Let’s say you’ve appointed a head of customer experience, who is part of your senior management team. You have a customer experience practice. This might be a small team of a few people, or it might be a larger division or department within your organization. And you’ve implemented practices and procedures driven by customer experience. You’re doing research. You’re creating and using personas and journey maps. Maybe you’re even doing a service blueprint. And, of course, you have metrics and measurements. From thoseat, you get analytics and intelligence. You know what your customers need. You know how they feel; you know what they’re saying. And you are acting based on what you learn. You’re changing priorities, decisions and investments. So, you’ve established the discipline, and you’re doing everything right.
But are you really? Don’t get me wrong. Everything you’re doing in that scenario is essential to your organization. But if your customer experience discipline is siloed, if it is simply aligned but not embedded and woven throughout your organization into everything you do, and if it is not a key driver for almost everything you do, the notion that you’re truly driven by customer experience is more myth than reality.
Creating the reality of being driven by customer experience requires education, understanding and implementation of the discipline throughout your entire organization. It calls for the knowledge of how customer experience differentiates from customer service and the need to share, apply and nurture practices and assets, not simply develop and document them. This is not about creating personas and journey maps and then putting them on a shelf or implementing them within a siloed discipline. CX assets and practices need to be top of mind and referenced frequently by everyone – in thoughts, conversations, planning, practices and absolutely decision-making. And, just as your customers’ journeys continually evolve, so must your CX practices and assets.
I cannot stress enough that the associated knowledge or practice of customer experience affects almost everyone in your organization and just about everything in your organization in the same way that everyone and everything in your organization affects your customers, whether you realize it or not. Customer experience should become an inextricable part of your culture. This is not accomplished top down, and it’s not accomplished bottom up. It needs to be woven throughout all of your strategies, plans, projects, workflows, conversations, decisions and how you apply technology.
To achieve this organic customer experience culture, all of these components need to be designed and orchestrated to enable the desired customer experience. It is not just going to happen. Done right, this transformation is a journey much like innovation or digital transformation, and it’s one that gets to the real heart of your organization and affects every aspect of what you do and why you do it. It’s a big journey. But like all big journeys, it begins with small steps and is about gaining momentum. Over time, customer experience will no longer be a thing you do, but rather will become a natural part of how you think, how you behave, and what drives your conversations, priorities, investments, and decisions. To move from the myth to the reality and become truly driven by customer experience, it is key to educate and involve everybody. Do not align, but rather embed. And go beyond the customer’s view and journey and look at your internal journey.
For maybe the first 15 years of the personal computer revolution, business and even government leaders talked a lot about the need for computer literacy. We were told that the very competitiveness of our nations depended on educating the populace to prepare for the digital age. Then Steve Jobs came along.
It turned out the problem wasn’t our lack of education. The problem was that computers were just too hard to use. Once Jobs and Apple brought the graphical user interface to computers, and once processors became powerful enough to handle the demands of GUIs, the talk of computer literacy faded. Then came the iPad and iPhone, making an intuitive experience available on almost any device. If you asked a teenager to define “computer literacy” today, he or she would likely say, “Hey, Siri….”
The insurance industry is trying hard to move into a “Hey, Siri” phase, as companies focus on drastically improving the customer experience. Companies are finding that they have to reinvent chunks of their businesses to really get the experience right. Yes, they have to focus on the ways that they touch customers, through agents and brokers, through call centers, through adjusters and through an increasingly broad array of electronic means. But a customer doesn’t just experience a company through a direct communication. Customers also experience, for instance, how long and painful an underwriting process or a claim is.
And here’s the thing: This emphasis on customer experience requires a revolution for companies but merely an evolution for customers. Insurers have to move heaven and earth to add computing power, to deal with new kinds of data, to come up with new analytical models, to design new processes and so on. Consumers just have to add an app or a phone number so they can text a company, have to e-sign documents rather than printing and mailing them, etc. — and consumers have already been doing these sorts of things with other companies in other industries.
So, customers may understand at some level all the effort that has to go into changing how they experience an insurance company — but they don’t really care.
As you’ll see from this month’s interview, from the appended articles and from a host of articles throughout the website, lots of noble efforts are underway, and companies are making progress, but improving customer experience is a marathon, not a sprint. Every January, I publish articles about how this is the year that the industry will figure out the customer experience. Then I publish more of those articles the following January… and the January after that. Despite the undeniable progress, I don’t expect to stop publishing those pieces any time soon.
