Insurers Putting the Customer Front and Center

(Prateek Kumar is vice president, business solutions, for MajescoMastek)

Through the first half of the 1990’s, no one had a website. Today, that would be unthinkable for any business—insurance or otherwise. With the proliferation of Internet technologies, social networking, and blogging, insurers can easily have a wide reaching and diverse web presence. But not all websites—or all customer experiences—are equal. A website alone is not enough to satisfy today’s average customer.

Speed creates need

Customers have come to expect speed of service from their providers. It does not matter if the service is banking, retail shopping or insurance. Today’s customers have high and growing expectations and little patience for anything that fails to impress. No longer are businesses compared within their own industry. From the customer’s viewpoint, if a Zappos rep can stay on the line for eight hours or Southwest Airlines can seamlessly transfer an in-progress online transaction to a telephone call, then what is stopping insurance companies from following suit?

The customer has no time for excuses and will no longer wait for change. This shift in consumer, from pre- to post-1990’s, has created an accompanying business shift, where organizations can grow and shrink with stunning speed, all based on waves of consumer opinion. And, with many potential customers considering alternatives to their current insurance provider, the time is now to make a lasting impression.

Besides holding all organizations to the same high standards, customers have access to the knowledge about how things should work and they are empowered with the ability to instantly praise or curse a service provider via a status update, tweet or blog post. A simple Google search can produce reviews, rumors, and reports regarding any insurance company, whether a positive or negative experience, and whether true of false.

While one customer may praise her insurance provider’s online support, another may complain their online account does not show up-to-date account transactions. Now, more than ever, the customer is a valuable marketer who deserves the attention of the entire insurance organization.

Putting the customer first is a big, but necessary, task. Digital consumers, regulatory requirements, demographic shifts, and economic balance are driving change. These drivers are not without new opportunities, especially in the areas of smart devices, Big Data and analytics, social networking, usability, and gamification. These opportunities require more data collection, channels to launch and products wrapped in the complexities of changing regulations and consumer demands.

The challenges may be daunting, but they are also both inevitable and full of potential. The toughest part is knowing where to start.

It All Begins at IT

Possibly the most beneficial place to start is by looking at the core Information Technology, with a concentration on customer centricity. IT can bridge the gap between the growing impatience of customers and the complexity of the technological needs.

It is important for IT to aim at both distribution partners (agents) and end customers (consumers), delivering a positive experience for both.  While happy consumers make for happy agents, the agent’s own experience should not be overlooked. The agents need to be as happy with the experience as the consumers.  

If the goal is to focus on the consumer, it would seem natural to address end consumer needs before turning attention to the agents. Yet, insurers might consider dealing with the agent UI and overall experience first. Better, modern technology empowers agents to be more than information conduits. With the right access to data and capabilities they can become true value-add expert advisors.

Digging deeper into agent needs, a new customer-centric IT model would help track new business, create a single view of all customer activity and updates without the detriment of silos, and provide accurate up-to-date comparisons and real time updates. The consumer would, in turn, benefit from shortened time from point-of-sale to policy issue, one-view of all transactions, real time servicing and faster claims settlement.

Agents and consumers already expect most of these functions, and bridging the gap between reality and expectations will improve the customer experience and, subsequently, customer retention and acquisition.

Forward Movement Hindered by Lack of Agility

Legacy systems are often unable to meet the demands of today’s expectations. Even with legacy restrictions, some companies may try to stretch their use, seemingly saving some money in the short run, yet missing out on the larger reward. Patchwork fixes and updates may have kept legacy systems running, but waiting too long to replace the old with the new may prove far too costly.

Common legacy roadblocks to customer centricity include information distributed across disparate systems and silos, making a common view and sharing of data between teams or products virtually impossible.  There are excessive costs to create unique customer identifiers, distribution concerns, and transaction business rules and suitability. And, the complexity of rules in some products may lead to regulatory issues.

However, the biggest impediment may be a common organizational commitment to a customer centric model. Without that unified commitment, customer centricity will not be achieved, regardless of the technology in place.

Building Priority List

Once committed to customer centricity, the transition can begin, starting with establishing objectives.  The transition should target technical innovation, strive to measure the correct things, create feedback loops, think “outside in” versus “inside out” and foster real and engaging experiences for the customer. Most importantly, the effort should aim for the easy, low-hanging fruit early on—mobility and social networking. Both are huge steps toward a customer-centric model and can be accomplished without a system overhaul.

A customer centricity project does not leave room to make mistakes when it comes to delivering a satisfying customer experience.  Getting it right the first time may require developing focus groups for agents to provide input on their experiences, recruiting them to test application processes or interfaces, or gathering a beta group of customers to look at a new mobile app before rollout. Seeking advice from every stakeholder in the customer experience—from tele-interviewers and customer service agents, to underwriting and claims analysts—is imperative to understanding and meeting customer expectations.

Getting it right the at the beginning might be a critical step, but accepting that change is both ongoing and inevitable, and planning for it, is just as important. As customers change so do their respective needs, requiring the new customer-focused systems and processes to continually be re-tuned to address the changes with course corrections.

With a customer-centric mindset, technology, and processing in place, not only will the organization benefit from satisfied consumers and agents, but when opportunities arise, the insurer will be ready to respond to and capitalize on them.

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