Tag Archives: omni-channel

What to Know About Omni-Channel

From a customer’s standpoint, every interaction with your company should be part of a singular experience — not a siloed, repetitive one. In fact, a smooth, seamless connection between the online and the offline worlds can provide a lifeline. For example, imagine you have to book a plane ticket just a few hours before hopping on a plane. To beat the clock and make your flight may require a few tweets, a visit to the airline’s website, a call to the airline’s customer service team and a quick check-in once you are at the gate.

When this kind of interaction happens seamlessly, and the intersections of the online and offline channels work together smoothly, your needs are met quickly and painlessly (and you are not left behind at the terminal). This is the omni-channel customer experience.

Defining omni-channel customer experiences

Multichannel is when multiple marketing and service channels work independently to enhance the customer experience. When these channels work with one another, that’s when multichannel evolves into omni-channel. Omni-channel results in a single, seamless interaction with consumers across all channels, both online and offline. This can include all touchpoints in the customer lifecycle — websites, social media, live chats, follow-up emails, phone calls and in-person assistance on the sales floor.

Look at a bank. Financial institutions should be available to assist you any time of the day or night over multiple channels. The goal is to do so without your having to repeat yourself because the institutions have documented, collected and stored all the information about your offline and online inquiries. For its part, the bank can effortlessly upsell services appropriately because it has the history of your interactions with the bank.

Thanks to implementing an omni-channel customer experience, McKinsey & Company increased a regional bank’s product sales by more than 25% in six months. The bank tightened the loose ends between its digital and traditional channels and made the user’s experience as seamless as possible.

Why does omni-channel matter?

Which of these two options would you choose: a product from a company that pulls your personal data from your previous online experiences and doesn’t ask too many questions, or something from a company that asks you to spend time filling out multiple forms? You likely want to do business with the company that knows what it’s doing and uses the information it has already collected from you to make your life easier.

In fact, 70% of customers “say connected processes are very important to win their business (such as seamless handoffs between departments and channels, or contextualized engagement based on earlier interactions).” Furthermore, over 80% of customers are willing to give a company relevant personal information to bridge the connection between their online and in-person experiences.

See also: A Management Guide to Omni-Channel  

Successful omni-channel implementation offers myriad ways to prevent disconnected departments and processes from happening. It supplies representatives from all your departments with all the company’s information about a specific customer. For instance, a customer began messaging through your website’s integrated chatbot about an issue, then decided to contact your call center. As customers switch from one channel to another, they expect (or at least hope) they won’t have to re-explain what they need.

The omni-channel experience focuses on the overall customer experience, making it smoother, more consistent and highly personalized for customers.

Build a better customer experience with omni-channel integration

Even though the main idea behind the omni-channel experience is fairly easy to understand, companies are still figuring out how to manage it correctly. Many companies can handle the multichannel experience, but industry leaders are investing in omni-channel as a part of their commitment to a great customer experience.

Let’s review some ways to make the processes work like clockwork, as well as what to do when integrating channels for an omni-channel customer experience.

1. Understand your customers’ behavioral patterns

This is where everything begins. Because the omni-channel experience is all about creating a flawless customer journey, understanding this journey from the very beginning is crucial.

Gather data.

Gather all the data you have about your customers, including how they prefer to interact with your brand. If you have a CRM system, that’s your starting point. Check your various analytics tools, too, to learn more about your customers’ communication preferences when they reach out to your support team or decide to purchase your products.

Your data, analytics and key performance indicators (KPIs) are among the most important tools your business can use to make the customer experience as pleasant as possible. Search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM) and email campaigns all offer rich insights into both potential and current customers. “Ecommerce analytics must evolve to track shoppers wherever they may be, whether they are purchasing a product on Instagram, discovering a brand on their phone or cashing in a gift card at a pop-up shop.” As omni-channel becomes more commonplace, well-organized and optimized data will provide the competitive edge.

Use surveys.

