Common things we hear these days: “If you really want to reach me, text me.” “Send that file to me via Slack.” “I live on Facebook, so send me a message on Facebook Messenger.”
We also observe that many people never answer voicemail, virtually ignore emails and throw away mail without even looking at it.
These are samplings of the communication patterns that are evolving in our society today. Meanwhile, how do we in the insurance industry communicate with our policyholders, agents, claimants and others? Email, phone calls and documents in the mail predominate. Web portals are also common. Some of the newer options for interaction are not on the radar of most insurers. Now, there are certainly individuals who still want to receive information in the traditional ways, and there will continue to be a need for these options, but the tide is turning.
SMA has been investigating some new communication options and their implications for insurers. Our new research report, Advanced Customer Communications in the Digital Age: New Options for Insurers, explores how communications have evolved, how the insurance industry is using these options (or not), example use cases and what it all means in the context of an omni-channel environment.
Some of the new(er) forms of communication that have been gaining adoption and setting new expectations for customers include:
SMS texting and online chat: Although it is difficult to classify these as “new,” the insurance industry still has very little use of the technologies outside of the enterprise.
Messaging and collaboration platforms: These have been proliferating over the past decade or so, with tools like Skype, Facebook Messenger, Slack, Zoom and many others gaining large followings.
Voice assistants and chatbots: As voice and AI technologies have leapt forward, the opportunities to leverage AI-driven chatbots and voice assistants has increased dramatically. Much experimentation is underway in insurance.
Smart documents: Documents in many forms will continue to play a major role in communicating information to prospects, producers and policyholders. Rethinking those documents from a customer perspective and making them interactive and parametric provide great opportunities for the industry.
Augmented/virtual reality: Although a bit further out in terms of adoption and implications for insurance, there are already pilots and projects underway in the industry.
Technology can enhance a strong, trust-based relationship with your clients, but it’s no substitution for face-to-face time. Here are 11 tips that will help you use high-tech tools in a smart and meaningful way.
Technology does a lot, but it can’t do everything. Sometimes, we forget that. We can get so dependent on email and social media that we lose sight of what people really need from us—especially in business. Yes, clients expect to connect with us in various high-tech ways, but they also crave the deep and meaningful connections that can only come from face-to-face (or at least voice-to-voice) connections. It can be tricky to walk the line.
Too little tech, and you’ll seem out of touch; too much, and you’ll lose the personal touch that keeps customers loyal and engaged. As you’re trying to find the right balance, just remember this: Your client relationships are built on emotions and trust, so use technology in a way that maintains and enhances relationships and propels them to the next level.
I attribute my career journey to my ability to build strong personal relationships. Following early success in the clothing industry, I experienced a devastating bankruptcy that forced me to rebuild my life from scratch. I went on to join Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., where I created an impressive financial portfolio and won multiple “Top Agent” awards.
Human needs don’t change. Relationships mattered in the days of pencil, paper and snail mail, and they still matter in the days of Facebook and Skype.
Ideally, you would meet with all of your clients in person, but of course that’s not always practical. Still, you should invest in at least one face-to-face meeting with your top clients. Then, use a carefully balanced mix of technology to maintain the relationship. Here are a few tips for using tech the right way.
Don’t let “faceless” and “voiceless” technology become your primary communication tool. Nothing can replace the effectiveness of a face-to-face encounter (even if it’s by Skype), especially in the early phases of your client relationship. And meaningful phone conversations can be great, too. It’s fine to use less powerful tech solutions like email, texting and e-blasts to stay in close contact with your clients. These can enhance and strengthen a well-established relationship. But they should only be supplemental.
Skype important meetings if you can’t be there in person. Ideally, “in person” interactions are best for relationship building—especially with your top clients—but, of course, they can’t always happen. Video conferencing is second-best. Make sure you’re using this tech tool often. It’s a great way to read body language and facial expressions—crucial for building trust and establishing positive and productive relationships.
Pick up the phone regularly. Many people dislike the phone. Conversations can be long and meandering, and we’re all busy. But you must overcome your phone phobia. In terms of relationship building (not to mention problem solving), there is no substitute for the give and take that happens voice-to-voice. Schedule actual phone conversations with clients to catch up and find out how they are doing. Keep that human connection alive!
