January 27, 2016
by Rob McIsaac
Carriers face a challenge -- or an opportunity -- to rethink the form and frequency with which they communicate with customers.
In an increasingly digital world, the modern day update to the old real estate refrain of “location, location, location” may be “communication, communication, communication.”
It may also be true that companies are only as good in the customers’ mind as the quality of their last transaction. That is particularly true when there are infrequent transaction, thus limited opportunities to make up for mistakes. In financial services, banks may have daily transactions with their customers, but insurance companies have far fewer transactions, many of which are associated with unfortunate events. Finding a way to make the most of these interactions can be important in retaining customers for the long term, in a world of low switching costs and lots of transparency.
I was reminded of this when I got an email alert from my personal lines property and casualty carrier. Like much of the East Coast, we found ourselves dealing with a winter wonderland over the weekend, which included icy roads, snowy hillsides and falling trees. Many people lost power.
In any event, the email alert reminded me that our carrier was aware of the potential implications coming from the storm and was ready to help. The message included various forms of contact info and was an opportunity to remind me of the benefits I can gain from the relationship. As my thumb moved to delete the message, I was reminded of the value of the coverage, and I realized this was one of the few messages I’ve gotten that didn’t convey a billing increase or some other “bad” information.
I had been thinking that the renewal would be coming in four months and that I probably needed to begin shopping for coverage to see what the market looks like, in anticipation of another premium increase. Getting the email reminded me that insurance is not just about rate but also about what happens when the world goes sideways.
This realization leads back to a challenge – which is to say an opportunity – for carriers to start thinking differently about the form and frequency of interaction with customers. Different demographic cohorts may have preferences for different communication channels, but one likely universal truth is that individuals want to know that they have the opportunity to do the same thing that other “smart people” like them are doing.
Amazon, of course, does a remarkable job with this. The retail brokerage investment company I deal with is nearly as good, and, as a consequence, there is little chance I will ever look to move assets. Conversely, the life insurance company I have had a relationship with for three decades only has a dialogue with me when sending documents required by regulation. In fact, when I have chosen to initiate dialogue with the carrier, it has proven to be both painful and incredibly time-intensive to get things done.
The recent example with my homeowners insurance was a pleasant surprise. It might even cause me to slow the shopping process or be more accommodating of the rate increase, which is no doubt coming.
All of this has potentially significant implications for the marketing and technology organizations for insurance carriers. Increasingly, the competition is not against other, similar companies. The issue really becomes how well carriers operate against a customer service standard that is being framed by retailers and financial institutions that are more transactionally intensive. As the lines between traditional industries and products families become blurred through the use of better technology, carriers will need to up their games considerably to maintain relevance. Checking in on customers after an unfortunate event is a step in the right direction.