are typically organized across spreadsheets (i.e. schedule workbooks). Store these spreadsheets in an online portal that provides real-time updates and access throughout the year, so it’s not a major hassle by the time the renewal period rolls around.
- Automate marketing messages for customer engagement. Use an email marketing automation platform like Mailchimp to schedule “drip” campaigns (sending pre-written messages over time). Create templates of engaging emails to automatically send to clients during the renewal process.
It’s crucial to implement the right automation practices at any time but especially during the renewal period. This is the time when customers might consider going with a competitor. Make the renewal process as easy as possible for the insured with automation.
Track Changes in Real Time
According to the Salesforce report, “State of the Connected Customer,” “64% of consumers expect companies to respond and interact with them in real-time.” Email doesn’t fulfill this expectation. In fact, it does quite the opposite.
With the traditional renewal process, the insured has to make changes to an application or schedule workbook data and email everything back to the agent. The agent then has to tediously compare data, cell by cell, with last year’s info and make any annotations.
With Indio’s Schedule Workbooks, the agent uploads the spreadsheet into Indio’s online portal. Once there, the agent can send a link to the insured who then makes the necessary changes online rather than on a static file saved to a hard drive. Because this is now stored inside Indio’s smart, online portal, all changes made to this spreadsheet are logged in an easy-to-review, color-coded, itemized list that is annotated with timestamps indicating when and who made the changes.
This is essential in reducing the risk of E&O exposure. Changes are also less likely to be forgotten during the renewal period since they can be tracked throughout the year. Innovations like these provide a clear pathway to renewal success for the insured.
4. Improve Customer Communication with Automation
Communication technology has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years. Automation now plays a major role in communicating with clients, which saves the agency time and money. However, the human touch is still strongly desired by customers according to a recent survey by PwC.
The survey discovered that 64% of U.S. consumers and 59% of all consumers feel companies have lost touch with the human element of the customer experience.
According to EY’s Global Customer Survey, 86% of insurance consumers are “not very” satisfied with communications from their provider.
But how do you achieve the right human/technology balance when communicating with your clients? It’s not as difficult as you might think. There happens to be many menial communication activities in the application process that can be eliminated while still maintaining the human touch with the insured.
As we’ve already touched on, automating certain tasks creates less busywork, giving you more time to focus on the customer experience and act as an adviser. Email reminders, tracking client activities, and chatbots for simple customer support tasks are all viable communication automations.
Just make sure that you don’t automate certain touch points like phone calls or personal emails recommending a claims provider. Automate areas that detract from the time spent on actual customer-facing activities. Use that time to find ways to offer personal recommendations and advice to the insured.
Communication technology should be used to complement the human touch, not replace it.
send automated reminders
Automating email reminders for approaching application due dates is one effective way to use technology while still remaining personal with the client. Indio’s online portal offers the ability to send auto-reminders directly to the insured.
- Check the box labeled “Send smart reminders to client.” The portal will send automated email reminders to your client reminding them to complete their renewal applications before the date.
- Reminders are sent at an increasing cadence as the application deadline draws closer.
- Agents can set these automated reminders for their insured so that they are messaged only if they haven’t completed a certain action by a certain date. Thus, the insured is contacted only when necessary, and over-messaging is avoided.
The benefits of these types of reminders are twofold: You don’t have to worry about keeping up with due dates and continually writing email messages. And automated reminders increase the chances that the insured will actually respond.
Remove Operational Inefficiencies = Add Value to the Customer Experience
Operational inefficiencies not only cost your agency money but can have a significant impact on the overall customer experience. Removing these inefficiencies through technological innovations will save time, increase accuracy, and ultimately improve the bottom line with your clients.
Indio offers efficient solutions like smart forms, renewal automation, and streamlined communication tools that allow you to spend more time bringing actual value to your clients.