Tag Archives: customer experience

Popeye’s Chicken, IT And Insurance

With my wife, Mary Ann, away for two weeks, I’m always looking to score some good food. I live in a small town, where the Super Walmart is the local cultural and epicurean haute cuisine epicenter, so I normally must travel to another town to find something decent to eat. I’m not trying to be a food snob, but that’s just the way it is here in central Florida, where the three basic food groups are defined as Bar-B-Q.

While Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen is certainly not anywhere near any Michelin stars, I like their spicy fried chicken. Forgive me, Julia Child, but I like the flavor and texture.

So last Sunday I made my way to the closest Popeye’s drive-thru line. My wife had suggested that I order enough chicken for multiple meals, instead of just for lunch, and I was happy to follow this advice. So, when I got to the menu, instead of ordering a three-piece, I decided that the eight-piece family meal was the right choice. I mean, my wife made the suggestion.

As I pulled up to the microphone, I heard a friendly Popeye’s employee ask for my order, or so I assumed. The sound quality was very poor. I said I wanted the eight-piece family meal, spicy.

What happened next is where the unlikely alliance starts.

The Popeye’s employee started to speak, but the sound was so garbled and filled with static that I could not make heads or tails of it. I did recognize the number nine, but that was about all I understood. Because there was a line of cars behind me that was wrapping around the block, I didn’t want to do anything that would slow the process, so I repeated that I wanted the eight-piece family meal, spicy, and I was able to make out an “OK” over the speaker.

As I got up to the window to pay the happy and friendly Popeye’s employee, I mentioned that I heard something about the number nine but couldn’t understand what the person was saying.

It turns out that Popeye’s was running a promotional deal. The standard, eight-piece family meal is $13.29, but there was a nine-piece meal available for $12. 99. I cocked my head to one side and said, “So, I can get an extra piece of chicken and save money at the same time? What a deal! Please change my order from eight to nine pieces. And please be sure to make it spicy.”

They changed the order; I got an extra piece of chicken while saving 30 cents, and I was happy. That extra piece of chicken seemed to be especially tasty.

See also: Using Technology to Enhance Your Agency  

My satisfaction as a customer had been blocked because I could not understand the information or my options. My customer experience was later elevated when I got the correct data and options, making it possible to make an informed decision. The data was there all the time, but faulty technology made it difficult, if not impossible, for me to understand my options.

I began to wonder: When was the last time that an employee pulled up to the drive-thru and tried to order something like a normal, everyday person? What about the shift manager? The store manager? The franchise owner? Harper Lee was right when she wrote those immortal words in “To Kill a Mockingbird” for Atticus Finch to share with his children, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

While I’m not a betting man, I would gladly wager all the money in my pockets and my checking accounts that no one in management has ever gone through the drive-thru. If they had, I feel confident that my technology experience would have been radically better.

Is it the same?

Whoever you are, you are reading this because you are interested in the insurance industry. And you are thinking one of two things;

  • Yes, ordering chicken and insurance ARE the same. Chicken is chicken, and insurance is insurance. Both are commodities. Or,
  • No, ordering chicken and insurance ARE NOT the same. While chicken may be chicken, all insurance is not created equal and is not a commodity.

Irrespective of your perspective, selling and servicing insurance depends on clear communication with prospects, customers and authorized third parties. If the data and communications are not clear, then cost and frustrations go up while satisfaction and utilization go down. It is paramount that selling and servicing insurance be based on information, communication and transparency.

If you are responsible for systems that collect or share insurance data, when was the last time that you personally examined the system from an outsider’s standpoint? Brought someone alongside who’s not directly involved with the insurance space and walked the person through your data collection and exchange solutions? Collected direct feedback for your users? Made changes in response to user feedback?

Moving forward

From a technology standpoint, there is much that can be done to enhance communication with prospects, clients and third parties while mitigating miscommunication. Here are six areas to consider;

User eXperiences:

  • Don’ts – pave the historical cow path of ACORD/company forms, internal screens or database layouts.
  • Do’s – reimagine the experience based on the user’s perspective alone. Make it easy to follow and use, be sensitive to screen real estate size or constraints.

Start and Stop:

  • Don’ts – force users to gather and complete data entry based on what’s convenient for your system or organization.
  • Do’s – allow users to start, suspend, restart and change the basic intent of the transaction, even allowing them to reorder the screen and field flows.

