Like many industries, the world of insurance has undergone sweeping changes in recent years. Intense competition from abroad and from price comparison sites, coupled with an insatiable demand from customers for the very best deal, means that firms need to be smarter about the way they engage with customers. No longer can insurers rely on undercutting competitors in order to grow their customer base. Now, they must make the most of every opportunity to gain a loyal, lifelong customer - while finding new ways of making money.

When we consider that Nationwide Insurance found that a 1% increase in customer retention increased annual premiums by $1m, clearly, there’s an opportunity for firms to increase their bottom line by focusing their efforts on customer service. But how can that be done effectively?

The secret is to make the most of every customer interaction. Around three-quarters (74%) of insurance customers – more than retail, cable and satellite TV services, banking, mobile services and personal computers – will call a contact center as the first means of contacting the company. Making the most of this short window of opportunity, while the customer is engaged on the phone, is critical. Furthermore, insurers must now engage with customers through multiple new channels: eCommerce, social media, email and SMS. With an increasing number of channels to interact with customers, organisations have the chance to prove to the customer that they understand their needs, and more importantly, can meet them.

Customer service is not just about the agents and contact centres and how they interface with customers. Instead, it touches a wide variety of departments within the business, including sales, underwriting, claims, order management and accounting. Bringing all of the customer information stored in these silos together in a way that empowers agents is no easy task. In fact, this is where most insurers fall short. Regardless of the task, for customer service to have a positive impact on customer satisfaction and loyalty, it must be done accurately, quickly, responsibly and in accordance with a plethora of regulatory guidelines.

Start with the point of entry…

One way of ensuring that information accessed by staff within the organisation is consistent, clear and timely, is to automate the capturing of all incoming correspondence electronically at the point of entry: mailroom, contact centre, branch office or broker’s office. Intelligent data capture means that insurance companies can handle large volumes of incoming information, limiting the human factor that can always produce errors and affect customer service. The claims management process, for example, involves the processing of witness statements, court documents and reports from specialist medical and technical authorities and police traffic groups.

Without clear processes for storing and transferring this information as it enters an organisation, data can easily be lost, sent to the wrong office or disposed of, rather than arriving at its proposed destination. All of these potential mishaps can blunt a company’s ability to provide efficient customer service.

However, with data capture, documents can be automatically classified as inquiries, claims, invoices, complaints, policies, change requests, and so on. Relevant data can then be extracted and seamlessly routed to the appropriate system such as Microsoft Dynamics or SharePoint. Powerful data validation can also ensure that only complete and correct documents are routed to the relevant employee. The seamless transfer of information to the correct destination means that the organisation can improve its customer service by processing data and turning claims around quicker. Capture driven process solutions mean that companies can cut the notoriously long claims handling process, improving customer retention and repeat business as a result.

Data capture can also greatly improve customer service as the quality of document classification is enhanced, stamping out manual processes that are more likely to create inconsistencies. Errors in an organisation can be costly in terms of productivity, reputation and customer retention. The challenge is to understand where and why errors occur and to address and eliminate them to improve quality and reduce the loss of customers. With the human element minimised, the customer satisfaction ratings can be enhanced as a result of more accurate data capture and processing.

Say goodbye to paper archives…

The concept of a ‘paperless office’ has been bandied around in business for years, but is it ever really achievable? In a paper intensive industry, the vast amount of insurance documents needing to be stored can test the space and budget of any business. Finding important claim related information can be a nightmare when engulfed in physical storage. If the influx of paper is inevitable, it’s vital to have a robust plan in place to deal with it. The good news is that this doesn’t have to be complex. Capturing data on entry can significantly reduce the space needed to store physical records, associated costs, and the time it takes to find each document. On top of handling ongoing processes, an insurer’s time is fraught with random queries asking for archived data to be found. Capture driven processes enable this archived information to be digitised, so insurers can quickly identify and process documents for the customer.

Relying solely on a paper-based archive system is also fraught with danger, particularly in insurance, where the security of personal information is at stake. Insurance companies are subject to legal compliance to retain information over a certain period of time or to protect client data. For example, correspondence for any claim has a retention period of three years after a settlement. And once the settlement has been made, documents need to be stored for seven years. Implementing a digitised archiving system means that this data can be retrieved rapidly for compliance purposes, to avoid unnecessary liability.

There are major advantages to capturing and standardising data up front in the claims process, including significant savings in time and labour, greater accuracy of the content, as well as automated regulatory compliance. But for customers, all of this translates into engaging, helpful and meaningful conversations with insurance firms – all the ingredients needed cultivate loyal and profitable customers.

By Martyn Christian, CMO, Kofax.