OK, here’s where we separate the wheat from the chaff, to coin a phrase (!) — the dreaded workflow. So you got the prospect to the site with SEM or traditional marketing, you have a good product and presented the value proposition in an intelligent and attractive manner. Now the prospective enrollee is ready to “Apply Now.” Here’s where they lay their money down on the table and sign-up. And here’s where the vast majority of online insurance sites have crashed and burned. What follows are brief discussion points of best-practices gained from much trial-and-error with insurance workflow…

eApplications:

Open a new window for the workflow? I’ve seen it both ways and there are pro’s and con’s to both. My opinion? New window. That way if they do bail-out, they still have the main site open and might either try again, bookmark and come back later, or try another product.

Customizing quotes — This is supposed to be consumer-driven, so design the product with some options and let the customer decide. Remember, people like to buy stuff and not ‘be sold.’ Choices increase buy-in and eliminate buyer’s remorse.

Default settings — These are rarely a good idea. Definitely don’t pre-fill health underwriting questions to “No” (yes, I saw this done!)

Confirmation pages — Always a good idea, especially with critical data-points that drive premium or plan design.

Phone numbers — Yes, put a phone number on every page. If people get stuck for some reason, route them to a call center or other live support. And make sure the help desk notes the issue and routes the feedback to the Web designer so the page can be changed if appropriate.

Prioritizing questions – Think about it — if you were buying a car, would you want to be asked your home address first or what features in the car are you looking for?

e-signature — I’m amazed that there are still insurance companies struggling with this, over-complicating it, etc. It’s easy. If you want a model e-sig policy to give to legal and compliance, let me know and I’ll send you one.

Display and print receipts/apps/instructions, etc. — At the end of the process, go ahead and let the new applicant display their information. Give them instructions on how to print and save data. Send them an email receipt – or all of the above.

Thank you confirmation — At the end of everything, give them a quality thank you message with a “Close this Window” button — or better yet, use the grocery-line approach and present them with a small and simple ancillary sales item like a discount card, low-face life, critical illness product, etc. “By the way – good news!! You automatically qualify for…”

What about general workflow Architecture — the foundational stuff?

Security — Keep your Verisign logo or other security indicators in full view, prominently displayed, on every page right from the beginning. Trust is essential.

Drop downs and choice lists — Use these whenever possible. Don’t give people a chance to make a mistake or misinterpret something. Heck, just make it easier!

Embedded logic — Again, use whenever possible. Clean up your applications as they get filled. Generally, people don’t mind redoing an answer as they go if what they keyed doesn’t make sense.

Required fields — If it’s not required, it probably shouldn’t be shown at all (just adds to the clutter, like my mother-in-law’s entire house!) Only exception is marketing stuff — email opt-ins, etc…

Mouse-over descriptions — Always a good idea to help clarify important terms or concepts.

D’ing people — Try not to make the disqualification reason too obvious, otherwise they might be tempted to go back and change the answer just to get the policy, not understanding that their claims will likely be denied anyway for misrepresentation, etc…

Cross-selling at exit — A soft-sell on the Thank You page is a great idea. There are several proven methods for this, so don’t overlook this precious real estate.

Saving bail-out stats — You will need to know where people are bailing out of the process and try to reduce the frequency. It’s a fairly simple stat to keep.

Progress meters — Yes, people like to know how much more is left and, again, it’s a pretty simple bit of design architecture.

Save & Come Back later — Again, especially if it’s a longer process with more data requirements, give people the chance to pick-up where they left off if possible. Interruptions, calling a spouse for a data-point, system issues — stuff happens during a longer, more complex application process. Don’t penalize the customer.

A bit more miscellaneous e-app functionality:

Bar-coding if not using e-signature — A bunch of carriers do it this way if they don’t have an approved e-signature process. They transfer the data to the back-end, mark as ‘pending receipt of paper app’, and put a bar code on the completed app that the customer prints out, signs, and mails in. Then when the app arrives in the mail, they scan the bar code and that releases the data in the system for processing. Great work-around.

Mouse-driven ‘written’ signature — Sound a bit far-fetched. It’s not. I’ve used a couple different applets where I had a reasonably similar signature to a pen signature after only a couple attempts. Very, very cool.

Lastly, test the final results like a maniac. It’s critical that all data inputs and calculations, embedded logic, data-feeds, PDF-mapping, reporting and stats — everything — checks out completely. Don’t skimp on testing. Take at least a week and have several testing scenarios put through. Also load-test the software depending on the distribution scenario.

Hope this helps. Again, comments welcome. Next week: e-Issue and Online Policy Maintenance.