August 07, 2012

After Esurance, an Allstate company, took the top spot in a recent Customer Respect Group ranking of the user experience on auto insurers' websites, VP of customer experience Lisa Ward gave credit to a largely unrecognized, but essential source of customer experience value: the company's policy system.

"I can remember serious questions about as few clicks as possible in 2005 when we redesigned our policy management system," she says. "Often times the sales side of it gets so much focus, but your policy system is a workhorse and it needs to be solid for you too."

Having a single database powering its policy management allows San Francisco-based Esurance ($850 million in 2011 premium) to roll out quickly capabilities that its customers demand, increasing retention and differentiating itself among prospects. It also allows the company to identify questions that get in the way of policy sales, and to brainstorm solutions.

The product team has mandatory requirements, "But I need to say, 'Taking your requirements, what's the best way to accomplish that?'" Ward notes. "We view every question and new page as a barrier. We try to collect information in a more organized and useful way. Users are very comfortable giving you information that they feel makes sense with what they have to do."

Ward spoke with I&T associate editor Nathan Golia about how Esurance's policy system powers its customer experience efforts:

What were major customer experience-related considerations of your 2005 policy management system redesign?

WARD: We went about it with definite parameters and goals in mind that I think largely still hold true for us around challenging ourselves to let customers do as much as possible. It's letting them accomplish what they want to online, not making them do all the work, with more and more people wanting to self-serve and take control of their online lives.

[Filling the Gaps in Package Policy Admin Systems.]

Technologically, we didn't have legacy systems that prevented that thinking. We were also coming at it as, that's what makes sense for people now -- so we didn't have a lot of historical thinking of "Don't let customers do that." We had the thinking of "It's easy, let them do it."

What about your system made it easy to implement the changes you wanted?

WARD: We only had a single database with all touchpoints for the customer feeding into that, which is valuable for data mining and makes data passing easier. So it became a user interface redesign primarily in that we mined the data to figure out what people were doing most often, make those tasks the most prominent and make them addressable in as few clicks as possible.

Since that time, what new customer experience-related pressure has been put on your policy admin system?

WARD: There is a demand to do more and more on mobile. There's this divide between a mobile site and apps. Apps are really cool and really more geared to policyholders who are geared in to the brand to download it. Because of the way our system is set up we do tend to have a lot of in-house applications and not run a lot of off-the-shelf stuff. It's a lot of investment up front but pays off over time.

Have you ever experienced working with traditional legacy insurance systems?

WARD: Where I worked prior to this company was a mortgage insurance company and I saw what legacy systems do to you. You can't move off them quickly or easily, especially because of the financial stake you've got in them. So we had a big advantage by just starting off with client/server technology. But insurance companies in general have been around a long time. You can't have been around for many, many decades and not have legacy systems. It's not as simple as saying, "Let's just make a technology investment and buy new equipment." Your entire talent/resource pool is trained on the old way. It's a much broader commitment to hire and attract a different skill set, or train your existing folks. We didn't have to convert any old data.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, ...