I’ve just returned from dropping off my oldest daughter at college. In the preceding weeks as she and her sisters prepared to live apart for the first time, I became keenly aware their definition of being apart is significantly different from that of my generation. (Come to think of it, their concept of what it means to be together is fundamentally different as well.) 

For a generation reared on ever-present technology and up-to-the-minute status reports, the world just operates differently. I’m a pretty bleeding-edge guy, but to them ubiquitous technology is second nature. With this realization, I started thinking about technologies that are second nature to other industries but not widely adopted in our world. These two systems, in particular, are relatively easy to adopt, relatively inexpensive and completely transformational.

LiveChat

Whenever I need to talk to my cell provider, cable company or just about any other vendor, I cringe at the thought of having to navigate a phone menu, explain my issue and endure transfers to other agents with maybe a 50% chance of getting my issue resolved. Enter the wonder of live chat. The technology doesn’t require much explanation, as you’ve probably used it yourself. Go to the website, click the link and you’ll find yourself chatting online with the same agents that answer the phone. The beauty of this tool is your ability to multitask. Rather than listening to hold music on your speakerphone, you can type a question, switch back to your spreadsheet and keep working while you wait for a reply. Don’t worry about being rude. The agent on the other side is doing the same thing, likely handling multiple conversations at the same time.

So if the experience is good for customers, what does this tool bring to you on the agency side? Live chat tools give your clients another way to work with your agency. While some clients will stick with phone and email, you’ll be surprised how quickly they adopt this tool. Your account executives and service teams will also find they’re able to work with more insureds each day.

Quick issues and questions are great cases for a live chat session. If the issue turns out to be more complex, it’s easy for an account executive to switch to a phone call. These systems also do a great job of tracking and storing chat conversations, which can then be attached to the client’s file. This certainly provides a better historical record than most phone call logs.

So with all these benefits, this must be a complex and expensive system, right? Believe it or not, no. Multiple options are cloud-based and sold by subscription. The services provide a snippet of code, which you put at the bottom of every page on your website. Everything else happens in the cloud. Better yet, they’re surprisingly cheap. You probably spend more on fax machine repairs than you’ll spend on a live chat system.

My favorite option: LiveChat 

Electronic Signatures

This one might seem a little obscure, so stay with me and you’ll see the light. Anyone who has purchased a house in the past decade is familiar with electronic signatures. As real estate agents send around documents that need to be signed prior to the sale, you receive an email that shows you the contract, allows you to pick a stylish signature and prompts you to “click to sign.” It seems simple, but there’s a lot going on in the background.

To understand the value of electronic signatures, think of the concept of validating a transaction. There’s a lot of faith involved in wet signatures. I email you a document. You print it, sign it and email it back to me. I do the same. Then we save our “signed” copies and move on with our business feeling confident that we have a deal. But how do we really know who signed what or when they signed it?

Trust is a virtue in business until we disagree; then, we require proof. In our industry, a bind order, a cancellation or an endorsement is a huge deal. When an E&O claim hits, we spend an inordinate amount of time figuring out who did what and when.

Enter electronic signatures. You might assume an electronic signature is simply a scan of your signature. There’s far more to it than that. In fact, the better systems validate the transaction in 10 or more ways. When you e-sign something, the system notes your internally generated unique ID, your computer’s name, your computer’s unique hardware address, your network IP address, your location based on invisible identifiers that exist on your network and several other criteria depending on the system. You probably don’t realize just how many unique identifiers exist between you and your insureds, but they are there. (Ever wonder how the FBI catches people who commit computer fraud?) This system allows you to use these identifiers to your advantage.

You may be wondering if your agency even collects signatures on a regular basis. If your firm is focused on large commercial accounts, this might seem like a technology you don’t need. So here’s where you need to think outside the box a little.

Remember, the entire concept of a signature is antiquated. Don’t get caught up on the idea of ink and paper. With an e-signature system in place, you can create internal processes aimed at reducing E&O risk. From here you can get even more creative. Define a set of risky endorsements and policy changes that need additional validation before they are executed and tie them into the e-signature system. Is someone dropping flood coverage before a hurricane? Send them a change form that requires an e-signature. How about cancellation of a policy above a certain limit? Asking your client to e-sign a document takes just a couple of clicks on their computer keyboard. While an “email, print, scan” process would likely annoy them, a click-through validation is a piece of cake.

Once the confirmation is e-signed, it is stored in the e-signature system forever. If an E&O claim arises in the future, you can prove who signed what, when and where at the push of a button.

Like live chat, most e-signature systems are subscription-model, cloud-based systems. Most charge per signature, so you only pay for what you use.

My favorite option: DocuSign. (Full disclosure: I am on DocuSign’s advisory board.)

Live chat and e-signature are easy-to-buy technologies that are quick to install and can make a huge difference in your agency. Each technology has a unique set of advantages your agency can realize in a matter of months. These systems will start to bring your agency more in line with the interconnected world. Outside of our industry we are becoming accustomed to communicating and conducting business online at the speed of light. It’s time we caught up inside our firms.