Filed Under:Markets, Commercial Lines

Customer relationships are more important than ever; here's proof

To be successful in the insurance industry, know your customers better than your competitors do.
To be successful in the insurance industry, know your customers better than your competitors do.

A recurring theme at the Annual Insurance Executives Conference, held in early December, was “know your customer.”

The presenters generally agreed that the most successful agents, brokers and carriers are those who understand customers, their business operations, and their needs better than their competitors. For example, David Hollander, Global Insurance Advisory Lead for Ernst & Young (EY), observed that this conference was “radically different” than it would have been three years ago. “The attendees are more insightful, more aware of customer segments and needs, and more attentive to risk mitigation strategies,” he told PC360.

Insurance brokers and agents have to move away from product silos and become consultants to business. “When I understand what the risks are, how to transfer risk, and a how to mitigate the risk, premium will come,” Hollander said.

These views are borne out by the results of the EY Global Consumer Insurance Survey 2014, released in early December. The survey’s overall finding was that customer relationships at all levels had direct impacts on the bottom line. Survey results also confirmed that the insurance industry is facing the same type of digital-driven and consumer-led disruption that retail, banking and other sectors have experienced recently.

Business men shaking hands

Here are the key findings from the global survey:

1. High turnover and low trust signal serious relationship issues.

When marketing to all customers, especially millennials, “you have to talk in ways they can hear,” Hollander explained. Right now, many younger customers have the perception that the insurance industry is there just to take their money. They’re looking for service and a reason to purchase from a particular carrier or broker. To be successful in the current economic climate, insurance companies need to communicate what makes them better than the competition—to employees, customers, agents and brokers, and partners.

2. Just because they leave you doesn’t mean they don’t love you.

Hollander noted that “The industry isn’t reaching out to customers who left,” which leaves a lot of sales leads behind. Former customers are heavily influential in purchasing, and they may continue to recommend your company to their friends and colleagues, even though they have switched carriers.

For most customers the switch has more to do with product offers and pricing than customer service. Product innovation is replicable over time. How well you know your customers and partner with others that add value and capabilities is the differentiator, according to Hollander.

3. Insurers have so few interactions with their customers that each one becomes a critical moment of truth.

The global survey defines a “moment of truth” as an interaction or experience that positively or negatively changed customer perceptions of their insurer or broker. By handling these interactions effectively, insurers can take advantage of opportunities to strengthen customer relationships and increase revenue. In the global survey, the quality of communications was the most important factor in elevating typical interactions or inquiries into a moment of truth, reported by nearly six in 10 customers.

The survey also found that customers purchasing from a broker are more likely to report experiencing a moment of truth and a positive outcome than those who purchase directly from an insurance company.

Business man texting

4. Customers want more frequent, meaningful and personalized communications.

According to the global survey, insurers, brokers and agents are all falling short in meeting customer demand for high-quality and relevant communications. Clearly, insurers benefit from more contact with each customer, but customers must determine what they receive, when and through which channels. The survey found that this kind of personalization is the key to optimizing communications; however, few insurers offer this level of customization.

“Customers are used to instantaneous communication, especially millennials, so be sure to use text messages with them,” said Hollander. More customers also are used to multichannel communication, which means the carrier and the broker have to have the infrastructure for such communications in place. Some carriers have made investments in infrastructure while others continue to use legacy systems.

5. As consumers embrace digital, insurers must rethink their distribution strategies and partner relationships.

Most customers are willing to consider remote and electronic contact as an alternative to in-person contact, for example, when seeking information about an existing policy, general policy management and filing a claim. When customers are seeking advice on making changes to coverage, however, they prefer more personal interaction, either over the phone or face to face.

Key questions to ask yourself

The global survey report recommends that insurers seeking market advantage through better customer engagement must understand their current capabilities, as well as take a snapshot of where the organization stands with its customer relationships. Here are some key questions for insurers and brokers to ask themselves:

  • How effectively do we serve and satisfy customers?
  • Why do we lose customers today?
  • Whom do we want as customers tomorrow?
  • Which products and services do our customers want from us?
  • Which channels work best to reach our customers?
  • Which tools and technology do we need to understand what customers really want?

2015 Financial Projections

2015 EY U.S. P&C outlook shows similar concerns

The EY US Property-Casualty Insurance Outlook, published in early December, confirms the global survey findings. Hollander observed that “Never has there been more money invested by the insurance industry to improve itself.” He has seen “unparalleled investment,” particularly in P&C. According to the report, market-leading performance in this sector is being driven by investments in technology, distribution and risk management systems. To segment and reach profitable new customers, insurers also are using new technologies to develop and manage multiple distribution and communication channels. For example, some insurers have a presence on Pinterest, which describes itself as “a place to discover ideas for all your projects and interests, hand-picked by people like you.” It also includes boards for businesses to connect with potential customers who are looking for similar products.

EY’s Outlook noted that, to succeed in the P&C market, insurers need to invest in new markets, products and approaches to existing customers. Growing the top line will require organizational realignment, a commitment to innovation and the implementation of advanced data analytics. With organic growth uncertain, insurance industry management must explore acquisition opportunities, particularly more strategic expansion rather than large scale consolidation.

Big data chart with people

More effective use of data by agents and brokers

Regarding agents and brokers, although the model has to change, Hollander said, many customers still want an intermediary to find them the best insurance coverage available. According to EY’s Outlook, agents and brokers will find it easier to collaborate with an insurer that leverages data analytics. This will enable them to identify potential high-value lifetime clients and guide them to these prospects. Improved data and implementation technology also provide deeper insights into customer preferences, identifying the most profitable customers. Products and pricing can then be customized or bundled to address individual customer needs, providing the attention to detail and level of service that customers are looking for.

Hollander urged P&C insurers to make more effective use of the data collection and analysis tools available to them. This would enable insurers to compete on their respective levels of data superiority and develop new, more strategic, business models. For the industry as a whole, improved data acquisition and predictive modeling capabilities provide a more detailed understanding of customer risk profiles, generating more customized insurance coverage, better pricing and cross-sell opportunities suited to each buyer’s needs. Customer loss analyses also speed claims resolution, further improving customer retention and brand loyalty. The detailed analyses present the opportunity for an integrated customer solution—what the market is demanding.

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