Tag Archives: carriers

Guide for Insurtech Work With Carriers

This article will be a 15-minute read. If you work for an insurtech startup that wants to get a deal done with an insurance carrier, it will be a very valuable 15 minutes. If you know somebody like that, please forward it to them.

Imagine this: You are the founder of an insurtech startup. You’ve got a great solution that could deliver meaningful results for any insurance carrier that brings you on. You’ve been through an accelerator (or two), have received initial funding and have your advisory board in place. You may even have a couple of pilots under your belt.

Now, it’s time to really start cranking up your sales/partnerships.

As you roll out sales strategies for the year, I thought it would be useful to provide a guide for startups to consider when preparing to meet with their next prospective carrier.

Collaboration between startups and carriers is a topic near and dear to my heart. While the focus is primarily for B2B startups, many of the same principles outlined below apply to D2C startups, which are looking to partner with an insurance carrier for distribution purposes.

The framework for this guide is as follows:

  1. Know your value
  2. Know your customer
  3. Find out who holds profit and loss (P&L)
  4. Help them understand how you’ll bring value to them
  5. Sign a letter of intent (LOI) and agree on a pilot
  6. Focus on both the art and science of the sale

Know your value

Startups, if you are reading this, please keep the following question in mind when you are reading the rest of the article.

Is your solution going to help a carrier save costs or increase revenue?

Have a clear value proposition and give tangible examples of what you do (i.e., use cases where it is already working).

For example:

  • Saving costs – DO YOU remove the need for manual/high cost processes? Identify opportunities to improve lapse rates, persistency ratios, loss ratios? Provide the carrier with new data sets for better and more accurate modeling? Etc.
  • Driving revenue – DO YOU increase a carrier’s number of prospects? Increase conversion rate? Increase sales volume because of a new niche product capturing a new market? Etc.

If you can not answer this question, you may want to focus on this first before reading the rest of this article. At the very least, have that question answered before you follow the advice provided in this article.

Know your customer

You know what value you provide to carriers.  Now, it’s time to go meet with them.

Wrong.

Before you meet with a carrier, do your homework and be specific about which carriers you want to target.

See also: Insurtech vs. Legacy Insurance Carriers  

Information you should know about the carriers you are targeting:

  • What is their organizational direction?
  • Who is their main competition, and what has their competition been doing when it comes to innovation?
  • Who are the key players within the organization? (See next section)
  • Has the carrier done anything really meaningful in the market recently?

The more you know about a company when you walk in, the better. Don’t you feel good when someone knows a bit about your solution when you first meet the person?

There are plenty of ways to get this information. Read about the company and research whatever is publicly available online. Use LinkedIn and your network to find out more if you can’t find it online.

Once you’ve done your homework and know who you are going to target, work on getting in the door. LinkedIn and your network will be powerful here, too.

However, before you meet with a carrier, it’s important to know who in the organization you will and need to meet with.

The below is a basic, high-level organizational chart of an insurance carrier (this will vary depending on the organization):

A few notes on this chart:

CIO = Chief IT officer

CDO = Chief distribution officer

Chief actuary can either report to CFO or directly to the CEO (I have seen both)

Innovation can sometimes be labeled as transformation or digital strategy (I have seen either or all three)

Experience and service – relates to customer (i.e. customer experience and customer service)

I have not included HR in this diagram (they are a very integral part to any company, but usually not involved in insurtech initiatives)

Now, it’s time to meet with the carrier.  So, who do you target?

Find out who holds the profit and loss (P&L)

Ultimately, any initiative that an insurance carrier undergoes must have some sort of return on it. As such, as part of the approvals process for an insurance carrier, the people who have the most say as to whether or not to bring a solution on board will be the ones who hold a P&L.

Why are those who hold a P&L important?

Because they will be the ones who are ultimately measured on the success of an initiative and the people you will have to convince to buy your solution.

Others are important, too, so you need to know who all the players are and what motivates them, as all will have different and important roles throughout the whole sales cycle.