Big Data:

  • Don’ts – assume that third-party data is valid, clean or up to date.
  • Do’s – tell users what third-party data you are going to access before you retrieve it, show the data to them and ask for feedback.

Artificial Intelligence:

  • Don’ts – hide the AI process, results or how it hurt their eligibility or rate.
  • Do’s – practice complete transparency about your use of AI, explain what it is, what data you are using, sharing both intermediate and final results.

Risk:

  • Don’ts – camouflage what are the favorable risk factors that you are looking for.
  • Do’s – be transparent on both favorable and unfavorable risk factors and what the user can do to reduce their risk.

Reading:

  • Don’ts – use arcane, overly complex and statutory-sounding insurance jargon and terms.
  • Do’s – as the March Hare said, “say what you mean” as simply and straightforwardly as possible for all text on screens, definitions and forms.

See also: Emerging Technology in Personal Lines  

If you are looking for some instant, quick fix, low-hanging fruit or some other consult-speak buzzword solution, you need to read a different article by a different author. Improving clarity, understanding and transparency are long-term tasks requiring refinement over time. But we need to start somewhere, and where we are is as good a place to start as any.

Can You Recession-Proof Your Business?

The U.S. has enjoyed the longest economic expansion in American history. One thing’s for sure, though – it’s not going to last.

Recessions are a normal part of the economic cycle. Expansions lead into contractions, which then lead into more expansions, and so on.  The next downturn is coming, even if no one can predict exactly when.

It’s been a while since people had to talk about how to “recession-proof” their business. Indeed, given the length of the current expansion, there are plenty of business leaders out there who have no experience navigating a downturn.

For many, the knee-jerk reaction to a slowdown is to cut expenses – curtail travel, freeze hiring, postpone investments. While that can help, it can also hurt. A lot depends on where cuts are made, and how those cuts affect the customer experience.

To illustrate the degree by which customer experience can truly recession-proof a business, we pulled data from Watermark Consulting’s Customer Experience (CX) ROI Study. (The study analyzes the stock market performance of the top-rated companies in customer experience versus the bottom-rated. Follow the link for details on the study’s methodology.)

See also:  Key Changes for Customer Experience  

Specifically, we looked at the performance of CX Leaders and CX Laggards during the last U.S. recession, 2007-2009. (We chose that span based on the National Bureau of Economic Research’s official designation of when the last contraction began and ended.)

The story the graph tells is striking. While CX Leaders weren’t immune from the recession, they clearly fared better than other companies. Whereas the broader market and the CX Laggards lost significant market value during the contraction, the CX Leaders actually notched positive returns. What does that tell us?

It certainly suggests that the quality of a company’s customer experience does influence its ability to weather a recession. CX Leaders tend to be cushioned from the most severe impacts of a downturn, because they represent one of the last places people cut back (or seek less expensive alternatives), as well as one of the first places to which they return.

Of course, the protection a great customer experience affords during economic slowdowns isn’t unqualified. There are many ways a company can sabotage its own success, despite offering an appealing customer experience (see this story about the 2011 bankruptcy of the top-rated company in customer experience).

However, in general, companies offering a top-notch customer experience are far-better-positioned to withstand a recession than those that don’t. For business leaders, this means two things:

  • First, when the economy is expanding or business is good, invest in the customer experience to further differentiate your company in the marketplace. This might sound obvious, but the fact is, when revenues are growing and the future looks bright, many organizations de-prioritize CX investments, under the premise that, if business is booming, customers must already be happy and loyal.
  • Second, when the economy sours or business slows, be especially judicious when considering expense cuts that could materially affect customer experience. Such actions might yield short-term gains, but they also introduce serious long-term risks. Furthermore, don’t ignore opportunities to actually improve the customer experience while simultaneously lowering expenses (read more about that approach here).

See also: Customer Experience Gets a Major Facelift  

Famed investor (and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway) Warren Buffett once commented that “You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.” His point? Every business leader looks smart during economic booms; it’s only when adversity strikes that you see who the real geniuses are.

With an economic slowdown looming, the tide will soon go out. What will it reveal about your business?