Research the issues that customers come across through short surveys. One method is to enlist the help of your sales and support teams. Those teams are at the forefront of your company, directly represent your brand and communicate with your clients daily. A second method is to weave surveys into your online experiences. For example, when a user performs a specific action on your website, have a brief customer satisfaction survey pop up. These triggered questionnaires can provide valuable feedback.

Define segments.

Always keep in mind your audience segmentation. Different groups of customers have different needs, and those needs should help you define your user personas. You can segment your users by the products they use, the frequency of their purchases or their customer lifetime value (CLV). A well-implemented omni-channel user experience can increase a client’s retention rate, and therefore potentially CLV.

Interview customers.

Finally, talk to your customers. Do they feel like something’s missing? What would they like to see in your product line? Is there something your company does particularly well? If you can, ask them a quick question each time they shop with you. For example, after completing your data analysis, your ecommerce store may learn that customers prefer to pick up their order at a store instead of waiting for an item to be delivered. Some businesses have seen increases in their sales by giving their customers the option to track their orders and sending them notifications. These improvements enhance their shopping experience and keep customers coming back.

2. Create your own omni-channel universe

After defining your customer journey, generate ideas on how to make the journey more coherent. How can your representatives jump from one channel to another, without data loss, in the most convenient way for the customer? Your customers come to you from various channels, but their personal details should be saved and accessible throughout your data management system and CRM platform. This means that all of the channels and technology you use in your business processes do not operate in silos; they should be synchronized, integrated and able to work together to complete any missing pieces of information. By fine-tuning this process of interchannel and interdepartmental cooperation, you will likely generate more revenue.

Because social media is an extension of many people’s lives, many ecommerce sites integrate their services with social platforms. When it comes to online shopping, Instagram and Pinterest reign supreme; however, each industry has its own dominant social network. This means the omni-channel universe extends far beyond your company’s data and platforms and must include social media.

3. Measure your customer experience data

After setting up all the necessary processes, make sure your omni-channel experience is performing as planned. Data and analytics give you the ability to view and learn the results of your efforts. To measure your omni-channel customer experience from a subjective point of view, collect feedback from your customers on key points throughout their journey with your brand. It can be through a call center, over an online chat, by a quick online survey or on a social media page.

See also: How to Win the Retention Game  

Proper management and organization of the data you collect will help you tweak your efforts and put you on the right track to a better omni-channel experience. Research, analysis and data-backed action provide a better understanding of your customers’ needs and expectations.

Conclusion

An omni-channel customer experience helps companies offer a personalized approach through a smooth, inviting customer journey that drives repeat purchases and loyalty. The process is worth it. Take these steps to improve your chances of achieving a true omni-channel customer experience, and, as a result, you’ll have happier customers who are glad to give you business. Thanks to your efforts to improve the customer experience, your company will see increased revenue and growth.

Emerging Technology in Personal Lines

Personal lines insurers are investigating emerging technologies and developing strategies and plans related to individual new technologies. Technology is advancing so rapidly that it is even difficult to define what should be considered an emerging technology. For the past several years, SMA has been tracking 13 technologies that many consider to be emerging. These include technologies such as autonomous vehicles, AI, wearables and the Internet of Things. In our recent research, five of these technologies have emerged as “power players” for personal lines insurers, based on the level of insurer activity and the potential for transformation. The specific plans by insurers for these and other technologies are detailed in the SMA report, Emerging Tech in Personal Lines: Broad Implications, Significant Activity.