Who are the players?

While you read directly below, keep in mind what your solution is offering and who the person is who you are ultimately going to need to get the most buy-in from.

The top 

CEO – This one should self-explanatory

The control functions  – these are people who may not be a user of your insurtech solution but will want to analyze it to the nth degree to make sure it’s good for the organization as a whole.

CFO – The CFO monitors/controls the P&L, so, yeah, he or she is important. The CFO may even be one of the most important, as, in some cases, the CEO will only sign off on a project once the CFO has endorsed it. That question I asked before (save cost or increase revenue) is of utmost importance to this person. Expect the answer to that question to get scrutinized, too.

Chief actuary/appointed actuary – As mentioned before, I’ve seen this position report directly to a CEO and to a CFO. Regardless, the person in the position will ask questions of a financial nature. If you have a solution that claims to improve lapse rates, increase persistency or anything else that touches pricing, be ready for some detailed questions from this department.

CRO – I’ve seen variations of this, but, for the most part, risk will encompass compliance, risk and legal. These are three very important departments of the business:

  • Compliance – compliance will look at things from a regulatory perspective.
  • Risk – Enterprise risk management is an interesting concept for insurance and could encompass a lot. Here is a useful article on it. Effectively, risk functions will look at a variety of risks – from market/macro risks to conduct risks to credit risks.
  • Legal – this one should be self-explanatory.

The profit centers – these are the ones who will likely use your insurtech solution and the ones who will ultimately get measured on the effectiveness of your solution (i.e. P&L).

Chief distribution officer – This position will vary depending on the organization; its primary goals are to grow revenue (i.e. sales, business development, commercial). If your solution has anything to do with any part of the sales value chain, then buy-in from the chief distribution officer will be key.

COO – Operations departments have a variety of functions under them – from underwriting to customer service to claims. If your solution has anything to do with back-office operations or the customer, then this is another key stakeholder for you.

Both of these definitions are wide for a purpose. These two departments have the most interaction with a customer/policyholder and will be very particular about anything that is going to affect that relationship. They will need to be convinced that the solution being implemented does not disrupt that relationship.

Many insurtech solutions are targeted at improving the customer experience. However, these two departments have the experience in actually doing it for their existing customers and will feel very particular about saying what can be done to improve that relationship. Be mindful of this when you start engaging with people from these departments.

Lastly, the aim of many carriers is to make more prominent the role of the chief customer officer or a customer experience department. For the moment, I put that position into the advocate category below, unless the person specifically holds a P&L.

The advocates – these are typically the ones you will meet with first and the ones who will be very important in convincing the the profit center category that your solution should be taken on board.

CMO – I debated as to whether to put this person in the profit center category, but I feel they belong more so in the advocates column. The reason is that a lot of the solutions brought on by the marketing team are then provided to the distribution team to help with their sales.

In some cases, where the carrier has a D2C solution, it may fall directly under the CMO/product team. If the CMO holds a P&L, you may want to consider this person/department a key stakeholder rather than an advocate.

CIO – This is where you will see the titles of innovation, transformation or digital strategy. The IT department is obviously an important one for you, as you will have to work with when it comes to implementation of your solution.

IT departments are seen as an enabler to the rest of the business. This means that, while you need to convince this team that your solution is technically sound, IT will not make a call on your solution from a business needs standpoint.

Note: I put corporate strategy under the CFO office in the org chart above, as sometimes there are two or more different strategy departments in an organization. Sometimes this is a completely separate department that reports directly to the CEO.

Regardless of which department it is in, I would label any strategy department as advocates.

My labels above are the traditional ones, but some organizations may have people who are more powerful than others. Try to find this out through the power of your network.

Help them understand how you’ll bring value to them

The first meeting will likely be with one/some of the advocates. These may be of the manager/senior manager level, who are knowledgeable enough to do the first round of vetting for their more senior managers/key stakeholders in the organization.