Top 10 Ways to Spook Customers

What were you afraid of this Halloween? That your customers might disappear like ghosts? That your competitors might pick them off like vultures? That it’s all going to drive you batty? In the spirit of All Hallows’ Eve, Watermark Consulting brings you… The Top 10 Ways to Spook Your Customers:

10.  Respond to customer requests like a zombie.

Are your responses to customer inquiries heavily scripted like they came out of some low-budget horror movie? Might your customers feel like, no matter what they say, they get form letters and teleprompter-like messages in response? Remove active listening, critical thinking and personalized problem solving from your front-line and you miss a huge opportunity to impress your customer. If your front-line personnel perform like zombies, you can guarantee that customers will run from them.

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

Having trouble reading a billing statement? Or your health insurer’s explanation of benefits? Or correspondence from your financial institution? You’re not alone. Businesspeople are steeped in the practices and language of their respective industries. As such, they often forget to translate their communications for easy public consumption. Instead, they convey their messages using jargon, terminology and acronyms that make their customers head for the hills.

8.  Cut expenses and operate with a skeleton staff.

Particularly in times of economic distress, many companies’ first reaction is to slash investments in post-sale operations, because these areas are not viewed as revenue-driving and therefore become easy targets when profits need to be propped up. But while skeleton staffs might offer some immediate gratification in expense reduction, they also foster negative impressions that could snuff out your company’s true brand. Bare bones operations translate into long checkout lines, miserable 800-line hold times, overall inattentive service and visibly overworked and irritated employees – characteristics that are hardly the best ingredients for great customer experiences.

7.  Embark on monstrous transformation projects.

Business transformation is overrated. It’s good to have high aspirations and stretch goals, but you’ve got to eat the elephant one bite at a time. Big, hairy, audacious projects have a tendency to be ill-defined and nearly impossible to manage. Plus, most companies suffer from “organizational A.D.D.” and have trouble staying focused on a three-month project, let alone a three-year one. Transformational projects make for good annual report copy, but they often fail to deliver valuable improvements to employees and customers. (Sometimes, all they deliver is disruption and dissatisfaction.) Yes, have a long-term vision – but never underestimate the power and efficiency of incremental advances toward that destination.

6.  Never do a post-mortem.

In the whirlwind of daily business activities, people rarely take the time to dissect and diagnose customer annoyances. Customer complaints present a wonderful opportunity to not just recover gracefully (and perhaps win back a consumer’s loyalty), but to also dig up the root of a problem and fix it, once and for all. What’s even rarer than post-mortems on customer complaints? Post-mortems on customer compliments. There’s great value in pinpointing what employee or practice generated customer delight and then figuring out how to replicate that outcome more routinely. Post-mortems can yield silver bullet-like learnings that forever eradicate customer frustrations or permanently institutionalize loyalty-enhancing business practices.

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

To create happy, satisfied and loyal customers, you need happy, satisfied and engaged employees. Create a work environment where employees don’t feel appreciated, respected or well-equipped to do their jobs – and you’re guaranteed to make their energy and passion go away faster than a vampire at dawn. And if you don’t think your customers will notice that difference in your staff, then you really are starting to hallucinate.

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

Creating satisfied, loyal customers is a lot about managing expectations. People’s frustration (or delight) with a business is closely tied to the expectations they had of that interaction. Customers don’t like ambiguity or unpleasant surprises. If you don’t tell them what to expect – how long they’ll be on hold before speaking to a live person, how much paperwork they’ll need to fill out for a mortgage application, what information they’ll need to provide to get an insurance quote, etc. – then they’re more likely to be annoyed when the interaction isn’t as quick, simple or straightforward as they anticipated.

3.  Give your customers tricks and never treats.

Do customers walk away from dealings with your business feeling good about the interaction? Do they get what they expected; do they feel like they got a good value? For lots of businesses, the answer is no. Customers will rarely tell you that, choosing instead to just vote with their feet (and wallet) and do business elsewhere. From products that don’t work exactly as expected, to special offers that exclude desirable merchandise, to fine print that can’t even be understood – these are examples of “tricks of the trade” that may draw consumers in momentarily but certainly won’t create a foundation on which to build loyal customer relationships. Contrast that with the indelible positive impressions left on customers who experience treats – pleasant surprises and personal touches that they never expected or anticipated. That’s what legendary, customer-centric brands are made of.

2.  Avoid ownership and accountability like the plague.

A gruesome ailment has descended on the business community, eradicating all vestiges of ownership and accountability. Customer calls are not promptly (if ever) returned. Commitments are not kept. Obligations are forgotten. Here’s a little secret: Customers don’t care if your store is immaculate, if your employees have smiles, if you send them fancy newsletters or any of that fluff if your product doesn’t work as advertised and your people don’t follow through on their promises. Want to create a brand experience that outshines all others? Start by nailing these basics and making sure your customers feel cared for.

