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Kate Gingras
Kate Gingras
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The Modern Water Cooler: Platforms for Customer Care & Retention

The water cooler chat that created closer connection to what was going on with our company's customers in the past is not practical in today's increasingly mobile work environment.

In simpler times, colleagues would gather around the water cooler to share information about customer problems and ways to improve customer service or exchange tips on working around system constraints to get customers what they need. These days, staff work from home, functional specialists work in isolated clusters, and systems are used for particular purposes like claims, policy, billing, sales, and marketing. General information sharing about the customer has become more complicated.

Fortunately, modern work platform technology takes on the fractured insurance ecosystem, enabling better collaboration. This new technology is now serving as the proverbial water cooler.

But why should the "water cooler" mentality matter at all? Well, a survey from Ernst & Young showed that as far back as 2010 the slow-to-heal US economy was causing a drop in net premiums for US property/casualty and life insurers. These market segments saw significant drops in revenues and earnings. So, ultimately, we're talking about revenue protection through customer retention. 

But the water cooler chat that created closer connection to what was going on with our company's customers in the past is not practical in today's increasingly mobile work environment. The era of mobility and social media has made us part of a larger community but in a much more isolated way (that's why we make a distinction between our "real" friends and our social media friends).

Add to that the outsourcing that has become part of everyday business and it's clear that we need a shift in technology to be more aware of the net value of each of our customers. Let's take a look at a practical example of the problem.

Silos prevent collaborative customer care
Let's say a client has both a commercial lines policy and a personal lines policy. Because of the siloed divisional structure of many insurance companies, it may not be immediately clear across the organization that this is a high-value client whose business is important to retain.

If a personal lines claim is handled without considering the larger value of the client, it could put the commercial lines policy and life insurance policies at risk. Unfortunately, division heads often don't work from the same platform and are not technically enabled to share data or work together to understand this client value to the whole organization.

[Previously from Gingras: Turning Insurance into a Connected Enterprise]

Of course, there are policy administration systems where contracts are stored. These systems, however, typically talk inter-divisionally, not across the entire enterprise. There needs to be a way to keep everyone in the organization informed about what's going with a customer across the company.

That means having an enterprise relationship with a customer (or policyholder in our case), and all industries -- not just insurance -- are beginning to understand that.

Why CRM isn't the answer
In a Gartner webinar this past January, enterprise software spending growth for 2014 was estimated to expand by 6.8% this year. Customer relationship management (CRM) and supply chain management (SCM) will likely be areas of strong growth. 

According to Richard Gordon, managing vice president at Gartner, “Investment is coming from exploiting analytics to make b-to-c processes more efficient and improve customer marketing efforts. Investment will also be aligned to b-to-b analytics, particularly in the SCM space, where annual spending is expected to grow 10.6 percent in 2014. The focus is on enhancing the customer experience throughout the presales, sales and post sales processes.” 

Unfortunately, improving the customer experience by improving process is not what CRM or SCM enterprise software does.

True, CRM software solutions place all available data in a centralized database. But how does this deal with the process problems we've been discussing? The enterprise gets some level of awareness of the complexity of the problem, but no available action to address the problem, company-wide. CRM doesn't give people the opportunity to proactively respond to customer behaviors without making additional work.

Rather than relying on data repositories, we should be looking more at today's modern work platform technology. Modern work platforms speak directly to the problem of siloed lines of business. Alerts come to all generally working on the platform when any action is taken in any one silo -- siloed division, siloed specialist, siloed system. This creates a service-on-demand structure for customer engagement -- the right information to the right enterprise resources.

Today's modern work platforms enable enterprises to engage the customer in a systemic way. They connect people, processes and technologies across the enterprise, offering awareness, knowledge and a platform for collaboration for the purpose of proactively acting without adding work. Knowing the customer and their enterprise value hasn't been this easy since the water cooler days and has never been as scalable.

The Ernst & Young report also noted, "US insurers that invest in more efficient distribution methodologies and more cost-effective operations can drive stronger performance at home and abroad." The reason is that these companies are focusing on customer retention in a saturated market.

There may no longer be water-cooler talk in today's business, but with modern work platforms the same collaborative value can be used to improve the customer experience in a way that the industry tore apart years ago.

[Do you aspire to the C-suite, or some other spot in upper IT management? Then bulk up your credentials around today's most pressing IT movement, digital business, at the Information IT Leadership Summit.]

Kate Gingras is Global Practice Leader, Insurance, for Appian, a BPM software provider. View Full Bio

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kgingras028
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kgingras028,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/23/2014 | 5:55:18 PM
Re: Enterprise-customer relationships
Thanks, Kelly.  Making the accessibility of information more ubiquitous and role based rather than system limited - should promote a better work experience for insurance practioners, those within the distribution network and our customers.  The trifecta.  We simply become a role relevant network of contributors working together to answer a need – customer or otherwise.
kgingras028
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kgingras028,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/23/2014 | 5:55:13 PM
Re: Enterprise-customer relationships
Thanks, Kelly.  Making the accessibility of information more ubiquitous and role based rather than system limited - should promote a better work experience for insurance practioners, those within the distribution network and our customers.  The trifecta.  We simply become a role relevant network of contributors working together to answer a need – customer or otherwise.
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Author
9/22/2014 | 12:56:28 PM
Enterprise-customer relationships
Thanks, Kate. As you explain, keeping policyholder info in silos can be a huge detriment to the customer experience. Loyal customers, especially those with multiple policies, are key sources of business success and anticipate their loyalty will be rewarded. By collaborating and sharing customer info, carriers can more easily give them the level of service they expect.  
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