– Paul Carroll, ITL’s Editor-in-Chief
ITL FOCUS INTERVIEW
An Interview with Scott McArthur, CRO, Statflo
We spoke with Scott McArthur, chief revenue officer, Statflo, about the impact of digitization on customer interactions.
WHAT TO WATCH
3 Tips for Increasing Customer Engagement
Even before the pandemic, insurance customers were moving to digital channels and demanding the kind of smooth experience they get with Google and Amazon. With customers demanding new types of interactions and agencies and companies needing to increase leads in a world that’s gone from face-to-face to zoom, technology doesn’t have to be intimidating.
WHAT TO READ
Key to Better CX: Think Like NTSB
Airlines are rarely held up as exemplars of customer experience, but in one important respect the industry deserves such recognition.
Why CX Must Trump Efficiency
Companies talk about improving customer experience but focus too much on saving money. Customer process automation does both.
Providing a Better Claims Experience
It’s important to consider the communication preferences of five different generations when building a better claims process.
Self-Service Portals Improve CX
81% of companies expect customer experience to be a key battleground. Self-service portals are a great place to start.
3 Ways to Optimize Customer Experience
Even in a heated marketplace, a superior customer contact center can let life insurers grow.
Millennials Demand Modern Experience
To address the life insurance gap among millennials and create more financial security, the industry needs to move quickly.
How to Increase Profits With Connected CX
Fostering connected experiences is vital to meeting customer expectations and succeeding in a technology-centric world.
The insurance industry has steadily been digitizing in recent years. It is taking advantage of technological developments in automation, offering apps to clients and introducing things like electronic proof of auto insurance.
PwC’s Annual Global CEO Survey in 2020 identified customer experience (CX) and core tech transformation as the top two opportunities for companies to set themselves apart, with CX significantly ahead. When customers are communicating with their insurance company, they are usually dealing with an awful experience (a car accident, a medical issue, a home invasion, a roof leak or a full-on natural disaster). Hitting any snags when it comes to getting the service they need is a big factor in driving them to a competitor.
Artificial intelligence (AI) addresses both customer experience and tech transformation and has helped insurance companies improve their services and stay competitive in a tough industry. AI enables many services and processes to be automated, resulting in both cost and time savings. But AI deployment also benefits customer experience, in three specific areas.
Improvement of policies, products and processes
The retail sector has capitalized on custom products and experiences, and the concept that one or two sizes will fit everyone is fading quickly in other sectors, too. The insurance industry is now also latching onto customization, as AI enables companies to leverage data to personalize a core product for an individual customer.
A company’s AI model can use a client’s historical data to calculate with a high degree of probability that a particular product or policy will be the best fit. In the eye of the customer, they get an attractive product without needing to spend a lot of time on consultations with the broker. For the insurance company, the efficiency gains are impressive, and agents don’t need to spend a lot of time finding the right product for the client.
Not only does AI improve the speed of crafting policies for customers, the technology can also speed up underwriting, as well as the claims process — two key touchpoints where turnaround time is essential for CX. If a health insurance customer is filing a claim for an expensive prescription, they will want a simple and quick resolution. Long waiting times may drive them to a competitor known for quicker reimbursements. But AI can bring a competitive edge to an insurance company if customers know they can expect trouble-free claims processing.
Enabling rapid online assistance
The days of customers playing phone tag with agents to get the information they want are long gone. Insurance companies can leverage AI on their platforms — both web and mobile — to allow customers to quickly find an answer to a question. The ability to more easily respond to inquiries from policyholders is especially important following a major event, such as a tornado or hurricane, when there is sure to be a high-volume of online interactions.
AI-powered chatbots have become the first touchpoint for customers in many sectors. When done right, they can give a major boost to an insurance company’s customer experience. Organizations can also save money by automating simple and routine online customer interactions, leading to another win-win situation where customers can quickly get to the information they need.
Once an insurance provider has an AI model in place to help with the crafting of policies and settling of claims — and the organization begins using it as an integral part of its daily routine — it is vital that the AI model suitably addresses four risk factors: accuracy, stability, flexibility and ethics. AI can be used to test these models against those factors.