Pay attention to how the client communicates. If a client seems to prefer phone, text or in-person communication, note it and honor the preferred style while maintaining your own dedication to person-to-person contact. This shows clients you care about and respect their preferences. Find a happy balance between the client’s style, yours and the demands of the day.
Match the medium to the message. If you want to distinguish yourself and have something very important to say, write a letter! If you are trying to book an appointment with a busy person, figure out something complex or discuss a potentially sensitive issue, pick up the phone. If you only want confirmation of a small piece of information and you’ve recently spoken with a client, feel free to use email. Let your instinct be your guide.
Be thoughtful and deliberate with social media. Your competition is taking advantage of these platforms, and so should you. But make sure your online presence is well-planned and -executed. Your Facebook or LinkedIn posts should meaningfully connect back to your brand and mission and provide value to clients and other readers. Don’t bombard your followers with inane content. This negates your credibility. Post less, and make sure your content is good.
Keep your website young and agile. Is your website in alignment with your business image and your mission? Make sure it’s as professional and sleek as your own personal appearance when meeting a client for the first time. Successful companies have streamlined, up-to-date websites with modern fonts, colors and layouts. If it’s been a while since you’ve changed your design, your website is due for a tune-up and a facelift.
Use email to send links to articles you think your client might enjoy. Trusting relationships thrive on frequent contact. To solidify your connection to clients (especially when you haven’t talked in a while), send them little links and articles you know they will enjoy. This gesture shows you are thinking about them and know where their interests lie. Just keep these communications in balance. Bombarding clients with superficial links and articles may actually weaken the value of your contact with them and undermine your relationship.
Send e-newsletters to all your clients. This a good way to engage regularly with clients and stay on their minds. Create compelling content that connects with the various lines of services you are currently offering and craft interesting articles for your clients around related topics.
Personalize your high-tech communication. Sometimes e-blasts make sense, but, whenever possible, include a small personal note at the top that lets clients see they matter to you.
Allow clients to log in and access their information. Whenever possible, empower clients by putting information at their fingertips. This not only saves time for your clients when they need to get a small piece of information, but also goes a long way toward building mutual trust.
If you harness the power of technology correctly, it can do wonderful things for your business. But remember that it is only one tool in your toolbox. Use technology to enhance business, but don’t let it overshadow your mission to keep trust-based client relationships at the center of everything you do.
More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage regarding a death by suicide can increase the likelihood of additional suicide deaths in vulnerable individuals. The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration and prominence of coverage. Business leaders can learn from these media studies and shape written and oral communication in a preventive way.
Media Lesson: Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic, graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death. Use non-sensationalized language and life-giving terms. Avoid images that glamorize the death such as photos or videos of the location or method of death or grieving family and friends. Headlines such as “Kurt Cobain Used Shotgun to Commit Suicide” should better be drafted as “Kurt Cobain Dead at 27.”
Business Application: Talk about suicide in a way that assumes the recipient will handle the information in a mature, responsible, life-giving way. Often, leaders avoid any reference to suicide when speaking with their teams. The rationale can be wanting to avoid any power of suggestion. “We didn’t want to give them the idea.” This belief is highly inaccurate. They already have the idea…especially immediately following a death by suicide within their social circle. Avoiding the topic lends it negative power. Discussing suicide carefully, even briefly, can change public misperceptions and correct myths, which can encourage those who are vulnerable or at risk to seek help.
Media Lesson: Avoid reporting that death by suicide was preceded by a single event, such as a recent job loss, divorce or bad performance review. Also, avoid describing a suicide as inexplicable or “without warning.” Reporting like this leaves the public with an overly simplistic and misleading understanding of suicide.
Application: Suicide is complex. There are almost always multiple causes, including psychiatric illnesses that may not have been recognized or treated. However, these illnesses are treatable. Refer to research findings that mental disorders and/or substance abuse have been found in 90% of people who have died by suicide. Most, but not all, people who die by suicide exhibit warning signs. Identify a list of usual “Warning Signs”. Consider quoting a suicide prevention expert on causes and treatments.
Fully acknowledge the horror and the loss but emphasize what is being done to support those who are impacted. Change your language from “committed suicide” or “successful/unsuccessful suicide” to “died by suicide” or “completed suicide.”
Media Lesson: Do not cite the content of the suicide note or any “manifesto.” Better would be “A note from the deceased was found and is being reviewed by the medical examiner.”