This session is an opportunity for the carrier to get a high-level understanding of what is being proposed to see if it should bring this solution forward. You will need to at least demonstrate the answer to that key question during this session.

After a few of these sessions, assuming the carrier is interested, more senior management/other key stakeholders will join in to get their view. If you start seeing more senior personnel in your meetings or people who fall into the profit center bucket, then you are on the right track. If you keep only meeting with advocates, it may be time to start questioning whether you are making progress.

See also: Rise of the Machines in Insurance  

It’s also fair to ask the carrier who will be held accountable for the success or failure of the solution being implemented. It will help to get those people involved and excited early on.

Getting people excited and on board is half the battle. It feels like the deal is done. Then, the red tape comes in.

Queue, the approvals process.  

Approvals to undergo a new initiative for an insurance carrier can be cumbersome. The person who is leading the project will need to do a write-up of the solution for the rest of the organization to evaluate (this will include some combination of people from the control function, profit center and advocates).

This write-up will include:

  • Why the carrier should do this project (qualitative and quantitative analysis that will include costs/benefits/KPIs)
  • The technical architecture of the solution
  • Risks associated with the solution, with mitigating controls (technical and non technical)
  • Regulatory/legal implications
  • And more

This may be seem like a lot, but multibillion-dollar corporations need to ensure they have a paper trail for initiatives. (Side note – you should always have an audit trail yourselves!)

For a startup, the more you can help with this report and prepare yourselves for these questions, the better. Think of ones that are specific to your solution. You will save time if you address these early on.

The carrier will also want to assess your solution against three or four others in the market. Hence, it is important to know your competition and how you stack up. Again, if you have this upfront, you will save time later.

You will want to constantly communicate with your key contact(s) at the carrier throughout the approvals process, helping them and being with them to answer any questions that may come up. Once approval comes in, they will want to start work, so you had better be ready.

Sign an LOI and agree on a pilot

Once all the approvals are done, get your LOI signed and agree on a pilot. An insurance carrier typically will not do this until it has done all of the internal approvals.

Focus on both the art and science of the sale

Sales is an art and a science. The science is a lot of what I mentioned above; know your prospect, have a sales pitch down and close.

The art is things that you learn through more practice, such as non-verbal queues and cultural nuances. If you are doing cross-border collaboration (i.e., an American startup going to Asia or vice versa), there are a ton of nonverbal queues and cultural nuances to be mindful of.

Some practices that are OK in some markets may not be in others. I own a book called Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands. I bought this when I first moved overseas, and it has been most helpful to me in this respect.

Lastly, I’ll repeat some advice that I mentioned in my ITC review from Benoît Claveranne, group chief transformation officer of AXA:

  • When a startup approaches an incumbent, they should make clear what they are looking for – to be invested in, bought out or partnered with. A lot of time is wasted on this during early engagement, and it will help move the conversation along if it is clear early on.
  • For startups – make a call after one to two meetings to see if the incumbent is serious about doing business. Do they have a budget and a team to develop it? If not, it may be time to move on to the next client.

Summary

During my financial advising days, I read Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” The one principle from that book that has always stuck with me is “make the other person feel important.”

By making people feel important, you let them know that you genuinely understand and care about their needs first and that you are not just trying to sell them something, but instead, providing them with a solution that meets that specific need.

The above is is a high-level guide for you, the insurtech founder, to help make an insurance carrier and the people you are pitching feel important by, ultimately, understanding their needs and how you can help them.

Creating partnerships between insurtech startups and insurance carriers is something I am passionate about and spend time doing every day. I am inspired when I hear stories from the field and new ideas on how to better this process.

I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback on this topic.

This article first appeared at Daily Fintech.

Gig Economy: 5 Benefits of Outsourcing

The gig economy has taken the world by storm, with more than 45 million Americans participating in it in some fashion. By 2020, one study estimates 40% of America’s workforce will be self-employed through either contract work or freelancing of some sort.

