By Sue Ray
FAIA Communications Director
Ernst & Young is out with its 2016 Global Insurance Outlook for U.S. property and casualty insurers.
The report predicts and ranks, on a scale of one to 10, the impact of
external forces on the P&C market in 2016, and provides a road map
for transformation. It is a must-read.
|“Driven by their interactions in other digitally enabled
industries, such as retail and banking, property-casualty customers are
increasingly demanding a more sophisticated and personalized experience—including
digital distribution, anytime access, premiums accurately reflecting usage and
individual risk, and higher levels of product customization and advice.”
|—2016 US P&C Outlook
The report can be summed up like this: Invest in technology and use it to improve the customer experience. Do it now.
If the report’s advice to carriers sounds familiar, it should,
because this very same advice has been doled out to agents for years.
A digital strategy that fully incorporates technology touches almost every aspect of the insurance business:
- Marketing (social media, website, SEO, digital communications);
- Distribution (how “paperwork” gets done; hint, it’s not paper work anymore);
- Customer service (web-based, in real time); and
- Pricing (collecting and using data to evaluate and inform pricing, and doing so with transparency).
Investments in technology improve back-end operational efficiency,
which almost always leads to better customer service. And in the
“Internet age,” meeting customers' expectations has never been more
Carriers (and agencies) that won’t or can’t meet customer
expectations do so at their own peril. You are sadly mistaken if you
think Internet-age customer is some kid in his 20s, hardly worth
bothering with because he has yet to reach his peak earnings potential.
I am a married, working mother of two who is nearing a milestone
birthday (let’s just leave it there)—I am an Internet-age customer. And
chances are good that most of you are, too; you just don’t realize it.
Many of us are so set in our workplace ways that we don’t realize we’re
doing the very things that annoy us about doing business with others.
Do you buy shoes from Zappos? Don’t you just love how easy they make
it, how they seem to know what you are looking for the minute you open
your browser? How shipping is free—both ways!? Zappos' high level of
customer service is built from the ground up on technology; is why its
customers are so loyal. Would you love buying shoes from Zappos if when
you found the shoe you were looking for, the next step involved printing
out a PDF to select the size and color?
Another example: If you have children, doesn’t it drive you crazy
when you have to fill out dozens of similar paper forms at the beginning
of the school year? Why does every class, after-school activity, and
athletic team need a separate form when they are all asking for the same
That's so 20th Century, and it’s bad customer service.
When it comes
to school, there aren’t a lot of alternatives (and changing schools
based on that alone could be perceived as petty). But there are a
lot of alternatives for insurance consumers. If a customer’s online
experience is lacking, they will look for, and find, one that is not.
customer experience is lacking if it requires customers to:
- Use a pen
- Find a stamp
- Write a paper check
- Download and print a PDF
- Use a fax machine (provided they can find one!)
- Scan and email a document
Alone, none of those things seems like a big hassle. Taken together
(as they often are), each step you make a potential customer take is
like another tiny orange cone on the road to giving you their business.
Baby steps: This, you can do
At the very base level, customers expect their emails to be answered.
If your agency uses a “contact us” form to collect information from its
website, potential clients may be falling through the cracks. Get
answers to the following questions as soon as possible:
- Who receives the information generated through the form?
- If the information goes to a general e-mailbox (email@example.com), who is responsible for checking it? Anyone?
- Does your agency have a policy for handling inbound email? Such a
policy might include how often it should be checked and number of days
(it should be minutes) before inquiries are handled.
I have failed to get a response from so many businesses after
completing the online form that I don’t fill them out anymore. Don’t be
that business. Have a plan, or better yet, list your agency staff on
your website and include email addresses and phone numbers.