At one point of time, customers bought insurance face-to-face, from a trusted, regulated advisor. The insurance company would have a file on the customer with some details – however, the primary relationship was between the agent/broker and the customer. Many carriers have been and still are comfortable with this arrangement, allowing the customer contact to be maintained by a specialist third party.
Increasingly though, insurers are finding that they must understand this customer, previously held at arm's length, and even engage with them. With the increasing use of online channels, more and more customers are contacting the carrier directly. Today customers can call an insurer directly, request quotes online from their website or the websites of partners and even 'like' insurers on Facebook. In a recent study by J D Power, the percentage of consumers relying solely on online channels to obtain quotes in the past three years has increased by more than 50 percent, to 23 percent. How can insurers adapt to this new customer model?
Here are my recommendations. First, assemble all the customer data. Customer data comes in many shapes and sizes, through many different systems and is rarely connected together. This data can be from phone calls, from cookies collected during online interactions, from social media etc. Do not fear uncertainty, record it, and understand which of this information is a fact, what is likely and what is a guess. (For example, a customer complaint made by phone to a call center and recorded contains facts; a customer praising his insurance company without mentioning its name is a guess). Use this data when marketing to customers, target them, and leverage the data in your communications and personalization. If the data is uncertain, treat it as such but don't ignore it.
Second, do not ignore the channel. Regardless of how the customers contact you, they expect you to know them, to respond in a professional way and to remember what they have already told you. This is a fine balance. The insurer must be professional. If interacting over Twitter, it is incumbent on the insurer to protect the customer from sharing personal and private data through that channel. The insurer must identify and authenticate the customer before disclosing personal data, but that should not stop the insurer from recognizing the customer, from respecting their personal preferences.
Finally, marketing and sales work in different cycles, with subtly different objectives but the governance and change processes must allow and complement each other.
Online channels have presented both challenges and opportunities to the insurer. Carriers must use the information they get about their clients online to tweak their marketing and promotions in a way that captures the customer’s attention. Insurers who understand their customers will be successful in attracting new customers, retaining their current ones and build long term customer value.