Previously, the biggest challenge for self-employed Americans was discovering new mediums to find work. No more. With the rise in the gig economy, these freelancers have access to millions of jobs at the click of a button. For instance, my company, WeGoLook, pairs freelance workers, or what we like to call “gig workers,” with jobs across the country — and now the world — to fulfill client asset verification requirements.

The rise of the gig economy isn’t just a positive for these independent workers but for businesses and traditional industries, as well. The insurance industry is no different.

Insurance Industry Growth and the Gig Economy

According to an Insurance Institute survey, more than 40% of insurance companies plan to hire 100 or more employees between 2016 and 2017. A third of these jobs will be brand-new rather than replacements. This is becoming standard across the board as technology continues to change how the insurance industry operates.

The word “outsourcing” is often misconstrued, with negative assumptions about offshore job movements and layoffs. The insurance industry, however, can easily leverage gig workers and maintain a traditional workforce.

See also: 6 Points to Consider When Outsourcing  

Here are five benefits to outsourcing traditional insurance work to gig workers:

Worker Outsourcing Benefit #1: Looming Talent Gap

A study by McKinsey & Co. revealed that 25% of insurance professionals will retire by 2018. Baby boomers are finally taking that retirement — all the millennials are applauding! This is going to leave a massive workforce gap in the insurance industry.

Gig workers and outsourcing can help fill the massive vacancy left by retirees. Think gig workers aren’t specialized or professional? Think again. With the rise of the gig economy, shared marketplaces and smartphone technology, gig workers are more professional, knowledgeable, trained and equipped than their freelance peers in the 1990s and 2000s.

Worker Outsourcing Benefit #2: New Workforce, New Priorities

Millennials are much different than their parents. They crave flexibility and experiences above all else. Sitting in a cubicle from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. is likely not a professional priority of the typical millennial. This is why we have 53 million freelancers in America — a trend that will only increase into the future — and may be why millennials are the biggest demographic within that group. They want flexibility and the opportunity to be their own boss.

This isn’t to say millennials don’t want full-time jobs, but the astronomical increase in gig workers in the U.S. indicates changing work priorities among millennials.

By 2025, millennials will make up 75% of our workforce, so it’s best we pay attention!

Worker Outsourcing Benefit #3: Business Flexibility

Outsourcing to gig workers will allow insurance carriers to remain flexible amid the ebb and flow of consumer demand and business requirements. More importantly for insurance carriers, on-demand workers provide flexibility because they allow companies to adjust to sudden staffing shortages when surges in demand occur.

Natural disasters, for instance, place enormous pressures on claims processing and verification, right at the time when customers need it the most.

Worker Outsourcing Benefit #4: Lower Costs

In lieu of a full-time employee with a salary and benefits, gig workers can be leveraged to provide on-demand expertise when needed. Gig employees are much more flexible than traditional full-time employees and have more technological tools at their disposal.

Now, I’m not saying an on-demand workforce replaces technical or certified field personnel, such as claims adjusters, but gig workers can augment and, in some cases, replace the full-time staffing requirement.

See also: On-Demand Economy Is Just Starting  

Reduced costs also emerge in the form of fleet vehicle costs, equipment maintenance, travel expenses and much more.

Worker Outsourcing Benefit #5: Information Flow

Now, more than ever, companies can tap into on-demand workers through various marketplaces that make up the gig economy, or what many term the “sharing economy.” The boom in the gig economy means a faster flow of information for traditional carriers because of its reliance on digital and mobile platforms.

Gig workers can quickly digest information and relay it in real-time faster than a traditional employee. An insurance carrier would need to have thousands of local field agents to cover the space new sharing economy companies are covering by pooling gig worker talent.

For instance, at WeGoLook we can dispatch any of our more than 26,000 “lookers” nationwide to gather information relevant to an insurance claim, asset verification, document retrieval, notary services and much more. To rival this, a traditional insurance carrier using the old employment model would need thousands of salaried positions placed strategically across the country. Or they’d require a web of complex contractors, which, in turn, would need to be closely managed by human resource professionals.