And the No. 1 way to spook your customers…

1.  Put scary people on your front line.

Who’s interacting with your customers on a daily basis? Is your front-line composed of superheroes who go the extra mile for your customers, or soulless automatons who frighten your customers with their discourtesy, uselessness and utter inability to deliver on promises? No matter how sophisticated your customer relationship management systems are, or how spectacular your retail store looks, or how advanced your customer segmentation strategy is – it means nothing if the people interacting with your customers are not professional, responsible and genuinely helpful.

***

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

Are you haunted by the prospect of your customers defecting to a competitor? Do something about it before your worst nightmares become a reality. Let these 10 tips serve as your guide, and, before you know it, you’ll be casting a spell on your customers that’ll have them coming back for more.

This article first appeared here.

How to Improve the Customer Journey

Nearly 60% of insurance executives rank a differentiated customer service experience as having the highest impact on successful competition. For many years, customer demands, the effects of digitizing customer relationships and the creation of a successful customer journey have been the focus when it comes to customer service in the insurance business. But inquiries in the insurance industry are issue-driven, and customers often only reach out when they have a problem and are already likely frustrated. So, how do you make sure customers are truly the focus of your business during every touchpoint with your brand?

From when potential customers start evaluating insurance offerings to the point where a customer reaches out for support or submits a service claim with your organization, what are consumers expecting in terms of service? Throughout the customer journey, insurers must adapt to the unique needs of each consumer to provide the best experience and earn loyal customers who will serve as important ambassadors for your company.

Here are tips for creating a positive relationship between insurer and customer at each stage of the customer journey:

Actively Communicate During the Consultation Phase

Insurance isn’t a nice-to-have, and consumers seek coverage out of necessity rather than desire. Changes in someone’s personal situation trigger consumers to enter the consultation phase and start requesting information from insurers. Instead of insurers looking to create demand, customer communication in large part only begins when the need is already acute. Traditionally, interactions between insurers and customers are “accident-driven” instead of being initiated by insurance companies. So, how do you improve the customer experience?

See also: 8 Key Changes for Customer Experience  

Many insurance companies are failing to promote products or services to customers. Too often, customer interactions are based on need and without cause, occurring haphazardly. Globally, 44% of customers have had no interactions with their insurers in the last 18 months. Instead of relying on customers to communicate, insurers should take more control by making customers aware of comprehensive risks and the need to protect against them.

Personalize Across Channels in the Purchase Decision Phase

As customers enter the purchase decision phase, the customer experience becomes even more integral. With the growth of digital channels, there are several options for a customer to purchase a policy, such as personal sales, an intermediary, your website or comparison portals. With 80% of customers willing to use digital and remote channel options to complete tasks and transactions, it is critical to meet customers with a highly personalized approach regardless of the purchase platform.

Customers value an easy process and individualized options and want to buy from insurance companies that serve up comprehensive policy information that is tailored to their situation. Across all purchase options, the human factor (or personal contact) is a crucial component of converting a prospect into a customer. Personal consultations still remain important, but consumers now also expect to quickly reach you through intermediaries, service centers or digital channels. To offer both detailed and personalized communications, insurance companies need to offer personal consultation services that are supported by other channels to communicate the value of products and services.

Balance Humans and Technology During the Support and Service Phases

When customers reach out for support, they want the experience to be three things: personal, fast and easy. Insurers must integrate trusted, familiar contact channels with digital options. While customers still want quick and stress-free access to friendly and accommodating insurers over the phone, there is also a desire to communicate via digital contact options like email, chat and even self-service. For customers, analog and digital channels are equally important when they are looking for insurance support.

When submitting a claim, customers also want a seamless, rapid and individualized process. Although customers are used to leveraging the service center for direct exchanges with insurers, digital and mobile processing are often underused even though they can increase efficiency by solving claims quickly and providing tracking for customers.

See also: Customer Experience Gets a Major Facelift  

Final Thoughts

The insurer-customer relationship is a valuable differentiator throughout the entire customer journey from the initial consultation through to support and claims. To put customers front and center every step of the way, insurers need to communicate during the information phase, focus on personalizing interactions with customers on diverse channels during the purchase phase and create a blend between personal contact and digital tools to elevate support and claims services. To attract and retain customers, insurers must seek opportunities to innovate their service approach to address customers’ needs and drive positive experiences during every touchpoint along the customer journey.

