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Dare to Be Different: New Ways to Communicate With Customers

Two insurance industry surveys for 2014, released by J.D. Powers (Auto Purchase and Property Claims), conclude that timely and relevant communication is the dominant factor in customer satisfaction. The studies show the intrinsic value of communication in building trust with customers, resulting in retention and in growth.Roughly 45% of insurers cited customer-experience levers as top business goals in research on customer communication released by Forrester in November 2012. So we would expect insurers to tap into the opportunity to engage customers in ways that drive renewals, deepening relationships and brand affinity. Obvious, right?The reality is a far cry from this.Instead, insurers have been focusing on the very obvious savings from the reduced need to print and mail the communication documents, by pushing the customers to digital channels.Here comes the second paradox.You would hope that customers are now far more engaged through the digital platform. But a survey conducted by Nationwide Insurance reveals that 60% of customers have not read their policy in full in a year, and only one in five customers believed that they completely understood their policy. The top two reasons cited are that documents are too long and too complicated.

The Consumer Bill of Rights in Texas is nine pages long — even those who receive it won’t read the full document. For most, buying insurance is like buying a car without knowing if it will accommodate your two wonderful kids, wife, the bags from your normal shopping trips and a stroller.

Nearly 85% of communications with a customer after a sale are in categories covered by regulation: contracts, endorsements, notices, amendments, bills and statements, notifications, follow up notices, reminders, etc. According to the Forrester study, two out of three insurers are worried about avoiding noncompliance rather than focusing on communications that can deliver far more measurable returns from better customer engagement.

Meanwhile, more than half of customers who file a claim don’t understand how to do so and can have a bad and emotional experience, while those who don’t file a claim are never given a way to visualize the protection they enjoy.

Are insurers too focused on regulatory issues and not engaged enough with the customers whose hard-earned money they hope to keep receiving? Can insurers build trust with customers and sell more and faster?

Our research suggests that some insurers have taken the lead and have implemented communication capabilities that are delivering benefits in silos. But the industry as a whole has not yet unlocked the value of service communication to generate lower-cost relationships and build trust faster, replacing expensive strategies led by marketing. We believe the starting point is to have a good understanding of contact strategy and its nuances, mapped to what customer value at different stages.

Here is what insurers can do to go from Regulation to ROI.

  • Produce a blueprint of customer communication touch-points across the product lifecycle. The important factors are: business process, event, frequency, emotion, customer segment, channel and interaction sequence. It’s crucial to define the right performance indicators and establish a tracking mechanism. The blueprint will unlock the value of relationship through continuous engagement. Today, communications operations mainly take a “stay out of jail” approach.
  • Make communication proactive, not reactive. Several surveys show that timely communication can limit escalation to 6% of customer issues, whereas delays and unclear communications increase complains by as much as a factor of three. Billing presents the best opportunity to engage customers, through snippets of communication before and after the billing transaction. The same approach can be used to prepare customers for changes in premiums, rather than going through several painful calls around renewals that erode trust. For example, Allstate communicates “reason for premium change,” which reduced the call volume and cost of contact drastically.
  • Make a meaningful channel shift — Of the increasing number of customers who own a smartphone, 90% want the option of buying and obtaining service through mobile apps. The importance of mobile is demonstrated by the fact that 95% of text messages are opened within seven minutes of being received; insurers should look into using push notification through this low-cost channel. To avoid customer pushback about SMS cost, insurers should look for free-to-end-user (FTEU) SMS, which is cheaper than print-and-mail. An integrated communication center should be developed that spans across digital channels and other communication options, including paper. Investigate the possibilities of social media. Include capabilities for e-signatures.
  • Provide a digital policy with intuitive drilldown into all features. Mobile policy download, catastrophe alerts, billing alerts, claims alerts, mobile ID cards and a digital locker all drive up channel adoption and communication effectiveness, and there is opportunity to go much further in treating a policy as a mobile app.
  • Produce creative content. AT&T’s smart video bill directly addresses the population that wants information on-the-go. Smart video is customized for individual customers and helps in visualization of benefits. Allstate’s “Mayhem” advertisement provides this sort of visualization, albeit from a marketing perspective. The same investment can easily be used to address the accessibility requirements for ADA (Americans with Disability Act). GEICO’s coverage coach is an animated tool used for educating the customers as to what coverage can be right for them. Imagine if this visual approach was applied to claims, at the filing stage; it would help customers understand their coverage and reduce complaints. Progressive, GEICO and USAA send periodic news through print and emails that are relevant to the season; for example, something explaining ways to protect a boat or motorcycle during winter. This communication improves customer engagement across the life cycle.
  • Leverage emerging approaches, such as in-car-entertainment, wearable media and the “connected home.” Gamification — using techniques like those for Angry Birds, rather than like a traditional insurance policy — is another emerging approach that can be used. The customer can also be provided virtual assistance to simulate an accident scene, which will help with an assessment while greatly reducing fraud. Gamification should be used to provide customers a visualization of the claims process and the roles they play, which will improve the experience and increase retention.
  • Understand the customers better – Most insurers deliver marketing messages often but do not see a corresponding lift in their results. This is simply because they aren’t taking advantage of today’s data and analytic technology to understand customers as well as they could and to deliver more-individualized, relevant messages. Effective use of all available information about the customer is the cornerstone of this approach. Retailers tend to lead the pack here; insurers can learn from them. Try to sell when the customer is happy; if he is not happy, then create happiness in him and sell. This approach has delivered proven results.

With evolving customer needs and emerging channel and content technologies, insurers have a great opportunity to improve their communication to build trust with their customers, deliver much better returns on their sales efforts and contain most preventable costs, while providing an experience that customers value. Are you up for the challenge?