This is no longer necessary thanks to the rise of the gig economy.

Imagine what a workforce of 26,000 full-time employees would cost. But you can now have those employees at your fingertips just as you would if they were salaried — all by embracing the gig economy model.

See also: How On-Demand Economy Can Prosper  

As you can see, there are many benefits to embracing an on-demand workforce, particularly for traditional insurance carriers. This is not only because of a looming worker shortage but because hiring on-demand workers will reduce costs, increase information flow and will force the adoption of new technological trends.

Communicate, Communicate

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.

Carriers Want Loyalty but Haven’t Earned It

Informed risk-taking is what insurance underwriting is all about. It is also how consumers and business owners navigate every financial decision every day — including whether to stick with their insurance carrier.

Insurers often mistake in-force retention for “customer loyalty,” when the reality may be that a customer is actively shopping for better value.

You cannot stop customers from shopping; you can only benefit from the fact that they want to learn more about where their money goes.

The cost of insurance is top of mind to customers, and they are now intensely seeking to lower their insurance expenses, mostly via direct channel distribution over the Internet and via telephonic access to agents.

Information drives decision making (data and analytics combined with underwriting judgment) in a process where accurate risk assessment, coupled with knowledge of expenses, lets an insurer add a profit factor to get to a market price. If the insurer’s cost structure and risk-taking appetite meet successfully with customers’ needs, then it should grow profitably. If not, then it either grows at a loss or only writes those risks in niches where it find itself competitive (either by choice or by happenstance). The need to drive down costs is the primary reason to adopt Internet and mobile-computing applications for distribution — you can follow the consumers’ own expense-minded shopping behavior as they are now accessing multiple on-line resources and then either buying online or contacting an agent (often with a mobile device).

Insurance customers see thousands of their dollars disappear to protect them from financial ruin — a “lesser of two evils” trade-off. No wonder they want to avoid spending more time and money than necessary. The traditional, intermediated marketplace for insurance keeps customers from caring which “big box” carrier provides their coverage — whether for auto, home, business or life — as long as the institution can pay any claims. In survey after survey, few customers even know who actually insures them. They only know that they are insured because they pay premiums.

Given customers’ agnosticism about who underwrites their risk, and given the state of communications and transaction technology, insurers need to be prepared for changes in how insurance is distributed. Behavioral economics have shown repeatedly that customers shop, give their time and personal data, and then cease shopping for a period while covered under a policy. But we can expect the emergence of intermediaries who can shop for a customer on an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly basis for the cost of the customer opting in for a free service (data and receiving cost-saving promotions is the only fee).

That intermediary will then auction the right to provide coverage into a competitive landscape of carriers looking for customers vs. customers accepting off-the-shelf products. With an active market and modern bill pay options, the new term of duration may be significantly less than a six-month auto policy, and now underwriters can more accurately price usage-based insurance (UBI) in real time.

Carriers have not proven themselves yet worthy of real loyalty — where the consumer won’t toss them aside in return for 15% less in premium. Perhaps carriers will never be able to win that kind of loyalty, if insurance is truly a commoditized transaction simply waiting for progress to catch up.

But if carriers aggressively push the best risk-assessment techniques to their current customers and prospects, then they may be able to win genuine customer loyalty by demonstrating that they are attuned to their customer’s individuated risk.

Who Owns the Customer Experience?

Who owns the customer? For insurance companies that work through intermediaries, it’s a controversial question that often stirs spirited debate between carriers and producers. But there’s another question that’s even more important: Who owns the customer experience?

Regardless of who insurers think owns the customer, the reality is that key parts of the policyholder experience are shaped by external parties—the agents, brokers and financial professionals who distribute insurers’ products.

This presents a difficult challenge for insurance companies, many of whom have kicked off customer-experience improvement initiatives in recent years. After all, how do you holistically manage the customer experience when you don’t control it in its entirety?