D2C Model Needs New Customer Approach

According to home insurance provider Hippo, over half of insurance customers would rather go to the dentist than communicate with their provider. This type of sentiment provides a big business opportunity, however, as insurance increasingly becomes a direct-to-consumer (D2C) business. In the next few years, many believe that the large amounts of marketing and ad dollars traditionally spent to drive traffic to mobile apps and websites will struggle to turn web visits into customers.

Insurance carriers, now more than ever, are afforded the opportunity to address friction within the customer journey as customers expect a transparent and more intuitive experience. Today’s insurance consumer embraces the right engagement at the right time. Providing certainty and clarity to customers reduces anxiety and hesitation and drives success for the customer and the business.

In 2013, Geico’s marketing budget topped $1 billion, with a majority of spending on advertising. Not much has changed. D2C newcomers have acquired early customers with design-first thinking, an emphasis on lower prices and more modern policy terms. But the approaches are meant to acquire customers; neither focuses much on engaging the customer.

According to a recent Watermark customer experience survey, CX leaders outperformed the broader market, generating a total return that was 45 points higher than the S&P 500 Index. And customer experience leaders generated a total cumulative return that was nearly three times greater than that of the “Customer Experience Laggards.” Those are numbers any CEO of a traditional insurance company or founder of a major insurtech can rally behind.

How insurance can embrace a different type of customer acquisition

For legacy insurers and a more D2C model, customer experience represents a fundamental and essential shift in mindset. By providing the lower-friction, more customer-centric experience that today’s consumers prefer, legacy insurers and insurtechs can modernize their position in the market. This can all be done by guiding the customer’s experience online through engagement.

See also: How to Earn Consumers’ Trust  

Tom Super, director of J.D. Power’s insurance practice, recently noted that, “According to our 2019 J.D. Power Digital Experience Study, 37% of consumers have never spoken with their agent, and one in 10 consumers report they have never interacted with their insurance company at all.”

This clearly leaves a lot of room to grow customer engagement, and the insurance industry should look more closely at how it calculates customer lifetime value (CLV). There is an opportunity to understand where exactly customer engagement produces sales. For insurtechs and legacy providers alike, the question has become: How do you think about engagement when your customers don’t really want to be there or don’t understand exactly where to go? This is a lot different than typical direct-to-consumer marketing and brand challenges.

Creating a more direct customer experience

To win in this fast-evolving insurance marketplace, providers of all types will need to move quickly beyond branding and focus on the customer experience. The first few seconds are critical—as are all the seconds that follow. Customers will need constant reassurance that things will be explained, the next steps will be clear and the company is there for you.

The key to Guided Digital Commerce is automation for the majority of contacts and preserving your live channels for more complex inquiries. If you can give the customer the right answer to a concern the overwhelming majority of the time, you can deploy a profitable engagement solution that can reach all of your customers instead of just a few. In sometimes opaque insurance products, this is key to building effective customer engagement that supports money spent on the brand.

In practical terms, this means providing relevant guidance to help customers complete their onsite journey quickly and easily. Site design and golf tournament sponsorships are only the beginning. From the moment the customer lands on the home page, the provider should watch for signs of hesitation, struggle or opportunity. Site analytics can help the insurer understand the nature of hesitance as well as how to address it. If visitors tend to get stuck at a given point in the process, offer relevant information in context, explaining what to do and what to expect next. Keeping the customer within the digital channel and increasing self-sufficiency is good for the customer and good for business. Anticipate and act on customer behavior in real time. In a sense, be the best possible kind of insurance agent: one who’s clear, helpful and attentive to the customer’s needs but never pushy.

See also: How Insurtechs Can Win Consumers’ Trust  

Branding, data science, risk-pricing, terms, customer reviews—these are all part of the mix for competitive success. But none of it matters if you can’t keep customers on your site long enough to see what sets you apart. By offering a new and better kind of engagement experience, insurance can start changing customer perceptions from the moment they arrive. When customers are guided to the information they need to make confident buying decisions, they’re more likely to bind policies, give accurate information to enable accurate risk calculation, update their coverage and generate revenue for the business. And that sure beats a trip to the dentist.