Any AI model an insurance company employs should have a high accuracy score. Smart AI model testing will ensure that the results are reliable — with an agreed tolerance for the model, to protect a company’s profitability while appropriately managing their risk. Because data changes over time, testing will ensure that an AI model remains stable when there’s a change in the data in the ecosystem, or in the way the insurance company handles business. Such testing will also ascertain that the model is flexible enough to react to those changes while remaining accurate.
Above all, AI can be used to test whether the insurance company’s AI models are ethical — meaning that they are not biased toward or against any specific groups of society. Even the largest dataset imaginable can be flawed or biased depending on the data that is included. Therefore, it is vital that these models be tested on a regular basis, to verify that the risk factors are being appropriately applied without bias, ensuring the company’s reputation and its brand.
Giving customers a reason to stay
As the saying goes, it’s cheaper to retain a current customer than to attract a new customer, so insurance companies need to look at technological innovations that can improve customer retention. By recognizing the value AI can bring to all aspects of the customer experience, insurance providers can deliver fast, accurate and fair service to policyholders.
Whether a business provides health, car, home or other types of insurance, there will always be a line of competitors just waiting to snatch away disappointed and frustrated customers. What’s most important is for insurance companies to focus on giving customers reasons to stay.
Much has been written, and much has been done in the past decade regarding the customer experience in P&C. Progress has been made in understanding customer needs and journeys, implementing digital solutions for mobile and self-service capabilities and improving interactions with agents and policyholders. However, anyone involved in strategies and improving the CX in P&C is likely to admit that the industry is still in the earlier stages of the journey. It is clearly a marathon, not a short term, once-and-done project. But now, as a result of the pandemic and the momentous events of the last year, the race has changed.
A new SMA research report, Customer Experience in P&C: Transformation in the Pandemic Era, assesses the journey of P&C insurers. Companies covering the personal lines, small commercial and mid/large commercial market segments are profiled based on a survey of executives and SMA’s analysis of customer experience projects with insurers.
About one-quarter to one-third of insurers are in broader rollouts of customer experience strategies, with the personal lines segment being the most mature. There is a correlation between the status and maturity of CX officers and the level of overall segment maturity. There are two categories of CX-related projects that are vital to track: those that are strategy/organizational in nature and those that are oriented around technology capabilities. For example, flipping the lens from a customer service to a customer experience orientation and establishing a customer-centric culture are the top two project areas, signaling a recognition that these are foundational elements of a good CX strategy.
The project plans recognize the change that is underway. While it may be hyperbole to say the pandemic changed everything, the pandemic and all that it has entailed altered customer expectations and caused insurers to rethink and reprioritize plans. The short-term focus has been on enabling and improving self-service, digital payments and digital intake for both sales and service. Improvements will continue, but, in the meantime, P&C insurers have been taking stock of their customer experience journey – and this is where they are running a marathon. What once was movement at a steady pace has now taken on steadily increasing momentum. Virtually every insurer is accelerating digital transformation, and customer experience is an important element.
However, now that the expectations of agents and policyholders have risen, the finish line for the marathon has been pushed out. It is not as if there was ever a firm finish line where a company could claim it was “done” with customer experience. But the race is now taking some new turns, will require adaptability and may require a longer sustained effort to remain competitive.
Apple is known for great design, but it sells consumer electronics — not life insurance. Surely, there is more to user-experience design for complex industries such as insurance, right? The answer is yes. And no.
Yes, digital experiences in life insurance need to be different from the digital experience of buying a pair of shoes or some new AirPods. But not as different as one might think; in many ways, the mechanics are the same.
The main goal of digital commerce conversion is to get the user from point A to B, where B is some level of engagement. For a site devoted to selling shoes, the ultimate engagement is a transaction. We recognize this as e-commerce.
For a platform devoted to life insurance, there is more to the experience than the transaction (e.g. awareness, education, needs assessment, etc.), but the ultimate goal is still commerce — the sale of life insurance policies. While most life insurance carriers do not consider themselves to be engaged in e-commerce, the online experience plays a critical role in getting the user from point A to point B and ultimately to the transaction, even if it takes place offline.
Simply stated, everything we’ve learned about e-commerce experience and conversion also applies to the life insurance consumer — no matter where or how a policy is purchased.
Simplicity and Magic: Not Just for Consumer Products
Anyone who has purchased goods online with a single click — Amazon’s “Buy Now” button comes to mind — understands the power of “simplicity and magic.” All the complexity involved in the transaction is hidden in exchange for billing, shipping and payment information. With one click, a product you want is en route to your doorstep, often within 24 hours.