Some carriers skirt the issue by focusing on what they do control—customer touchpoints such as billing, correspondence, 800-line interactions, etc. That’s a reasonable approach to start with, but it has its limits.

Consumers don’t always know where the lines are drawn between carrier and agent, where the handoffs occur between the two parties. Their experience, and overall brand impression, is shaped by a wide array of touchpoints spanning pre-sale to post-sale, field office to home office.

For this reason, it’s neither practical nor prudent for carriers to ignore those elements of the customer experience that are administered by their field producers.

But how can a carrier insert itself into aspects of the customer experience that are clearly overseen by the producer? How can the insurer propagate customer-experience best practices beyond the walls of its headquarters and into its field offices, where so many significant consumer interactions occur?

Whether the company works with captive agents or independent brokers, this can be a thorny issue. Many financial professionals consider themselves to be entrepreneurs, and they have strongly held opinions about how to run their businesses.

Overcoming that sentiment requires some diplomacy. If producers sense that the carrier is encroaching on their territory, dictating the “right” way to do business, then friction will ensue, and the insurer’s customer-experience improvements will be relegated to the home office—a poor outcome for carrier, distributor and their shared customers.

So, if you’re an insurer looking to engage your field force in a constructive effort to improve the customer experience, consider these five tips:

1. Acknowledge shared ownership

Disarm territorial sensitivities by readily acknowledging that you don’t own the whole customer experience. Neither the carrier nor the distributor can claim such ownership, because each plays an instrumental role in shaping policyholder impressions.

Such an admission by carrier executives sends an important signal to the field, opening the door to a more collaborative approach for shaping the customer experience, from pre-sale to post-sale.

2. Make the case for action

Demonstrate to field partners, in a vivid and compelling way, why focusing on an improved customer experience is smart business.

The field may acknowledge that happy, loyal customers are good for business —but do they truly grasp how powerfully the customer experience can influence the top and bottom lines? Particularly in the insurance industry, given the economics of up-front commissions and long product tails, small improvements in retention can have a surprisingly significant impact on profitability. Even just from a sales standpoint, an increase in qualified referrals from positive word-of-mouth can be a game changer for any insurance agent/broker.

Perhaps one of the most convincing illustrations of how a great customer experience drives business results is an analysis of stock market performance for customer-experience “leaders” and “laggards”: For the past six years, customer-experience leaders generated a total return that was three times higher on average than the S&P 500.

This is the kind of head-turning data that insurers should put in front of field producers who are skeptical about investing time, energy or money into improving the customer experience.

Whether you’re a public or a private company, the message here is clear: A great customer experience pays off, paving the way for higher revenues, lower operating expenses and better overall financial performance.

3. Educate and equip

Given their entrepreneurial disposition, most agents and brokers won’t take kindly to having the mechanics of their organization’s customer experience dictated by some far-removed insurance company.

Instead of prescribing solutions, carriers would be better served providing tools and education to their field offices. In this way, the insurer can help equip its producers with the knowledge they need to effectively diagnose, and then differentiate, their organization’s customer experience.

That’s a much better solution over the long term, as it helps the field office embed customer-experience management best practices into its operations, as opposed to just tweaking a few isolated customer touchpoints.

Note that this is about more than just traditional “customer service” training. It’s about giving the field office a strategic understanding of the operating principles that customer experience legends rely on to create raving fans.

What great companies like Amazon, Apple, Disney and Costco have in common is an ideology around the design and delivery of their customer experience (see the sidebar that follows). Help your field understand and embrace a similar ideology, and you’ll influence their business practices for years to come.
4. Open the feedback spigot

One example of an ideological component that customer-experience legends share is a commitment to soliciting and acting on customer feedback.

Oftentimes, there is an arrogance in organizations— a belief among executives that they know what delights and what frustrates their customers, what will strengthen their brand experience and what will weaken it.