See also: 2018’s Top Projects in Personal Lines  

Some big themes for emerging tech in personal lines stand out:

  • Artificial Intelligence dominates. AI is often a misunderstood and misused term. However, when specific technologies that are part of the AI family are evaluated, much activity is underway – by insurers, insurtech startups and mature tech vendors. Chatbots, robotic process automation (RPA), machine learning, natural language processing (NLP) and others are the subjects of many strategies, pilots and implementations.
  • The Autonomous Vehicle frenzy is cooling.There is still an acute awareness of the potential of autonomous vehicles to dramatically alter the private passenger auto insurance market. But there is also the realization that, despite the hype, the transition is likely to be a long one, and the big implications for insurers are probably 10 or more years out.
  • The IoT is going mainstream. Discussions continue about the transformational potential of the IoT for all lines of business. But rather than just talking about the possibilities, there is now a great deal of partnering, piloting and live implementation underway. We are still in the early stages of incorporating the IoT into strategies and insurance products and services, but their use is becoming more widespread every day.
  • UI Options are dramatically expanding. The many new ways to interact with prospects, policyholders, agents, claimants and others should now be considered in omni-channel plans. Messaging platforms, voice, chatbots and more are becoming preferred ways to communicate for certain customer segments.

See also: Insurtech and Personal Lines  

Certainly, other trends and much emerging tech activity are happening outside these main themes. Wearables, new payment technologies, drones, blockchain and other technologies are being incorporated into strategies, pilots and investment plans. The next few years promise to be quite exciting as advancing technologies spark more innovation in the industry.

Whole New World for Customer Contact

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.

See also: The Missing Piece for Customer Experience  

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.

See also: How Customers Buy… and Why They Don’t  

The way the world communicates is rapidly changing, and everyone has their favorite options. Insurers would be wise to consider these in their customer journey and omni-channel strategies and plans.

A Cautionary Tale on Omni-Channel

The case for omni-channel capabilities is compelling. We are in an age where customers have many options for communicating. And the companies that can best provide them with capabilities to connect anytime, anywhere, via any method will increasingly be the winners. A recent personal experience highlighted both the potential and the pitfalls of providing omni-channel capabilities. Offering a variety of options can lead to increased customer engagement and retention, but poor execution can have the opposite effect.

On a recent day, bad weather was causing havoc for airlines and travelers. In the space of a few hours, I had four different itineraries due to delayed, canceled and re-routed flights. As a frequent flyer, I regularly rely on automated alerts regarding flight status, extensively use the airline app and leverage the call center to address significant changes or problems. Along the way, I also get confirmations or alert messages via e-mail and check the flight boards at the airport. All of these are great options for the company and customer to communicate. When the system works well, it is quite useful and gives me a leg up on other travelers with advance notice on changes.

Unfortunately, it does not always work well. On this challenging day, the various channels were hopelessly out of sync. I was getting automated calls from the airline giving me flight updates for flights that I was no longer booked on. The airline app indicated that I was still booked on yet a different (earlier) flight. I received e-mails about flight changes that had already been superseded by new flight changes. It was confusing, to say the least, and a frustrating customer experience.

See also: A Management Guide to Omni-Channel

This example goes to show that near real-time synchronization is not always good enough. Actions do not need to be updated across all channels within seconds, but delays of 30, 60 or 120 minutes are unacceptable. You may be asking what this has to do with insurance, an industry that typically has interactions with customers only a few times a year. The answer is: If you are going to pursue true omni-channel operations, the system needs to work – and it needs to be real-time.

As the world becomes more digital and more connected, the frequency of interactions with customers will increase dramatically. Smart homes/buildings, wearable devices, connected vehicles and other rapidly emerging solutions offer great potential for the insurance industry. However, one implication is that the omni-channel environment will become even more complex, and the demands for real-time actions will increase. Imagine reacting to an alert from a smart home device regarding an overflowing sump pump. Not only is quick action required, it must also be synchronized with the homeowner’s app and any phone calls to or from agents or the insurer. Communicating frequently with customers to partner in risk management, improved health and well-being and financial management is the future of the industry. And those customers will want to communicate in every way imaginable (including talking to live human beings).

This is a cautionary tale. One can imagine the kinds of scenarios just described regarding travel delays if they were applied to insurance customers’ problems – and the same or similar negative effects that such disastrous communication could have on them. Omni-channel capabilities will have to be coordinated in context and in time to provide true customer satisfaction.

How to Be Agile in Today’s D2C Era

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.