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September 2, 2020

New Digital Communications

Summary:

In the increasingly digital world, providing a rich set of communications options is important for improving experiences.

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The options for digital communications keep expanding. Insurers’ mobile interactions with prospects, producers and policyholders have become common, while methods like e-mail and web portals are extensively used. Now, there is a whole new world of messaging platforms, chatbots, business texting, voice assistants and more.

All of these methods are in widespread use in the world today, but not necessarily in insurance. Which methods should insurers employ, for which types of interactions and for which constituents? 

These are important questions because many insurers have expended considerable effort and money to implement various newer communication technologies only to find that the take-up was low. There are no magic answers, but the key to success lies in taking an outside-in approach.

Traditionally, system have been designed from an inside-out approach – taking into consideration the organization, products, IT systems and channels to reach out to external parties. These are critical factors, to be sure. But the better approach is to lead with an understanding of customer needs, customer journeys and the value that customers place on specific capabilities.

This requires more than just asking customers what they want. Whether the party receiving the communication is a prospect, producer, policyholder or even an employee, it is best to gain a more thorough understanding of segments, relationships and needs.

During our recent Digital Communications Virtual Event Experience, SMA asked insurers about their interests and objectives for digital communications, with nine possible responses. The top two choices were overwhelmingly 1) that digital communications are a vital part of the overall digital transformation strategy (83%) and 2) that digital communications will improve the customer experience (75%). Forty percent said reducing internal operational expenses was a key goal. Surprisingly, expanding capabilities for policyholders was way down the list, and expanding agent capabilities was even lower.

Incorporating new communications into the overall digital transformation and improving the customer experience are admirable goals. But it seems to me that, to achieve those goals, it is critical to provide agents and policyholders with new capabilities.

This doesn’t mean just throwing out a new option like a chatbot because others are doing it, and because it seems like a good idea. Decisions should be made in the context of an overall assessment of agent and customer needs.

Insights from three lenses should be used to inform the decisions on specific technologies and use cases. First, look at what interaction methods people are actually using today and throughout the lifecycle. This needs to be done in the context of each segment. Second, do extensive research to determine what new modes people would value for various types of transactions and interactions. Third, evaluate what others in the industry are doing – not just what capabilities they have released but what kind of success they have had (to the extent possible).

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Finally, be sure to build in flexible configuration capabilities to enable individual users to customize their communication preferences. In the increasingly digital world, placing an emphasis on providing a rich set of communications options is an important ingredient in improving experiences, which leads to both top line growth and profitability.

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About the Author

Mark Breading is a partner at Strategy Meets Action, which helps insurers develop and validate their IT strategies and plans, better understand how their investments measure up in today’s highly competitive environment and gain clarity on solution options and vendor selection.

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