But as J.C. Penney learned during its recent meltdown, businesspeople can have a myopic view when it comes to understanding what truly makes customers happy.

Help your field offices avoid that pitfall by supplementing internal views with external ones. Carriers can use their purchasing power to bring robust “voice of the customer” survey programs to their affiliated agents and brokers. At the very least, they can offer field offices tutorials about feedback instruments.

Armed with these feedback instruments, your field offices can cultivate customer insights that will help them first shape, and then continually recalibrate, their experience improvement efforts.

5. Co-create the experience

For some parts of the insurance customer experience, field and home office interactions are so intertwined that it makes sense to tackle them with a united front (application and underwriting being a classic example).

This is perhaps the highest step on the customer-experience management maturity curve, where manufacturer and distributor work together to shape an experience that’s impressive and seamless.

Assuming all parties have been educated in the same customer-experience engineering principles, it can be valuable to bring field producers and home office representatives together to dissect, diagnose and redesign a particular piece of the policyholder journey.

By incorporating field and home office perspectives up front, a joint experience design effort is likely to yield a better outcome for all involved.

In today’s social media-connected, information-rich marketplace, customers are more empowered than ever. Nobody truly “owns” them.

But ownership of the customer experience is a different matter altogether. Great companies do take ownership of that, by very deliberately managing the many touchpoints that shape customer perceptions. Great companies even seek to influence parts of the experience that, on first blush, might seem out of their scope. (Consider how Amazon famously obsesses over the experience of physically opening a package once you receive it from their shipping partners.)

For insurance companies that don’t sell directly to consumers, the path to a differentiated customer experience must cross through their field offices—hence the importance of involving and influencing that key constituency. By deftly engaging distributors in the customer-experience improvement effort, insurers can make progress on two important fronts—creating a more positive impression not just on their policyholders, but also on their producers.

The 'Secret Sauce' of Customer-Experience Legends

Companies that do customer experience well tend to use a specific set of operating principles to help shape their customer interactions, from sales to service. The principles that elicit customer delight are remarkably consistent across industries and even demographics.

Below are three examples of such principles, which fans of Amazon, Disney and Ritz-Carlton are sure to recognize:

1. Make it effortless

Be it at point of sale or point of service, the less effort customers must invest to accomplish something with your company, the more likely they are to be loyal to your firm. Look for opportunities to minimize the amount of physical and mental effort that people must expend to, among other things, understand your value proposition, navigate your product portfolio, interpret your customer communications and secure post-sale service. (Case in point: Amazon’s patented One-Click purchase button, which makes it absolutely effortless to buy from them.)

2. Capitalize on cognitive science

Customer experience is about perception, and there are proven ways to leverage principles of cognitive science (i.e., how the mind works) to improve people’s perceptions about their interactions with your business. One example of this is giving customers the “perception of control,” because it’s human nature that we feel better when we’re in control of things and ambiguity is removed from our lives. Something as simple as clearly setting expectations for customers can make all the difference—e.g., how long will I be standing in this line, how many steps are in this purchase process, when will I next hear from you? (Case in point: DisneyWorld’s FastPass, which lets park guests avoid standing in line for popular attractions, making them feel like they’re more in control of their vacation.)

3. Be an advocate

It’s rare that people see companies paying more than lip service to the concept of putting customers first. For this reason, when people come across a company that truly advocates for its customers in a very tangible way, it cultivates stronger engagement and loyalty. One decidedly low-tech but highly effective way to accomplish this is by fostering a workplace culture of exceptional ownership. When your front line—the people actually delivering the customer experience—take personal accountability for owning every request that comes to them, it projects a refreshing sense of advocacy that will distinguish your firm from the “not my job… pass the buck” mentality that customers typically encounter. (Case in point: Ritz-Carlton, whose staff, when asked for directions within the hotel, will refrain from pointing guests in the right direction—instead, they personally escort them, to ensure the guest gets exactly where they need to be.)

This article first appeared in LOMA Resource.