Application: Communicate, communicate, communicate but determine what content is shared on a “what is helpful/need to know” basis and always prioritize respectful adherence to the needs and wishes of the family.
Media Lesson: Use your story to inform readers about the causes of suicide, its warning signs, trends in rates, and recent treatment advances. Include means of accessing resources.
Application: Knowledge offers healthy power. Have a hopeful, caring, life-giving tone. Focus the major portion of your remarks upon resilience and health rather than details about the death. Talk about available treatment options, stories of those who overcame a suicidal crisis, and resources for help. Emphasize faith practice and spiritual strength. Include up-to-date local and national resources where people can find treatment, information and advice that promotes help-seeking.
Business leaders can change the conversation and help keep people just a little bit safer.
(Adapted from A Manager’s Guide to Suicide Postvention in the Workplace: 10 Action Steps for Dealing With the Aftermath of a Suicide)
Death jars our concept of the way life is supposed to be. That dissonance is multiplied when the death is by suicide.
Following the tragedy of death by suicide, the workforce will include people whose personal struggles already leave them vulnerable and who now face increased risk for destructive behavior, including suicide. Tragedy can beget additional tragedies. Sometimes irrational blaming behavior includes violence. Sometimes suicide contagion, or “copycat suicides,” occur. How leaders respond (postvention) after death by suicide is critical to stopping that negative momentum.
“Postvention” can be prevention
Defined by the Suicide Prevention Resource Council as “the provision of crisis intervention and other support after a suicide has occurred to address and alleviate possible effects of suicide,” effective postvention has been found to stabilize community, prevent contagion and facilitate return to a new normal.
Coordinate: Contain the crisis. Like the highway patrolmen on-sight at a traffic accident, postvention aims to prevent one tragedy from leading to another and return normal progression as soon as is safely possible.
Notify: Protect and respect the privacy rights of the deceased employee and the person’s loved ones during death notification.
Communicate: Reduce the potential for contagion. Communicate, communicate, communicate meaningful information. Keep it simple. Make it practical. Focus on solutions to immediate issues. Repeat it. Repeat it again.
Crisis Care Network, the largest provider of critical incident response services to the workplace, developed a crisis communication process that has been helpful for business leaders. The acronym ACT describes a means of acknowledging, communicating and transitioning amid a crisis.
Have an accurate understanding of the facts and avoid conjecture.
Demonstrate the courage to use real language that names what occurred.
Acknowledge that the incident has an impact on team members and that it is okay that individuals will be affected differently.
Communicate pertinent information with both compassion and competence
In the absence of information, people create it. Providing information reduces the likelihood of rumors, builds trust and provides a sense of order that supports moving forward.
Although very difficult to do when affected by traumatic stress oneself, communicating with both competence and compassion demonstrates leadership effectiveness in a caring way. Employee assistance program (EAP) consultants often help business leaders by scripting and coaching their messaging.
Transition toward a future focus
Communicate an expectation of recovery. Those affected must gain a vision of “survivor” rather than “victim.” Research indicates that humans are an amazingly resilient species and overwhelmingly bounces back from adversity.
Communicate flexible and reasonable accommodations as people progress to a new normal. Employees should not all be expected to immediately function at full productivity (although some will) but will recover quicker if assigned to simple, concrete tasks. Structure and focus are helpful, and extended time away from work often inhibits recovery. “If you fall off a horse…..get back on a pony.”
Support: Offer practical assistance to the family and those affected.
Link: Identify and link affected employees to additional support resources and refer those most affected to professional mental health services.
How to lead effective suicide postvention was likely not part of most business leaders’ education or training. When these tragedies occur, leaders often engage their EAP to deploy critical incident response experts – behavioral health professionals with unique training in response to tragedies. These consultants will:
Consult with the organization’s leadership regarding crisis communication strategies that facilitate resilience
Draw circles of impact and shape an appropriate response
Let people talk if they wish to do so
Identify normal reactions to an abnormal event so that people don’t panic regarding their own reactions
Build group support
Outline self-help recovery strategies
Brainstorm solutions to overcome immediate return-to-function and return-to-life obstacles
Assess movement toward either immediate business-as-usual functioning or additional care. Following death by suicide, they will be especially attuned to assess others for risk of self-harm.
Comfort: Support, comfort and promote healthy grieving of the employees who have been affected by the loss. Critical incident response consultants will guide, coach, and script leaders regarding compassionate messaging. Leaders must “give permission” for help-seeking behavior.
