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North Waterloo Farmers Mutual Insurance has provided customers across Ontario with home, farm, commercial and auto insurance through its independent broker network since 1874. And its relationship with those brokers is one of the cornerstones of its long-term success, says Vice President and Chief Information Officer Josie Gaffney.
Another is its customer-intimacy business model, which, as Josie explains, means that North Waterloo treats its brokers more like business partners than sales agents and is committed to ensuring their success as much as its own. So when a majority of them asked North Waterloo to change one of its fundamental business practices, Josie and her colleagues paid attention.
For years, underwriting assistants opened online forms, keyed in the appropriate customer and policy information and printed two copies. Then they determined which policy wordings to attach to each transaction and pulled the appropriate pre-printed form out of a drawer to attach. Completed policies, wordings, invoices and other documentation were then couriered to the broker who wrote the business, who in turn added customized cover and other material, mailed one package to its customer and kept the second for its records.
To help them achieve a more sustainable competitive advantage, a majority of those brokers now wanted North Waterloo to process, print and mail this completed documentation directly to their customers instead.
“Moving to direct mailing and billing would involve a major workflow change and a significant financial investment,” remembers Josie. “But we were committed to helping our brokers be more successful in an increasingly challenging business environment.”
Josie and her team quickly realized they needed some technology to help do the work, starting with a folding and inserting solution, or so they thought.
“How do we make this change efficiently and cost-effectively?” she asked long-time office equipment and business solutions provider John Winkler of Information Network Systems. INS has been Neopost Canada’s dealer partner for the Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge area for over 25 years.
“At first, Josie and her team talked and I just listened,” recalls John. Then he began asking questions about their complete workflow – starting with the person pulling documents from drawers. “I wanted to identify every repetitive, time-consuming yet vital process that we could automate beyond just folding and inserting the finished documents.”
John was surprised to discover that one person spent a significant amount of time each day manually collating pre-printed forms and he was quickly convinced that Neopost’s output management solution, PrintMachine, was what they needed to complement a new high-speed folding/inserting and mail machine solution.
“You can imagine their excitement when I said, ‘We can automate this process,’ ” he remembers with a smile.
PrintMachine is a customizable solution whose ultimate goal is automation. It optimizes the entire document flow – from creating, collating and printing to distributing, mailing and archiving – to dramatically reduce labour costs and get documents into customers’ hands with far greater speed and accuracy than doing it by hand.
“PrintMachine can be programmed to do whatever people do manually,” explains John. “In North Waterloo’s case, that means filling in policy information as well as printing pink insurance slips, customer payment schedules, invoices and statements and keeping them all in whatever order they want.”
Moreover, it can actually read a customer statement and determine if money is owed to them. If a policy has been cancelled, for example, it will automatically divert such documentation to finance for processing rather than sending it to the mailroom.
North Waterloo also added a Neopost high-speed DS-80 folding and inserting solution and a state-of-the-art IS-6000 mailing machine to its new workflow. Among its many features, including connection to Neopost’s server for remote diagnostics, low-ink alerts and other online tools, is the IS-6000’s intelligent mixed-size feeder and in-motion weighing platform. This lets busy users place a pile of mixed mail on the feeder and walk away, knowing that each envelope will be correctly metered automatically.
“That is a fantastic time-saving feature,” says Josie. “It eliminates manual sorting and weighing and we love it.”
Before PrintMachine, one of North Waterloo’s staff took several piles of manually sorted broker documents each day and walked back and forth along a 15-foot stretch of mail slots to manually file them into one of 195 alphabetized pigeonholes to be couriered to the appropriate broker. It was time-consuming, tedious work where a simple slip of the hand could cause a serious error.
Now PrintMachine tells the printer to print all broker documents in alphabetical order. So there’s just one complete pile with all packages for each broker ready to be filed into those courier pigeonholes or mailed directly to customers. John estimates the timesaving alone from printing the broker documents in alphabetical order is as much as 60 minutes every day.
John is still asking questions, trying to further streamline the workflow and bring more value and efficiencies to North Waterloo’s operation.
“If you can train a person to perform a task,” he says, “we can program PrintMachine to perform that task 24 hours a day. As well, if the human eye can see it and the human brain can interpret it, then so can PrintMachine, and with much greater speed and complete accuracy.”
North Waterloo’s next project is to have PrintMachine programmed to automatically print the correct broker logo on the corresponding policy for each customer. The challenge, explains John, is knowing which logo to put on which document.
“When we’re done,” he says, “PrintMachine will be able to read a set of policy documents, identify which of 90 brokers wrote that business and print its logo in a small white space on a cover page 1,000 times a day.”
Josie still marvels that a Neopost software solution has brought automation, speed and accuracy to so many different tasks at North Waterloo Farmers Mutual Insurance.
“PrintMachine has streamlined many of our processes,” she says. “It has eliminated time-consuming, manual jobs and enabled us to redeploy staff to do more value-added work. Equally important, it has allowed us to give our broker partners what they asked for – direct billing. It’s a win-win-win solution that has changed our business.”