When you think of an insurance salesman, you don't immediately imagine a guy wearing a lamp shade and acting as the life of the party. Like accountants, these professionals have a bad reputation. They are thought of as being a little stodgy, a little boring, a little too wrapped up in numbers and procedures – generally, not a person you'd want to be trapped with in an elevator. The stereotypical insurance salesman is not spinning yarns or splitting your side with one-liners. However, supplemental insurance provider AFLAC Inc. is breaking this mold by injecting humor into its latest marketing campaign.
The television spots feature a duck that quacks "AFLAC" when the subject of supplemental insurance arises in conversation. The first commercial found the duck in a familiar setting – the park. The second spot was more adventurous as the name-dropping duck infiltrated a conversation on supplemental insurance that was taking place in a sauna. Gambling that consumers would appreciate the humor in these spots has paid off for the Columbus, GA-based company. As a brand name, research shows that AFLAC's name recognition has grown to 71% in 1999.
Gilbert Gottfried providing the voice-over for a talking duck may be memorable, but a company's level of customer service produces more tangible measurements of success. This is the kind of success that is not measured in name recognition, but in the bottom line. Thanks to aggressive marketing and IT investments, the bottom line at AFLAC is healthier than ever. The company's stock is hovering at an all-time high, and the 4,700-employee company reported $8.6 billion in revenue in 1999. To support its 40 million worldwide customers and its 35,000 licensed agents in the United States, the Fortune 500 company has constantly improved its e-business infrastructure. AFLAC's enterprise-wide technologies include electronic document and correspondence routing, online content management, CRM (customer relationship management), and BI (business intelligence) reporting tools. While the company handles many online requests for customers, a more recent initiative will allow customers to view bills and make payments via the Web.
Workflow Routes Digital Images To The Right Employees
The term "supplemental insurance" would seem to describe a product that would be a tough sell. After wading through all the contingencies of current policies, who would go out of their way to sign up for extra insurance? A few key words are all it takes to get the attention of potential AFLAC customers. Just thinking about cancer, long-term illness, long-term care, and accident and disability expenses is enough to make most people consider signing on the dotted line. For many consumers, however, the realization that their medical insurance does not cover such things as nursing services, travel to treatment centers, out-of-pocket expenses, and loss of earning power is only revealed after they suffer serious illnesses or accidents. "We protect our customers' savings and offer them a measure of security. Statistically speaking, one in four people will contract some form of cancer. That's a pretty scary number," explains Lynn Fry, vice president of information technology at AFLAC. "We offer a specific cancer policy, but the number one seller for us right now is our accident and disability coverage."
AFLAC offers eight different supplemental insurance policies. Therefore, claims volumes are high. At its headquarters in Columbus, the company processes an average of 10,000 claims per day. About 60% of those claims are received through the fax server and routed to the claims workflow system. The system then routes this work to the appropriate employees who will adjudicate the claims. In all, about 240 employees process AFLAC claims. The imaging and the workflow of the claims are handled by an Eastman Software (Billerica, MA) solution. While the current imaging and workflow solution has worked well, AFLAC has investigated an automated system. "We handle many different types of claims forms. The variations in the forms make it difficult to introduce recognition technology," says Fry. "Mostly, we're processing doctor bills that have no specific format. We investigated recognition technology, but there wasn't a solution flexible enough to handle all the different formats that we process."
A recent initiative further leverages the imaging and workflow capabilities of Eastman Software by handling correspondence from AFLAC customers. The level of complexity of each request determines which employees will actually process the correspondence. Just like the claims, correspondence is scanned in batches using Kodak scanners. Each correspondence is indexed and assigned one of 40 category types. For example, one category may address changes while another upgrades current policies. The correspondence is held in a queue and is assigned to employees who are permitted to handle particular transactions. An entry-level employee, for instance, will only be able to retrieve those particular requests from the queue. "This is really a more sophisticated workflow than what we have for claims processing. We can now perform skills-based routing and automatic escalation of work items," adds Fry.
Call Center Relieves Customers' Pain
Consumers come to AFLAC to extend the coverage of their traditional insurance policies. In a similar move, AFLAC has extended its imaging and workflow capabilities to serve as an enterprise information management system. Managing contacts from millions of customers and tens of thousands of licensed agents is like caring for sick patients. They want instant definitive answers. They want their problems to go away. And, they are usually in some degree of pain.
To manage this pain, AFLAC call center employees have access to 22 department and enterprise systems from one interface. It is an in-house system that allows CSRs (customer service representatives) to access different databases depending upon the questions they are answering. For example, an AFLAC agent may have questions regarding the rate of commission for a particular sale. This type of information is accessed from one database. The CSR, however, would access a different database to obtain information about a customer claim. CSRs can also access claims and correspondence that have been imaged. "We create and manage customer information files that pull all policy information and correspondence into customer folders. By drilling down, a rep can respond to an inquiry by viewing all of a customer's policies, claims, and correspondence. Reps can also access a master file if they need more information," says Fry.
Between administrative personnel, clerical employees, and CSRs, about 1,200 employees at AFLAC's headquarters access information through the Eastman Software solution. The balance of the 2,500 total employees in Columbus — mail room and security personnel, for instance — does not need to access such information.
Internet Apps Save Money
The AFLAC duck may only say the company's name. But, if he were forced to name the technology that is most changing the company, he'd surely squawk out, "Internet." "We are seeing a tremendous amount of activity on our Web site and in terms of IT projects," says Fry. "The number of customers and agents accessing information and making requests online has risen dramatically this year. We are positioning the company to handle what we think will be even more significant growth in the next few years. Customers and agents will one day prefer to use the Internet as their main contact point with AFLAC, and we are prepared to handle this change when the time comes."
AFLAC is already leveraging the Internet to present sales and incentive information to its agents in the field. Where the company used to send the reports by regular mail, they are now posted on the Web site and are password-protected. About those thousands of pieces of customer correspondence that AFLAC handles, those are now frequently arriving through the company's Web site. Another Internet initiative, electronic bill presentment and payment, is currently in the testing stage at AFLAC. When available, customers will be able to access billing information and view detailed claim information online.
Mass Storage And BI Are Critical To Enterprise Success
Managing company, agent, and customer data is a constant battle for AFLAC. The company's DB2 database is the primary source for data on the mainframe, and AFLAC uses a SQL server database for its client applications. Some of these applications include marketing processes and posting report information to agents via the Internet. Adds Fry, "We give the users Crystal Reports (from Seagate
Software) that they can write to query against any of the marketing databases." To manage mainframe data, AFLAC uses an IBM storage management solution.
No discussion of AFLAC's data management would be complete without an overview of the company's storage system. Imaged claims and correspondence are stored on Hewlett-Packard servers until AFLAC employees service the requests. Upon completion, the images are duplicated and migrated to separate 14-inch optical platters and then stored on Hewlett-Packard jukeboxes. By saving two copies of the images, AFLAC maintains a level of redundancy. It takes further precautions by backing up the optical jukeboxes on magnetic tape. The migration of images from server to optical to tape is handled by IBM's storage management software. The mainframe is primarily used to store internal company information, such as historical information and insurance applications. Of course, the mainframe data is backed up to magnetic tape.
Recall once more the AFLAC duck — a single-minded, digitally enhanced spokesman repeating the same mantra. While your IT department may not have a mascot, it may very well have a mantra. For AFLAC's team, that mantra might be, "enabling better customer service through technology." The IT employees at AFLAC do their level best to live up to these words. But, don't expect to see these folks repeating the words using makeshift nasal voices in steam rooms around the world.
Questions about this article? E-mail the author at EdH@corrypub.com.