Case Studies

Information Services: Business Standardization & Intelligent Automation Plug Gaps Left by Core Systems to Enable Effective Margin Management

Global Information Services Company
North America

Project Background

For decades, this company called itself an “information provider,” serving the global pharmaceuticals industry. After several major acquisitions broadened its market footprint across the entire healthcare sector, steady growth far exceeded original expectations. It rebranded itself as a “research and advisory firm,” delivering standard “products” as well as customized “management consulting” services. Management and employees considered the business a success.

But in recent years, margin growth lagged revenue gains, and external shareholders grew restless. Finally, under pressure from activist investors, the COO launched a costly, core-technology-transformation initiative that promised lower costs, productivity gains, improvements in customer self-service, and continuous digital-automation capabilities. But 18 months after completion, nothing much had changed, and margin growth was still lackluster.

While visiting frontline employees, the COO was stunned by all the manual work required. Workers still used their familiar spreadsheets, uploading to the new system only after they had completed their individual tasks. Virtually none of the IT initiative’s promised benefits could be seen.

The work didn’t move “seamlessly” throughout the organization on a single workflow platform. Employees performed manual data transfers and reconciliations of under-standardized formats for customer and product information. Profitability, or margin data—promised for customers, products, and services—was not available.

Perhaps most disappointing, the leading edge, fully-featured, customer relationship management (CRM) application seemed to be used simply as a replacement for the old customer info database.

The COO had understood that this new CRM “toolset” would help provide “one face to the customer,” coordinating everything from sales prospecting to segmented service levels for customers based on their profitability and total value.

Any questions from the COO were met with overwhelming assurances from execs that, “we’re on it, and will have it soon.” He contacted The Lab for objective, rapid documentation of end-to-end business processes, overall performance, and near-term, feasible opportunities to make the most of existing assets and technologies.

Project Overview

Project Sponsor: Chief Operations Officer

Client: Professional Services, Information Provider

Implementation Results
  • Operating cost: down 20%

  • Capacity improvement: up 25%

  • “Avoidable” customer inquiries: down 70%

  • Break-even point: 5 mos.

Project Scope:
  • Product sales and fulfillment

  • Customer service and support

  • Data procurement and integration

  • Related administrative support

Client Description, Project Scope, Objectives

A Top 10 global provider of information services, the company employs 35,000 people.

The Lab’s first initiative focused on operations in North America, covering approximately 4,000 employees. Later, these findings were used as “best practice future state models” to accelerate analysis of other locations and businesses.

The Phase I project scope was “end-to-end,” starting with sales prospecting, extending through all aspects of fulfillment, customer service, partnership administration (data sources), compliance, billing, collections, and various administrative support functions.

The primary objective targeted rapid assessment of the division for the COO with pragmatic proposals to support the ongoing board-level discussions for improving enterprise-wide margins and shareholder value.

The COO wanted to move beyond the financial-engineering proposals of the activists and unlock the business value inherent in existing operations—and the recently-deployed new technology. His travels throughout the organization convinced him that these existing, intangible assets were under-used and undervalued.

Initiative Objectives:
  • Accelerated margin growth

  • Increased productivity

  • Better customer self-service

Overview: Phase I, Analysis and Discovery

The initiative began with an eight-week Phase I analysis covering end-to-end operations and business processes, including:

  • Sales
    • Prospecting
    • Targeting
    • Campaigning
    • Lead Management
  • Client Services
    • Contracting
  • Onboarding and Implementation
    • Account Maintenance
    • Issue Resolution
  • Product Management
    • Partnership Administration
    • Data Enrichment and Integration
    • Analytical and Reporting Services
  • Support Groups
    • Billing and Collections
    • Information Technology
    • Risk and Compliance

The Lab’s management consulting team deployed our proprietary information-services standardization templates, including:

  • Industry-standard KPIs
  • Related data taxonomies
  • Business process maps
  • Operations benchmarks
  • Best practices
  • Automation “use cases”

These enable rapid, remote documentation and analysis of more than 85 percent of employee work activities (approximately two minutes each), while only requiring one hour per week of any subject matter expert’s (SME’s) time.

The analysis was first conducted in jointly selected, representative client offices across North America. The business process maps, standardization improvement inventories, automation candidates, and regional best practices were documented for these initial locations and then “gap tested” among other client offices performing similar work. This frugal analytical approach documented more than 200 total improvements in just eight weeks.

Roughly 40 percent of these were non-technology standardization improvements that boosted operational effectiveness, reduced avoidable rework, and/or enabled automation. The remaining improvements were technology-dependent, but the new core system included most of the necessary features—these simply weren’t used because of the human work effort required to gather the information.

The Lab documented scores of automation candidates to absorb the tedious work of transcribing information and improve use of the most valuable features of existing technology: profitability calculation, lead management, real-time operational performance reporting, and automated alerts. Better yet, all improvements could begin implementation immediately. Progress could be achieved incrementally, without the risk of a “big-bang” event. Each area could proceed at their own pace as part of a coordinated, transformational roadmap.

Project Summary:
  • 8-week Analysis and Discovery
  • 8-month Implementation
  • Self-funding
  • No new core technology required

Findings: Phase I, Analysis and Discovery

Analysis revealed that the current performance reporting understated the true extent of the issues facing the business. Problems were all higher than reported—sometimes by as much as 10 to 30 percent.

These problems included:

  • Missed payments
  • Processing error-rates
  • Lapsed policies

Because of this, first-call resolution rates were below acceptable targets. And average handle times varied excessively at the CSR level—sometimes by five times or more—for similar call types.

The single largest cause of missed payments and policy lapses was conflicting brand identities on:

  • Policies
  • Websites
  • Invoices
  • Emails

This brand confusion also squandered the firm’s extensive investment in direct marketing and advertising—the lifeblood of its revenue engine.

Other standardization improvement opportunities also contributed to the excessive volume of avoidable calls from prospects and policyholders. For example, the division’s self-service capability for policyholders was underpromoted and consequently under-used. Policyholders found it easier to call the contact center for assistance updating their personal contact information and other simple requests.

A lack of visibility similarly made it difficult for employees, prospects, and policyholders to understand the status of their payments, policies, and benefits without directly contacting an individual and launching an inquiry. 

These avoidable calls, coupled with the extended handle times, diminished policyholder experience and “ease of doing business” with the company. Policyholders were frustrated at the level of effort required to get an answer. This, in turn, pushed lapse rates ever higher.

Assets and Deliverables: Phase I, Analysis & Discovery
  • 8+ major policyholder services business processes documented at nano-scale detail
  • 70+ process-standardization opportunities identified
  • 25+ automation candidates identified
  • 30+ advanced analytics and KPI use-cases identified
    • Performance measurement dashboards
    • AI/ML opportunities (e.g., customer communications, management “alerts”)
    • Ad hoc analysis: operational, strategic

Overview: Phase II, Implementation

The eight-month, self-funding Phase II implementation effort was able to simultaneously increase CSR productivity, upgrade customer experience, reduce lapses, and deliver cost reduction.

Specific, measurable improvement goals were established for the client by each:

  • Location
  • Team
  • Individual CSR

Improvements implemented throughout the client’s various policyholder services groups succeeded in:

  • Increasing organizational speed and effectiveness
  • Reducing unnecessary expenses
  • Designing and installing new standards to simultaneously improve:
    • Productivity
    • Work quality
    • Service levels

Senior management could perform the work with any mix of resources they chose:

  • Internal resources
  • The Lab’s resources
  • Others

Life Insurance, Policyholder Services Improvement Examples: Phase II, Implementation

The Lab consolidated the 120+ improvements into a self-funding implementation work plan, organized into a handful of major work streams, including the three examples below.


IMPROVEMENT EXAMPLE #1 – Upgrade performance reporting

The Lab helped reduce the quantity of existing management reports by two-thirds and standardize the existing key performance indicators (KPIs).

This KPI redesign enabled automation of most report preparation tasks—previously manual— by capitalizing on features in the existing call-center technology. Individual employee performance KPIs were simplified and made available, confidentially, to each worker. Anonymized averages provided benchmarks for comparison and variance reduction. Robotic process automation was added to push alerts to managers and draw their attention to outlier employees, both high and low performers.

IMPROVEMENT EXAMPLE #2 Standardize and automate correspondence

Correspondence for prospects and policyholders was centralized; automated notifications were deployed to monitor exceptions, or “maverick” correspondence. Standardization templates were developed for all vehicles: hard copy, email, texts, and CSR scripts.

Predictive analysis (AI) helped anticipate correspondence needs and prompt employees with suggested vehicles, timing, and message details. Workflow automation was installed to populate correspondence templates with customized information—name, address, policy information— and send communications to policyholders with the click of a button (or in some cases, with no human interaction).

IMPROVEMENT EXAMPLE #3 – Automate lapse preemption

The Lab helped further identify, refine, and ultimately automate preemption of the “root causes” of in-force policy lapses. Two of the top five lapse root causes were addressed with one-time, non-technology changes, including updating CSR scripts to add more emphasis on setting up automatic premium payments. Others resulted from predictable, repetitive issues that could be addressed with automation: upcoming or missed-payment notifications, credit card expiration alerts, and others. This effort also involved simplifying existing policyholder notifications (e.g., lapse notifications), many of which had not been formally reviewed in several years.

To monitor and sustain the impact of these changes, standard KPIs with basic predictive capabilities (AI) were installed to alert reps in advance and launch preemptive correspondence or contact.

The Lab Makes it Easy

Organization-friendly engagement design

At The Lab, we’ve spent three decades refining every aspect of our transformation engagement model. We’ve made it easy for clients—from the C-Suite to the front line—to understand and manage the initiative:

  • Minimal use of client time: One to two hours each week, maximum.
  • Measurable benefits: Typical 12-month ROI is 3x to 5x.
  • Pre-built templates and tools: Process maps, data models, bots, and more.
  • U.S.-based, remote delivery: Nothing is ever outsourced or offshored.

Designed to reduce risk, increase success

Since 1993, The Lab has led the industry in eliminating risk for our clients. Whether your engagement involves a handful of bots or wall-to-wall transformation, we make it easy to do business with us:

  • Fixed pricing and clearly defined scope
  • Early-out checkpoints and options
  • Money-back guarantees

Book your demo today

Rapidly accelerate—and monetize—your strategic initiatives, including process improvement, org design, intelligent automation, analytics, AI, and more.

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