Written by:  Chad Hamblin

There’s a shift in the insurance industry being brought on by an increasingly competitive marketplace and the growing demands of more sophisticated customers. And with those dual competing pressures, there is an increased awareness by insurance companies that they need to move from a policy-centric business to one centered on customers. This shift requires not just a change in mentality but also technologies employed. With the potential to make insurance companies not only more productive but more importantly more responsive to their customers and agents, this shift in mindset can in turn boost profitability. And that is exactly where CRM comes into the picture.

As with any new toolor technology, success with CRM starts with adoption. A company cannot drive widespread change through a technology that nobody uses. That is why, especially in a space like insurance—where a large portion of the work force may be independent agents—it’s critical that CRM tools be easy to learn and use. If your software works in a way that is natural—for instance, through an email application like Microsoft Outlook—just imagine how much quicker and easier it will be for your agents to hit the ground running. What if your claims or call center agent could seamlessly use real-time communication capabilities like instant messaging and video sharing or productivity features like mail-merge right inside of CRM? How much easier it would be for them to capture customer information, collaborate and resolve customer issues? Or what if your sales staff could seamlessly export data from the CRM solution to Excel, make changes in Excel and have those changes automatically reflected back in CRM?

Many insurance companies have realized remarkable business benefits by using a familiar CRM solution that is natively tied to other productivity tools they already use on a daily basis. Garanti Pension and Life used Microsoft Dynamics CRM to establish a 360-degree customer view and streamline key processes, which, in turn allowed them to reduce customer service resolution times by 75%, improve sales efficiency by 25%, and ultimately increase the average customer contribution rate by 43%.

But a CRM solution that works through a familiar email application and provides visibility into the business is really just the starting point. For example, imagine making your CRM solution a single system where staff and agents can manage forecasting, client details, policies, premiums, underwriting, evidence requests, approvals, and much more. Insphere Insurance Solutions did just that as they use Microsoft Dynamics CRM across all facets of their business. And as Steve Jensen, Vice President of IT at Insphere points out, “Providing leading-edge tools … is a competitive advantage for our agents and key differentiator for us in agent recruiting and retention.”

Insphere also uses Microsoft Dynamics CRM to provide a graphical funnel interface to its agents for intelligent lead management. Using this interface, agents can click on funnel status sections to instantly identify the highest probability leads. And, as their leads transform into new wins, the lead status and funnel view updates automatically. Insphere has also extended much of the functionality of its solution to mobile devices, which helps agents work deals on the road or more rapidly respond to client inquiries while on-the-go.

But these examples are just a glimpse of how far CRM tools can be taken. Many insurance companies are using Microsoft Dynamics CRM for an ever-broadening range of business scenarios including risk analysis, financial planning, policy enforcement, agent training, property management, and other key business areas. At Microsoft, we have a vision of CRM as a single system that provides support to the whole business. We envision an insurance industry where the customer experience truly comes first—and one where putting the customer first doesn’t detract from productivity, but rather is a consequence of being as productive as possible.  Microsoft Dynamics CRM can help you get there.

Post originally written for Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/microsoftdynamics/2013/03/01/insurance-building-a-customer-centric-business/