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September 27, 2017

9 Elements for Customer Portals

Summary:

A functional online portal has increasingly become a baseline expectation of carriers across all lines of business.

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Traditionally, insurers have siloed lines of business. But that presents a challenge for carriers working to meet the unified, user-friendly expectations of today’s consumers. A functional online portal has increasingly become a baseline expectation of carriers across all lines of business. Planning, design and governance are just as important as development for insurers launching customer portals; building out a successful customer portal means taking the following nine elements into account.

Develop from the customer’s perspective.

Carriers should consider how the products they offer in specific markets can be brought together in a way that is both logical and consistent with customer expectations. When it comes to defining the term “customer,” it makes sense to look at the individual or entity responsible for paying the premiums and then building from there. Other industries, such as retail and banking, have established effective user interfaces, and carriers should take advantage of the professional support conducted and experience gained in these other industries. Portals should be clean and efficient, expose information rationally, and provide clear direction on how to accomplish key tasks.

Make omni-channel an inherent part of the design.

Carriers should recognize that customer expectations and preferences for communication channels can vary widely. While websites, mobile apps, IVRs, and call centers are all viable, customers may want to utilize different channels, depending on their needs. Consumers should be able to easily change channels while retaining access to consistent, accurate information. Insurers should consider mobile capabilities from the outset so portals address changing consumer expectations and so that responsive design capabilities can be leveraged.

See also: Happy Producers, Happy Customers 

Design for maximum leverage across the distribution chain.

The architecture of comprehensive portal solutions can be leveraged across the insurance value chain to include multiple distribution partners and business models. Reusability should be the primary focus, with a broad set of functionalities that can then be tailored to specific situations, with underlying functionality to support other touchpoints. A sound approach is through user-driven integration, which enacts product integration automatically when possible but allows customers to enable the process manually for products that fail to do so naturally based on business rules.

Create a functional road map.

Insurers can create a road map for the future by building a list of the various transactions, both financial and non-financial, that a customer portal should support. This composite list allows for an assessment of the relative complexity of these transactions and the business rules that surround them while providing a visual representation of commonalities and differences between participating organizations. In addition to creating a framework for work prioritization at the beginning of portal efforts, road maps can provide a foundation for regular touchpoints and discussions about priorities moving forward.

Build a healthy “household.”

A logical construct that allows multiple products to be integrated into a unified whole is a foundational component of any effective portal implementation strategy. In order to create this unifying structure, carriers should reconsider how they think about customer relationships. A common best practice is to look at the relationship from the standpoint of the person being insured, regardless of risk, to create a “customer information file” and a form of a “household.” Carriers should create this person-centric view of information, then integrate that information into any further relationships through an appropriate online tool set—which should be part of the portal.

Test often and leverage feedback.

Insurers should proactively leverage testing and feedback in the deployment process. By paying attention to users, insurers can follow through on their efforts to design from the customer’s point of view. Incorporation of insights should be done in an iterative manner, should engage sales partners who may already have a perspective on customer needs with respect to self-service capabilities, and should potentially utilize “secret shopper” studies. All of these capabilities maximize the potential for tools to be built from a client perspective, rather than an internal one.

Implement a cross-function governance structure.

Insurance carriers need to face the reality that creating a unified, enterprise-wide set of outward-facing portal capabilities may cause friction between business units. Typical best practices call for a centralized managerial structure to work with all areas, navigate political and organizational challenges, facilitate priority negotiation, and collaborate with a range of different IT organizations. As with any other tactical innovation initiative, the implementation of digital portal capabilities has the best chance of success through executive sponsorship.

Build partnerships for implementation.

It is important to consider both internal and external partnerships when approaching a portal implementation. Key partnerships include a managerial structure that crosses organizational boundaries along with third parties or suppliers, such as marketing agencies and consulting firms, focused on communications. A customer-view approach to portal design should be paired with an externally minded approach to implementation and deployment. Involving stakeholders to create a test market can support rapid “test-and-learn” capabilities and allow these stakeholders to become advocates for new capabilities, thus accelerating adoption across the organization as a whole.

Plan for the long term.

With portals at the heart of a company’s digital strategy, which is increasingly becoming its business strategy, it is critical to have both initial capability deployment and the ability to evolve over time. Product portfolios, distribution strategies, distribution partners, and end-point devices are all subject to change. Carriers need to build their architectures and road maps to support evolving standards. Additionally, building analytical capabilities into platforms is key to provide carriers with the insights needed to precisely target messages to their customers.

See also: How to Captivate Customers (Part 2)  

Customer portal efforts are continuing.

The creation of a strong, customer-facing portal is an effort that defies the term “done.” CIOs implementing a customer portal should recognize that these initiatives will require continued funding, even after they are in production. Carriers will need to pay attention to the constantly changing trends and channels to meet evolving customer expectations.

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About the Author

Rob McIsaac is a senior vice president of research and consulting at Novarica, with expertise in IT leadership and transformation as well as technology and business strategy for life, annuities, wealth management and banking.

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