Farmers Insurance used to gauge how it was doing by comparing itself to its primary competitors, such as State Farm and Allstate. "But increasingly," said CEO Jeffrey Dailey during the Dreamforce show in San Francisco earlier this month, "that's not what our customers experience."
Dailey took over the CEO's role in January 2012. He knew he'd been appointed to bring the insurance company into the modern age instead of allowing the consumer's interaction with their insurer to remain stuck in the last century.
"Customers know what their experiences are with Amazon, Google, and Apple, and that's what they expect will be their experience with all their providers," Dailey said during a keynote session on the Salesforce Financial Services Cloud on Oct. 5.
"Technology has really invaded our world. That doesn't change what's at the core of Farmers, the relationship between the agent and the customer," Dailey continued. But the agent to customer relationship is now more heavily served by an upgraded CRM system.
"We view technology as creating an omni-channel around the agent to support the customer," he said.
Prior to implementing Salesforce CRM, Farmers relied on a predecessor system that was slow to change and hard to update. It required the call center representative to cobble together information on the customer from six or seven different systems, in addition to the CRM, according to Farmers' CIO Ron Gurrier, who spoke to Forbes in September.
The legacy CRM system wasn't named by Dailey in his Dreamforce talk, but Forbes contributor Tom Groenfeldt on Sept. 23 mentioned that Salesforce's transition was away from Oracle Siebel Systems CRM to Salesforce.
"We view technology as creating an omni-channel around the agent to support the customer," Dailey said.
By omni-channel, Dailey didn't mean just Salesforce CRM. Farmers is applying Salesforce's artificial intelligence system -- Einstein -- to information being drawn into the CRM to give customer service representatives and Farmers' agents more of a 360-degree view of the customer.
Farmers was an early adopter in 2010 of Salesforce Chatter, the collaborative CRM application that offered enterprise employees profiles of each other, project status updates, and real-time information feeds. Chatter can update Salesforce agents and service representatives on recent customer activity and pending deals.
Salesforce calls its first vertical CRM application the Financial Services Cloud. It is also equipped with Einstein, an AI system that the company introduced on Sept. 19 that combines Salesforce's own data science with technology from three recent Salesforce acquisitions: PredictionIQ, RelateIQ, and MetaMind.
Together, these systems identify and relate information from different units of the company, as well as different types of policies, that are tied to a single customer. The agent or service rep gets a summary presentation on a single page.
When a Salesforce executive suggested Farmers business processes might have been established at the start of its 88-year-history, Dailey quipped, "We've gotten rid of our 88-year-old processes and replaced them with 75-year-old processes."
In reality, Salesforce has taken a step into the future with its new mobile application, First Notice of Loss, used by both customers and agents.
"Let's face it, nobody in the room likes insurance. When you need it, something bad has happened. It may just be a fender-bender, or it may be the loss of a loved one," Dailey said, citing the heart of a customer relationship problem for insurance companies.
"Insurance companies have had armies of people in call centers reading a script to find out what happened. Then the caller needs to get assigned an adjuster. It's not a particular pleasant process," he said to a hall filled with about three thousand Dreamforce attendees.
A customer with a smartphone, however, can now use the Farmers' app to call up all his or her policy information and initiate a claims procedure at any time of the day or week. If needed, he or she can indicate that a chat with customer service representative was scheduled.
Eran Agrios, Salesforce's go-to market lead for Financial Services Cloud, explained how that might work.
In an actual case, a bear broke into a customer's home in a rural area two hours north of San Francisco, damaged a cabinet door, and raided the freezer for a piece of meat. The customer, in attempting to report the incident, was stumped by the available categories. There was no category for bear break-in damage.
Agrios dialed up a customer service representative who guided her to click on the "other" option listed on the app interface, then drop down through a list of common mishaps to "something else happened." By invoking that category, Agrios was able to enter details of the break-in via the phone and receive a notice when her claim was approved and payment for it deposited to her account in the bank. The process takes a few clicks on icons and minimal detail entry, she said.
Dailey said the availability of the app, and Einstein's ability to correlate key words in email, filed documents, social media postings, and comments gave the customer service representatives the multiple channels or the "omni-channel" that they needed to gain sufficient information about the customer.
In his talk, Dailey went beyond that scenario, saying Salesforce SaaS was allowing Farmers to transition itself into the digital economy. The mobile application and Einstein's ability to coordinate information "creates a listening muscle in the company ... We can listen to the customer and create the future customer experience."
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In addition to listening, the company is encouraging the customer to supply essential details and enter them in the system, at a convenient time. But Dailey acknowledged how that process was good for Farmers internal processes, while it met a customer wish.
"Now we've put the customer in control, put the agent in control of that process ... the value of the experience has gone up tremendously, and our costs have come down tremendously."
In another example, he held up an outmoded piece of paper -- the automobile insurance card. "It costs us $5 million a year to send out that piece of paper, which the customer frequently loses. That's a lot of money for a not particularly good customer experience."
With the Farmers mobile app, customers receive the latest copy of their insurance cards on their smart phones, whenever they ask.
"The best outsourcing we have ever done is outsourcing to our customers. They want to be in control and be able to be involved in their policy, and do transactions on their time," Dailey told the crowd. "It ratchets up their experience tremendously, and ratchets down our costs tremendously."Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive ... View Full Bio