Restore: Restore equilibrium and optimal functioning in the workplace.
Sensitively resume a familiar schedule. People do best when their natural rhythms kick back in. Routine. No surprises. One foot in front of the other, just like yesterday.
Facilitate successful completion of familiar tasks. Doing something tangible reduces that sense of powerlessness and helps people focus on what they can do, rather than panic about what they cannot. The structure of doing what one knows how to do is helpful in finding a “new normal.”
Lead: Build and sustain trust and confidence in organizational leadership. The team will never forget the leader’s response. Neither will the leader. Effective provision of both guidance and support will lead to the team feeling cared for in the workplace and result in loyalty and faith in their leadership’s abilities. People will go through the crisis with or without leadership. Lead them.
Honor: Prepare for anniversary reactions and other milestone dates. Mark these dates on the calendar and then respectfully acknowledge them in large or small ways. Honor those affected by the death.
Sustain: Move from postvention to suicide prevention.
All involved stakeholders will now own the fact that “it can happen here.” Use that momentum to keep others safer. Following death by suicide, leaders all become “first responders.” Rather than being overwhelmed by the first tragedy, they can prevent others.
The power of social media is undeniable. Whether it’s political movements, disasters, or breaking news, social media delivers unfiltered information instantaneously to people around the world. When a catastrophe occurs today, comments, pictures and video are likely to appear on the Internet as it happens. For instance, a deadly explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant was caught live on video and posted to social media, as was an enormous explosion that rocked the Chinese port of Tianjin. But when social media posts about a catastrophe go viral, the company involved can be in for a struggle.
To avoid getting left behind, companies need to prepare for how they will communicate using social media when a catastrophe strikes. A company that plans ahead and is able to mount a robust response may not only salvage its reputation, but may actually enhance its public image if it is seen as managing a difficult situation well. Because many companies lack this kind of communications expertise, they may want to work with consultants that can help them prepare for a disaster and respond appropriately. In addition, they should consider insurance that provides coverage for experienced public relations catastrophe management services to protect their corporate reputation.
Social Media Plays a Crucial Role in a Crisis
When it comes to disasters, mobile apps and social media are seen by the public as crucial ways to get information, according to a Red Cross survey. During Superstorm Sandy in 2012, social media played a significant role in providing official information and combating rumors. When Cyclone Tasha struck Australia in 2010, the Queensland Police Service made extensive use of Twitter to provide information to people spread over a vast area.
Social media, however, is widespread and public information, which means that if there is an explosion, fire, or other disaster, chances are someone may be streaming it live to the Internet, tweeting about it, posting it to Facebook or uploading pictures to Instagram even before the affected company is aware of it. In essence, that means public opinion about the incident, as well as the company involved, is already being shaped, possibly without any direction from corporate communications.
Because information travels so quickly through social media, the public no longer has to wait for the evening news to receive the most up-to-date information. Therefore, companies are not afforded the luxury of time to gather all available facts before addressing the public. Traditional media and news organizations are also feeling an increased amount of pressure. Since social media has enabled news to travel quicker, stories may not receive the same level of scrutiny as they once did. That leaves plenty of opportunity for the spread of misinformation, which can be very difficult to counteract. On the Internet, inaccurate information may persist long after it has been thoroughly discredited elsewhere.
Embrace Social Media in Crisis Communications
To handle the social media aspect of a crisis, companies need to be able to act immediately or risk allowing reporters and “citizen journalists” to tell the story they want to tell, which may not provide a complete and accurate picture. Being unprepared can lead to inconsistent messaging, or even misstatements that may create confusion and ultimately damage a corporation’s reputation. A company that is seen as clumsy in its media response to a crisis risks losing credibility.
When a disaster is handled well – by providing the public with timely and accurate information as well as proper reassurances about its products and services – an organization can actually bolster its reputation. While social media accelerates the media cycle, it can also enable a company to take control of its image by acting as a primary and reliable source of information when a catastrophe occurs. This requires planning and preparation.
An initial step is to review the corporate crisis communication plan to understand its limits in social media. A traditional crisis plan provides for one-way, controlled communication through prepared statements, press conferences, marketing tools, and commercials.
Such an approach is likely to be viewed as unresponsive by the public seeking immediate information. Incorporating social media into the traditional plan provides for two-way communication that allows for debate, insight, and opposing viewpoints that can guide the company’s responses.