When you think about buying life insurance, “simple” and “magic” are not words that come to mind. Life insurance policies are serious products, so the buying experience needs to be serious, too. Life insurance marketers often assume that consumers want to see lots of hundred-dollar words and legalese in the fine print (even though it will never get read). They believe every page should have busy images that scream financial security and leave consumers overwhelmed and feeling out of their league.
Of course, this is not the experience any marketer is trying to create, but it’s not uncommon.
Complexity makes it hard to figure out where to start, whereas simplicity makes it easy to figure out what the next step is.
Imagine an insurance adviser who needs to generate qualified leads. She creates a Facebook ad with a needs analysis calculator to help consumers self-educate. Every time a potential client clicks on that calculator, a lead is created, and basic information is automatically captured.
As the prospect moves through the process, pages and forms update dynamically so information is only entered once and the questionnaire automatically updates based on answers previously provided. This may not sound very magical, but don’t you appreciate it when you don’t have to answer the same questions over and over to get the information you are looking for?
More serious magic happens as the lead continues to click though the process. More information is captured, the lead is self-qualifying, and the adviser can access everything in real time through a simple dashboard that lets her know exactly what the next step is for each prospect. Moreover, the carrier is gaining valuable consumer insights and behavioral data to drive future decision-making. And all the adviser did was put a lure in the water; she didn’t need to do anything else – all the complexity happens on the back end, behind the scenes away from the customer and the adviser.
Good News | Bad News
The good news for insurers is that decades of prior design and customer-engagement learnings and best practices are available to us despite our not being in the business of selling consumer electronics. When it comes to moving a user from point A to point B, the best practices are proven, so we don’t have to start from scratch.
The bad news is that most teams don’t have a stable of customer-experience experts to draw from as design decisions are made. In fact, many times decisions affecting the customer experience are made without any concept of design principles, and, over time, this can result in a very messy experience… a button added here and there, opening a window here and there and so on.
Not a pretty picture.
This problem also extends to consumers of enterprise software and platforms. In the age of Netflix and Amazon, software that comes with a thick user manual is doomed before it’s been deployed. Today’s business users have high expectations for modern software based on their own consumer experiences, so you may want to think twice before designing two-days worth of training on your next new system.
Above All Else, Trust
Delivering simplicity and magic is the holy grail of great design, but there is another, equally important design consideration that must remain front and center, especially when designing for more complex industries: building trust.
Trust is built through consistent experiences, so one of the fastest ways to lose trust is to offer a confusing flow with new experiences at every stage. We know this from our own experiences with some e-commerce sites:
You find a product you want to purchase, and you click the “buy” button, only to land on another page that doesn’t look anything like the site you started on. You decide that you want the product enough to overlook the change in experience, until you go to pay and end up on yet another page that doesn’t look anything like the page you were on before that.
Instead of a straightforward purchase of a product you want, you are now faced with the choice to proceed or not…because an inconsistent experience erased your trust in the process.
As the e-commerce example outlines, first impressions are important, but consistency builds trust — and trust enables engagement/conversion. It’s much harder to get users to move from point A to point B if they don’t trust you. Moreover, if they don’t trust you, they are less likely to buy from you or recommend your products and services to others.
Likewise, with B2B platforms and enterprise software, users are more productive when they know what to expect from an application and its UI. For example, office productivity tools such as Google Suites or Microsoft Office have many design elements that are consistent between tools. Once you understand how to do something in Google Docs, you can typically also do it in Google Sheets, for example. And when users master these tools, those skills are transferable from employer to employer.
This is also a great example of how consistency is often more important than differentiation. When building new user experiences, the urge to differentiate is strong, but consistency is critical. If you know how to search and play video on one streaming service, you can probably do it on a rival service. Imagine if you had to re-train every time you wanted to use a new service. And yet we typically expect enterprise users to do just this when we introduce new software.
Designing for trust is an integral part of my job: It’s top of mind as I make design decisions as a chief product officer developing technology solutions for life insurance. Sometimes, I find it useful to start with the understanding that my decision might be wrong, flawed in some way I haven’t figured out yet. It’s not that I don’t trust my design instincts. I do. But the process of proving that my decision was the right one often results in a better understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish.