Signing off on Web verification

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Merging Web transactions and call center interactions is a critical challenge for e-commerce companies, especially when it comes to a customers money.

One particular tricky spot has been acquiring customers signatures to complete transactions. Believe it or not, it is still difficult to get them to download the digital certificate software necessary to verify that a purchase or, say, an insurance claim, is bona fide.

Today, a growing number of businesses are using software that provides paper-based signature forms in an attempt to bolster the verification process. This software scans the forms into a legally binding e-commerce publishing system that requires the customer to sign just one time for all transactions, now and in the future. Documents scanned into these systems are available immediately to both the customer and a companys call center representative.

More important than ever

These electronic verification form systems are expected to be more important than ever. Disaster relief from the Sept. 11 World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks is expected to generate tens of thousands of claims. Massive class-action lawsuits also may be likely.

So, federal and state agencies and corporations are looking at ways to make claims systems that were once reliant solely on paper more efficient, said Holly K. Towle, partner with Preston Gates & Ellis L.L.P., Seattle, a law firm that specializes in e-commerce.

"Processes that used to eat treesand big trees at thatcan be faster and more efficient," she said. "But people are still struggling with how to get an electronic signature."

Towle claims the Achilles heel of the process is attribution. "How do you attribute the act of punching a button on a computer screen to the right person?’’ she said.

Web software providers are driving to fix the problems with verification.

One of these vendors is Cardiff Software Inc., San Diego. For about $9,500, it delivers to enterprises a system that scans in paper-signature-based documents into an e-commerce system that allows Internet access to accounts, and delivers those same documents to call center representatives.

Cardiffs system filters documents to make sure common mistakes arent made, or deadlines arent missed. And once a signature is scanned from paper once, it is often unnecessary to continue with a paper-based process.

"Our biggest hurdle as a company is that corporations dont believe what we do can be done," said Robert Weideman, Cardiffs VP-marketing. "This is state-of-the-art data processing. It has gotten to the point that many types of forms can be processed on the Internet in an hour and a half, where before it might have taken half a day," he said.

Weideman believes that "95% of the transactions can be checked so efficiently, they dont have to be reviewed by humans at all. Most of our customers see a 100% return on investment on our software within a few months," he said.

Cardiff grew revenues by 46% in 2000 despite the down IT economy and the company continues to see surging demand, Weideman said.

Others who provide top-notch electronic forms systems include ReadSoft International, Sollentuna, Sweden, and Captiva Software Corp., San Diego.

Successful implementation

Karen Carey, attorney at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, P.L.L.C., never thought shed be responsible for a huge call center and document management operation. Yet thats exactly where she was a year ago.

One hundred employees at the Salem, North Carolina-based law firm worked two shifts to collect signatures and answer inquiries from 130,000 tobacco farmers, each trying to get a share of $5 billion in compensation for reduced consumption of cig-arettes, she said. The money is a key part of the tobacco industry settlement with attorneys general of 48 states, Carey said.

To automate the process, WCSR purchased and installed software from Cardiff. Today, WCSR has reduced call center and information technology staff allocated to the settlement from 100 to 12. It is the accuracy of the new system thats most impressive, Carey said.

"The quality of our data was the biggest issue," Carey said. "Cardiff [not only] made us more efficient by allowing us to have better quality documents, but also made our customer service to tobacco farmers better. And customer service is really important to us.

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