Online Customer Service for Your Web site.
by John Ashenhurst
Do you have an AfW system? Would you like to link it to your Web site to provide a self-service option to your insureds? Tarbet Technoloyg Group, Inc. (NSG) can make the connection. Even if you don't use AfW, it's worth understanding NSG's clever approach.
There are three main approaches to connecting your management system to your Web site: extension, duplication, and real-time interaction. Extension refers to special Web features supplied by the management system vendor. Duplication is the recreation of your management system data on a third party's Web server. Real-time interaction is immediate, two-way communication between your Web site and your management system. (For more information on approaches to online customer service, see "Online Customer Self-Service: Why, What, and How," page 1.) Real-time policy interaction can work two ways: 1) fully automatic update by the insured or, 2) mediated update by the CSR; that is, prompted by the insured, but completed by the agency. NSG subscribes to the latter approach, thus insulating the management system from the customer. CSR mediation means a bit more work for the agency, but it also protects the agency from user-introduced errors and security threats.
Mediated update of a management system can be approached in two different ways: non-integrated and integrated. NGS has adopted the latter. That means that policy change requests coming from the agency Web site, while not updating the management system database directly, are integrated into the management system standard operating procedures and thus don't require exceptional workflow.
o summarize: i-Rep provides on-line customer service via real-time interaction with the management system but with integrated though mediated update. Are you following this?
An insured comes to your Web site, chooses customer service and then enters his ID and password. The I-REP service confirms the password and sends a query to the agency's AfW system for a list of this insured's policies. The AfW system responds and returns a data stream to i-REP. The i-Rep service reformats and displays the insured's client information and a policy list. (This is a case of real-time policy retrieval since the data comes directly from the management system, not from a copy made last night.)
The insured then chooses an auto policy from the list and requests the add/delete vehicle option. i-REP now send another query to the AfW system, this time for vehicle detail on the policy. When the data is returned, i-REP displays it with a change form. The insured fills in the desired changes and i-REP formats the information and sends it to the AfW system and puts it into the appropriate CSRs work queue. At that point an acknowledgment e-mail is automatically sent to the insured. Once the CSR processes the request, a confirming e-mail is automatically sent to the insured. This is an example of mediated, though integrated update. All-in-all, it's a clever approach.
Broadcast e-mails, management, hosting
AfW can store e-mail addresses and i-REP provides a broadcast e-mail function that supports e-mail related marketing functions
-- an important ability we've talked about elsewhere.
Because i-REP activity is recorded in the AfW suspense file, agency management can run reports to monitor the type and quantity of i-REP requests, thus getting a picture of Web-based service activity.
Though the i-REP service appears to the insured to be part of the agency Web site, it's actually hosted by NSG, relieving the agency of that duty. But because the data is always retrieved real-time from the AfW system, it does not need to be stored on the NSG server. The NSG server stores its own software and facilitates communication back and forth with the AfW system.
What does i-REP offer?
NSG's i-Rep service supports five main categories
of real-time policy interaction: policy services; change requests; certificates; auto ID cards, and first notice of loss.
Policy changes focus on drivers, vehicles, mortagees/ additional interests, basic policy information, and policy detail. NSG cites support for General Liability, Personal Auto, Commercial Auto, Personal Property, Commercial Property, Commercial Umbrella, and Workers Comp.
NSG supports online certificates. That means that insureds (when authorized by the agency) can request and get certificates. The certificates are stored in PDF files. They can be viewed and printed but not changed.
Another convenience for the insured is the ability to view and print auto ID cards. A lost card can be replaced immediately. A card for a new vehicle can be ready without the insured having to come into the office or waiting for snail mail.
Though i-REP supports a first notice of loss function, it's not obvious how often it would be used though it could be popular with some Workers Comp customers.
i-REP requires AfW version 4.0 or later and a dedicated Internet connection and IP address for the AfW system. NSG claims they've taken care of all AfW security issues. You'll want them to provide a detailed explanation.
NSG can also provide Web design, building, and hosting services. They integrate their i-REP service into the agency Web site environment, making it a seamless extension of the Web site.
At least on the surface, NSG has come up with a clever solution for AfW agencies to have their cake (on-line customer service) and eat it too (insulation of the management system from the customer while still supporting an integrated process).
I have no idea whether other agency management systems could support an NSG-type approach, though I'd recommend vendors and third parties look into it.
Because i-REP is another layer created by a third party, it may not have the completeness the management system could create. On the other hand, it may provide an alternative the management system vendor doesn't want to pursue. My guess is that i-REP will provide good responsiveness on the agency site, though you'll want that proven out. Though the on-line certificates function is useful, it doesn't have the functionality offered by dedicated certificate ASPs.
NSG has been in business since 1995 and offers additional products and services, some endorsed by the AMS User Group. Because of their consulting and technical background, the group has in-depth understanding of the AfW system. You can find out more at
NSG is a strong proponent of what I call out-facing services; that is, using technology and particularly the Internet and agency Web sites to provide information and functionality directly to insureds. They think it's an important part of agent's future. So do I.