The social media plan, however, should remain consistent with the company’s traditional media efforts. The company should provide consistent messaging in both traditional and social media about its culture and philosophy, the actions it is taking and the expected results, and its concern for those who have been affected.
Develop a Detailed Social Media Plan
The plan should delineate the policies and procedures to be followed in the event of a catastrophe, and – most importantly – assign roles and responsibilities to specific staff. This ensures that someone who understands the company’s message will maintain control, which can help lessen potential mistakes. Both external and internal policies should be covered so that the information communicated to and among employees and the public is timely, accurate and consistent.
The written policy should detail the information to be provided – for instance – pre-vetted information about the company and its corporate philosophy. It should establish guidelines pertaining to the types of social media posts that necessitate a response. Not every
post merits a reply. Anyone who uses a computer or smartphone can post information to the Internet. Identifying legitimate posts and inquiries and providing necessary information can help preserve a company’s reputation.
Because the social media landscape is dynamic, companies shouldn’t limit themselves to just one outlet, but rather those that are most appropriate for the business, the audience and the geographic region. If an incident occurs abroad, companies should use the
social media outlet most appropriate for that region. With their massive user base, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are obvious choices for domestic and international audiences. Others such as Instagram, Snapchat and Tumblr, should be considered. Companies active in Europe and Russia should consider the social networking site VK.
Prepare the Response
While it may not be possible to prepare material for every potential catastrophe, companies can still organize information ahead of time that can be released as soon as something happens. Information can be prepared for a “dark page” for the corporate website that can be published in the event of an emergency; however, companies should be careful not to publish a “dark page” until a crisis actually occurs.
The site can include background information about the company and its specific businesses as well as the corporate philosophy during times of crisis. Other information might be media contacts and toll-free phone numbers for claims intake. Preparing the information ahead of time makes it possible to have it reviewed by a company’s legal department, public relations, and senior management. Once the page is live, it should be monitored and updated so that it always provides the most current information.
Whether information is prepared ahead of time or developed in response to a particular incident, it should be presented in a way that is accessible for the audience. Written material should be understandable by a wide range of people. Companies should avoid industry jargon and acronyms, which may be unclear or even misunderstood by the general public.
Monitor and Test
When not in crisis mode, it is helpful for companies to monitor social media. Viewing the social media environment in the normal course of business can help companies ascertain how their brand, products and services are viewed by the public. Companies can purchase monitoring services or build these capabilities in-house.
While monitoring social media is an important part of regular business, it becomes essential after a catastrophe to identify issues that need immediate attention. This helps to ensure that the traditional and social media messages the company is sending are having the desired impact. If the same questions continue to be asked on social media, it’s a clear sign that the message is not getting across.
As part of their overall catastrophe preparation, companies should test their communication response plan to assess their procedures as well as their staff. Testing can help ensure that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities and is able to react quickly. Drills assist in identifying blockages and help address uncertainties in the process. After the test or following an actual event, the company should conduct a thorough reevaluation and debriefing to identify the areas that worked well and those that need improvement.
Preserve the Corporate Reputation
Today, a story about a disaster can be trending on social media even before the company involved is aware of the loss. Organizations that wait too long to respond can cause lasting damage to their reputation. A company that is perceived as avoiding or failing to address a story may soon realize that its lack of response becomes the subject of that story. Undoing the damage caused by a tardy or ill-conceived response can be very difficult.
Many people realize that companies may make mistakes, but how these companies react and the decisions they make when faced with a disaster can potentially lessen confidence among customers and the wider public. Knowing how and when to respond helps project an image of competence and concern. Social media is the fastest way to reach people, project the company’s message and protect its reputation.
To become better prepared, companies have to identify their most likely risks and develop plans to mitigate those exposures, whether they are health, safety or environmental. Companies need to know how best to respond on social media if a disaster were to affect their business. To do so, companies may want to work with consultants that can provide risk analysis and mitigation services and help to prepare a crisis response. In addition, to help plan how they will respond to a crisis on social and traditional media, companies should also consider insurance that can defray the costs of hiring expert help when a disaster strikes. No one knows when a catastrophe may occur, but being prepared can help lessen the damage. Customers will look to these companies for information– companies that can provide that information are more likely to weather a crisis with their reputation unscathed.