Direct-to-consumer (D2C) sales have shaken up multiple sectors, from retail consumables to insurance sales. While D2C sales of property and casualty insurance have the potential to improve customer satisfaction, increase upselling and boost retention, moving into the D2C space also poses challenges for insurers that have invested heavily in more traditional models.
Here, we look at some of the biggest challenges D2C poses, the opportunities available and how P&C insurers can improve their direct appeal to consumers without losing their traditional strengths.
The Challenge of D2C
D2C models are threatening traditional participants in a number of industries with their ability to adapt, innovate and streamline — skills that are tough for established players to exercise quickly,Groceryshop cofounder Zia Daniell Wigder notes.
“Ultimately, monopolistic players are stuck in a paradigm that is very profitable, but that leaves them with reduced ability to innovate and form direct, meaningful relationships with their customers,” Widger writes.
While Wigder’s analysis focuses largely on retailers, many of the same challenges of D2C competition apply to P&C insurers. In particular, P&C insurers need strong connections with customers. These relationships boost customer retention and provide key insights into behavior and risk that play an essential role in the development, pricing and deployment of insurance products.
And the D2C model makes customers want to build relationships with companies. As Ben Sun, general partner at Primary Venture Partners, tells Wigder, “New D2C brands emerging today understand these challenges and have built platforms that directly attack those vulnerabilities and provide consumers something of real value — either a far superior shopping experience, higher-quality goods, cheaper products or greater convenience.”
An outstanding shopping experience, better coverage, lower prices and increased convenience are high on the wish lists of those seeking P&C insurance — and, when D2C models can provide them, they become more attractive than their predecessors.
See also: Why More Don’t Go Direct-to-Consumer
Even newcomers to the insurance market, however, face hurdles that sectors such as retail do not. Jay D’Aprile, executive vice president at Slayton Search Partners, says the complex web of legal regulations surrounding insurance creates additional hurdles for companies planning to either start on a D2C model or include a D2C option among their approaches.
Fortunately, these challenges also present opportunities.
D2C Opportunities for Insurers
A 2016 Timetric report on D2C innovation in insurance found that the prevalence of internet technology in consumers’ lives — and the transparency that brings to every industry — has shifted the balance of power from insurers to consumers in our industry. Most insurance companies’ customers now demand fast, efficient, digital-centric access to insurance information and products.
Often, a shift in the balance of power can feel like a cloud with no silver lining. Yet the power shift actually creates a number of opportunities.
Expanded (and Tailored) Product Offerings
Concerns over “choice paralysis” have long led P&C insurers to maintain a relatively small catalog of offerings. Insurance is complex, and a longstanding belief that too many options would cause customers to walk away has resulted in a reduced number of product offerings.
While too many choices can be overwhelming, the existence of many choices, alone, isn’t typically the problem. “There is no upper limit to the number of options you can provide customers. With our private exchange, companies are offering 30 or even 300 choices to customers with a great experience,” Liazon cofounder Alan Cohen says.
The trick, he adds, is to present options in a way that customers find intuitive to navigate. Personalization, packaging that clearly indicates differences in value and information access to support customer decisions allow D2C companies to lead customers easily through any number of choices.
What does this mean for insurers? As technology helps insurance companies develop new products more quickly, P&C insurers are no longer limited from the customer side when it comes to tailored offerings. It becomes easier for insurers to provide precise, personalized coverage — and doing so simultaneously feeds customers’ desires for personalization and specificity, boosting their likelihood of returning to the insurer.
Increase Employee and Customer Satisfaction at the Same Time
In a 2016 report, Liazon found that companies using a D2C approach to both customer-facing products and employee-facing information tripled their employee satisfaction and doubled their customer satisfaction.
How? In both cases, the D2C approach made the product in question — whether it was auto insurance for customers or health insurance for employees — easier to access. Questions could be answered more quickly, often with a quick browse on a website or mobile app. Selecting benefits or coverage was easier and more transparent and felt more personal.
Companies that use these tools to collect customer or employee data have seen big boosts from their D2C approach, as well. “By leveraging analytics, we can deliver promotions and offers more efficiently to our consumers,” former High Ridge Brands CEO James Daniels explains, “and build our brands using owned media assets including our millions of Facebook Fans, email subscribers and website visitors vs. solely relying on paid media channels and at-shelf promotions.”
How to Innovate
D2C provides opportunities to increase agility, not only in the sale of P&C insurance products but in the way an insurance company understands customers, analyzes risk and does business. Technology provides the key.
An agile insurance business in a D2C world “typically requires a multi-channel approach, including web, mobile, social, email and phone,” D’Aprile said. “Interaction on each of these plains must be tracked coherently to cater to the increasingly non-linear customer journey.”
And, as Daniels noted, tracking customer interactions matters. Currently, insurers are limited by the systems they’ve build to track only certain types of customer data — and by legacy computer systems that can’t crunch available data efficiently. To get ahead of this problem, insursers will need to explore more expansive ways to capture and understand customer data.
A strong D2C platform is only part of the equation. “If DTC is not a strategy that is deeply ingrained across the entire enterprise, customers will quickly see it for what it is: a smoke screen,” D’Aprile said. “Fancy technology cannot overcome operational siloes and uncoordinated business functions.”
See also: Why Are Direct-Sales Carriers Winning?
While D’Aprile mentions a multichannel approach as one solution to this problem, increasingly savvy customers who interact with insurers through multiple channels may come to read “multichannel” as a smokescreen, as well, because the experience in each channel is still different, BOLT’s CEO Eric Gewirtzman says.
An omni-channel approach puts the customer experience, insurers’ access, agents’ information and data analytics under a single umbrella, maximizing the agility of the entire system while offering customers the personalization and speed of a D2C approach, according to CRM software provider Ameyo. Omni-channel allows for more agility in a D2C world — whether or not an insurer wishes to prioritize D2C insurance sales.