Top 10 Ways to Spook Policyholders

As long as policyholders don't like or trust carriers and agents, we need to stop giving customers tricks and start offering treats.


What are you afraid of this Halloween? That your customers might disappear like ghosts? That your competitors might pick them off like vultures? That it's all going to drive you batty?

Your fears may not be unfounded, given public perceptions about insurance carriers, agents and brokers. Many people don't find the industry trustworthy. (Just more than 50% trust the financial services industry as a whole, according to Edelman's 2015 Trust Barometer.)

Many also view the industry as overwhelmingly complex. And most are not satisfied with their current providers. (Only 29% of property/casualty and life insurance customers surveyed by Accenture said they are satisfied, according to an August 2015 report.)

The current environment is, in a word, frightful.

To overcome these demons, insurance industry leaders must start addressing them at the source. To that end, and in the spirit of All Hallow's Eve, below are the Top 10 ways that insurance providers spook their customers. (Read on...if you dare!)

10. Respond to customer requests like a zombie.

Are your responses to customer inquiries heavily scripted like they came out of some low-budget horror movie? Might your customers feel like, no matter what they say, they get form letters and teleprompter-like messages in response?

Remove active listening, critical thinking and personalized problem-solving from your front line and you miss a huge opportunity to impress your customer. If your front-line personnel perform like zombies, you can guarantee that customers will run from them.

9. Communicate in gobbledygook (or, on Halloween, goblin-dygook).

What do premium bills, policy contracts, claim settlement statements and other insurance communications have in common? Supernatural wizardry typically is required to decipher them.

Insurance professionals are steeped in the practices and language of their industry. As such, they often forget to translate their communications for easy public consumption. Instead, they convey their messages using jargon and acronyms that make their customers head for the hills.

8. Cut expenses and operate with a skeleton staff.

Particularly in times of economic distress, or increasing loss ratios, some insurers' first reaction is to slash investments in post-sale operations, because these areas are not viewed as driving revenue and therefore become easy targets when profits need to be propped up.

But while skeleton staffs might offer some immediate gratification in expense reduction, they also foster negative impressions that could snuff out your company's true brand.

Bare-bones operations translate into long wait times, inattentive service and visibly overworked and irritated employees-characteristics that are hardly the best ingredients for a great customer experience.

7. Embark on monstrous transformation projects.

Business transformation is overrated. It's good to have high aspirations and stretch goals, but you've got to eat the elephant one bite at a time.

Big, hairy, audacious projects have a tendency to be ill-defined and nearly impossible to manage. Plus, most companies suffer from "organizational A.D.D." and have trouble staying focused on a three-month project, let alone a three-year one.

Transformational projects make for good annual report copy, but they often fail to deliver meaningful improvements to employees and customers. Sometimes, all they deliver is disruption and dissatisfaction.

Yes, have a long-term vision-but never underestimate the power and efficiency of incremental advances toward that destination.

6. Never do a post-mortem.

In the whirlwind of daily business activities, people rarely take the time to dissect and diagnose customer annoyances.

Customer complaints present a wonderful opportunity to not just recover gracefully (and perhaps win back a policyholder's loyalty) but to also dig up the root cause of a problem and fix it, once and for all, so it never again rears its ugly head.

What's even rarer than post-mortems on customer complaints? Post-mortems on customer compliments. There's great value in pinpointing what person or process generated customer delight, so you can then figure out how to replicate that outcome more routinely.

Post-mortems can yield silver bullet-like learnings that forever eradicate customer frustrations or permanently institutionalize loyalty-enhancing business practices.

5. Create a workplace that sucks the lifeblood out of people.

To create happy and loyal customers, you need happy and engaged staff. If yours is a work environment where people don't feel appreciated, respected or well-equipped to do their jobs, then you're practically guaranteed to make their energy and passion disappear faster than a vampire at dawn.

And if you don't think customers will notice that difference in your employees, agents or brokers, then you really are hallucinating.

4. Don't tell customers what's lurking around the corner.

Creating happy, loyal customers is a lot about managing expectations. People's frustration-or delight-with a business is closely tied to the expectations they had of an interaction.

Customers don't like ambiguity or unpleasant surprises. If you don't tell them what to expect-how long they'll be on hold before speaking to a live person, how the claim adjudication process will unfold, what information they'll need to provide for a premium audit, etc.-then they're more likely to be annoyed when the interaction isn't as quick or straightforward as they anticipated.

3. Give customers tricks and never treats.

Do policyholders walk away from interactions with your company feeling good about the encounter? Do they get what they expected; do they feel like they got a good value?

For many insurers, the answer is no-thanks to coverage terms that are narrower than what customers reasonably expect, insurance teaser quotes that rarely match offered insurance rates and fine print that inevitably results in unpleasant surprises.

These are examples of insurers' tricks of the trade, and, while these practices may draw customers in momentarily, they certainly won't create a foundation on which to build loyal policyholder relationships.

Contrast that with the indelible positive impressions left on policyholders who experience treats-like insurance representatives who do what they say they're going to do, policy documents that describe coverage in plain language and premium bills that can actually be understood.

For the average insurance consumer, these are pleasant surprises and personal touches that they (sadly) have come to not even expect from carriers, agents and brokers. But when consumers do experience treats, they'll come back, again and again.

2. Avoid ownership and accountability like the plague.

A gruesome ailment has descended upon the business community, eradicating all vestiges of ownership and accountability. Customer calls are not promptly (if ever) returned. Commitments are not kept. Obligations are forgotten. (If you're like most consumers, you've surely experienced such rage-inducing frustrations, be it when dealing with the smallest local businesses or the largest multinational corporations.)

Here’s a little secret: What customers care most about isn't your company's stadium naming rights, funny commercials, Facebook feed or snazzy new mobile app. That's all for naught if your core insurance product doesn't work as advertised or your representatives simply don't follow through on their promises.

Want to create a brand experience that outshines all others? Start by nailing these basics and making sure your policyholders feel cared for.

And the No. 1 way that insurance providers spook their customers…

1. Put scary people on the front line.

Who's interacting with your policyholders on a daily basis? Is your front line composed of superheroes who go the extra mile for your customers or soulless automatons who frighten your customers with their discourtesy, uselessness and utter inability to get anything done?

It doesn't matter how advanced your customer relationship management systems are, how well-adorned your field offices are or how sophisticated your predictive analytics engine is. It all means nothing if the people interacting with your customers-agents, brokers, underwriters, servicers, auditors, adjusters and others-are not professional, responsible and genuinely helpful.

Lose the Spookiness

No right-minded insurance provider sets out to spook its policyholders. But that’s inevitably the outcome when companies lose sight of what’s important and valuable to the people they serve.

Are you haunted by the prospect of your policyholders defecting to a competitor? Do something about it before your worst nightmares become a reality. Use this Top 10 list as a guide to avoid the most common pitfalls, and, before you know it, you’ll be casting a spell on your customers that’ll have them coming back for more.

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Jon Picoult

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Jon Picoult

Jon Picoult is the founder of Watermark Consulting, a customer experience advisory firm specializing in the financial services industry. Picoult has worked with thousands of executives, helping some of the world's foremost brands capitalize on the power of loyalty -- both in the marketplace and in the workplace.


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