A Little Empathy Goes a Long Way

In developing technology solutions, one of the most overlooked and critical elements of delivering value to end users is empathy -- truly understanding their pain points. 

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Technologists have the challenging job of providing their companies with holistic technology and data strategies that satisfy needs today while accounting for future growth. 

Within commercial P&C insurance, we see two common approaches. There’s the “essentials first” approach, where you seek out solutions to meet basic functional needs like policy or claims management before tackling the big-picture objectives such as increasing your ability to grow the business. More often than not, this approach leads to a lengthy quest for an elusive end-to-end solution that will support the flow of business from ingestion to claims before you settle on a policy administration system.

There’s also the “patchwork” approach, where you endeavor to discover best-in-class point solutions for each part of the policy lifecycle and bring them together in a grand strategic vision for a complete tech stack for your business partners. This approach requires a sizable budget and staff and can take a few years or more to deliver actual value to the business.

In both cases, the long time to value tends to result in losing valuable trust from business users. They continually hear about the promises of the technology, but the longer it takes to deliver, the greater their expectations, to the point that they become unmanageable.

To avoid these issues, we advocate for a third, “user-first” approach where you progress toward the strategic vision while delivering a steady stream of value for the business and the users. 

Step 1: Defining the Problem

Too many technologists can connect with this story: You deliver something that you feel is genius, only to have nobody use it.

As technologists, we often enter conversations with business partners assuming that we already have the answers to their problems and that we are there to sell our vision for how technology will save the day. While there are times when this may be true, this assumption is almost guaranteed to result in a project that undershoots expectations. 

One of the most overlooked and critical elements of delivering value to end users is empathy. Understanding the pain points that users experience in their daily tasks is non-negotiable and the first step in developing solutions to alleviate them.

The first thing I do when embarking on any new technology project or entering a new domain is to observe the users in their daily work. Experiencing firsthand what they do, why they do it and how they do it is an opportunity to truly understand the semi-unconscious aspects of their jobs – the ones they do without thinking. Couple that with user interviews to further uncover their motivations and you will have a solid foundation to start problem-solving. 

See also: Humanized Experiences Are the Key

Step 2: Increments, Please.

Once you’ve established an understanding of your users’ challenges, the next step is to deliver value on some incremental cadence. You don’t need to solve every problem in one fell swoop. In fact, solving a single problem or a small number of problems early will win you the trust and freedom to engage in longer implementations of additional solutions.

Identifying these early increments might be as easy as enabling a seemingly small capability that saves time or a new piece of data that makes a decision easier. For more complex companies with multiple business units, it could mean tackling a single unit as a pilot to validate the strategy and use that success to energize other stakeholders. In addition to generating quick wins, this tactic has the added benefit of avoiding situations where you pre-optimize or over-generalize to the point of providing low or no value to the business. 

Real talk from a vendor: All-or-nothing proposals from technology providers are a red flag. If the initial value takes more than a quarter (give or take) to deliver, then you need a different plan.  

Step 3: No Such Thing as Overcommunication

Perhaps the most important aspect of a successful technology project is communication with stakeholders. To ensure expectations are managed, I live by the following principles:

  • Be Clear – Align on the value that you’re building toward and when it’s coming
  • Be Realistic – Don’t sandbag or overpromise 
  • Be Inclusive – Don’t just talk to the managers, talk to the users
  • Be Honest – Obstacles are inevitable, so don’t try to cover them up

It’s almost impossible to produce a successful technology program without strong communication to the business and the users. The best technologists I’ve worked with excel at this and are always having conversations with the people intended to get value from their initiatives.  

See also: State of the Insurance Marketplace

There is no one right way to design an insurance technology initiative to deliver outsized value for your business. That said, the three steps outlined above are a winning combination to ensure you build trust and continually add value for your business partners. 

As a technologist, I see my primary responsibility as solving problems for real people, and these lessons are hard-won through making many mistakes over two decades developing software across the finance and insurance markets. Keep an eye out for more articles where I’ll dive deeper into these areas and give concrete examples for commercial P&C insurance that you can use as a blueprint for your own technology projects.

This article was originally published at Two Sigma Insurance Quantified

Jeff Tyler

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Jeff Tyler

Jeff Tyler is head of product, data science and engineering at Insurance Quantified.

He leads a high-performing team of product managers, engineers, data scientists and program managers and is responsible for the strategy and development of Insurance Quantified's products. Tyler joined Insurance Quantified after over 11 years at Bloomberg, where he innovated and drove transformation across all aspects of trading systems. Prior to Bloomberg, Tyler was a software engineer focused on intelligent radar signal processing algorithms and high-performance computing at Black River Systems.

Tyler holds a B.S. and an M.S. in computer science from SUNY Polytechnic Institute, with a focus on applying neural network architectures to signal processing.

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