Filed Under:Agent Broker, Agency Technology

Customer expectations: 4 digital technology implications for insurers

Opinion: Insurtech Talk

In the digital age, it is understood that excellent customer service is no longer a standout, but a standard. (Photo: iStock)
In the digital age, it is understood that excellent customer service is no longer a standout, but a standard. (Photo: iStock)

"Think Different."

"Melts in your mouth, not in your hands."

"Got Milk?"

Ubiquitous phrases like these filter through our ears and eyes on a daily basis, and we connect them to their product or brand on instinct. Some slogans come to represent quality, while others make us feel playful or young. That’s what they’re designed to do: make us feel a certain way, think a certain thought, or picture a certain image. There’s one that sums up an entire generation, and certainly describes both a popular mindset — "Have it your way" — and a desirable but elusive brand promise.

How can insurance make good on that promise?

As insurers continue to expand and grow their markets, it is understood that excellent customer service is no longer a standout, but a standard. In the last two years, the No. 1 strategic investment across the insurance industry has been in improving customer engagement. Why so much emphasis?

Consider that on any given day we might window-shop on Amazon while chatting on Facebook, stopping to check Yelp for the best burger place nearby, and then use Uber to get there. That digitalization of the everyday is something customers are acutely aware of. Where once it was impressive and almost alien it’s become commonplace and banal. It isn’t a bonus feature; it’s an expectation. This has specific implications for insurers that aim to advance their customer experience. While most customers don’t expect the exact same service across every industry, the basic expectations have become universal. Customers want easy, fast, and on-demand. They want it their way.

Related: Today's connected insurance consumers expect convenience

Let’s do it your way


What then are the implications of customer expectations to insurers' digital strategy and technology choices? Firstly, customers want to be more than an account or policy number. Having the content they access — and the where, when and how they access it — customized to them is a key part of maximizing their experience.

Establishing a true omni-channel environment is a must do. Only this way will customers gain the real-time, on-demand servicing they crave. So too is leveraging customer insights via omni-channel to offer products and services aligned specifically to their lifecycle changes. Personalized content creates a personal connection between the customer and the company that builds the brand to loyalty bridge.

Digital is an enterprise effort


Going digital is a focus that involves everyone from the front-end, customer-facing roles to the back-end of "paperwork" processing, covering marketing, sales, and service. And yet, insurers are often faced with a spaghetti of separate interconnected systems managed by business leaders with different or even competing priorities. For digital to succeed, it has to be a silo-free operation. The walls must come down. This has implications for leadership. A company in this situation in our fast-moving environment should quickly address the problem before the industry, or worse, customers, ordain it a digital laggard rather than leader. Those insurers we can identify as digital leaders have a common trait: good mid/back office alignment to customer needs.

Changing what lies beneath


Thirdly, because customer expectations are rising and continue to shift, the underlying core systems — for rating, policy admin, billing, claims — must also be able to flex. The readiness and ability to respond is something that can help set companies apart, or not. A request for a single bill for a multi-policy household, or  telematics-based coverage for a new driver, or starting a claim by talking into a mobile phone (listen up Alexa and Siri), are all things insureds may want now, but that legacy systems may not support. Keep in mind, a leading cause of attrition is customers who just drift away claiming their insurer "cannot meet my new needs."

Related: 5 high-tech challenges (and solutions) for today's independent agents

The failing thus far has been in trying to leverage existing core systems that are not built for modern insurance interactions and attempting to layer technology on top of technology to make it appear digital. All this does is add complexity. Don’t do this.

Insurers must establish digital experience platforms that support today's business demands while anticipating emerging technologies. (Photo: iStock)

Insurers must establish digital experience platforms that support today's business demands while anticipating emerging technologies. (Photo: iStock) 

Tomorrow's expectations, today’s concerns


Finally, and most critical, insurers must establish digital experience platforms that not only support the demands of today’s digital world but also provide the flexibility to support increased levels and varieties of engagements as emerging technologies and the connected world continue to advance. It is worth reflecting on another popular phrase: "You ain’t seen nothin’ yet." Those varieties will appear as a prodigious bloom of short-term coverages, risk prevention and concierge services. They will leverage AI for zero-data-entry interactions and machine learning for pitch-perfect, personalized underwriting and value-add offers. Significantly, they will necessitate the entry of new providers, such as weather and connected home data, and partners, such as auto manufacturers, into insurer ecosystems.

And to keep up with the demand for new services and engagement, the digital experience platform must be able to integrate emerging technologies — tapping new insuretechs for them where appropriate — in innovative ways to change the insurance value chain.

Related: The direction of insurance in 2017: It's all about convergence

Standing tall


Let’s not forget a few facts: Amazon was a bookstore, Apple sold desktop computers, and, believe it or not, commercial internet itself isn’t even 30 years old. But Amazon, Apple, and the Web didn’t grow by throwing gadgets at their ideas and waiting — they planned and charted their course.

It is a real challenge for insurers to develop comprehensive strategies and deploy digital experience platforms that handle the digital implications just described. But it can be done, and is being done by insurers of all sizes.

Insurers can take advantage of a maturing technology landscape. Rather than cobbling disparate tech solutions together to support digital experiences, an integrated platform approach to creating responsive digital experiences that supports interactions across the enterprise to all types of users is possible.

A digital experience platform should empower insurers to deliver high-quality omni-channel experiences across all devices and all modes — native mobile apps, responsive web aps and IoT solutions — enabled by digital persona applications. It should also support the ability to package new digital products and services — by leveraging more internal and external data and services sources — within new ecosystems.  

Technology changes at a pace hard enough to track, let alone adapt to. Ultimately this means that insurers must have a digital experience platform that is able to rapidly adapt, modify, and upgrade, while not losing touch with its core systems, information, and users.

At the end of the day, the customer wants things their way. The opportunity is in your hands; don’t let it melt away.

Kevin Haydon is director of Marketing  & Communications at EIS Group in San Francisco, Calif. He can reached by sending email to khaydon@eisgroup.comThe opinions expressed here are the writer's own.

See also:

5 secrets to improving customer service after a catastrophe

The 'famous five': solving the InsurTech mystery

3 wise cybersecurity solutions for 2017

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