Once upon a time, the majority of consumers would have shied away from buying financial products online. But in an increasingly digital world, today's consumers are growing ever more comfortable with buying anything and everything online, and as a result, their expectations of customer service are rising.
It is a challenge that the insurance industry has to step up to, to ensure we communicate with consumers in a way that meets their preferences and expectations. It is time, then, to ensure your organization has a strong multichannel communications strategy with a clear focus on digital touchpoints.
Helping agents, brokers, customers
The benefits of having this in place are huge. Having a clear multichannel view of customer behavior and interactions can help brokers make more relevant and informed suggestions, make the most of cross-sell and up-sell opportunities, and increase sales. For the customer of course, this means they benefit from receiving better offers and communications, such as timely reminders for renewals or useful add-ons to their policies.
Research also shows that consumers are certainly more likely to spend their money online. The National Retail Federation predicts that online retail will grow 8-12% this year in the U.S., suggesting ecommerce sales of between $427 billion and $443 billion.
So with more dollars spent online every quarter, insurers need to learn to leverage digital if they are to capitalize on this. Agents expect user-friendly and intelligent interfaces online, and particularly where screens are shared with customers, tools that enable brokers to come up with potential scenarios or to customise policies need to be set up in an way that is intuitive as well as visually appealing to both.
Mobile is a must
A strong mobile offering is also becoming increasingly important. Many retailers already report that up to 70%-80% of website browsing occurs through customers using mobile devices, and according to the Centre for Retail Research, 33.9% of online spend was via mobile in the U.S. in 2016.
We in the insurance sector need to remain ahead of the curve on this channel by monitoring ever-changing customer behaviors and adapting our offering to fit. And, with mobile so big a part of consumers' lives, this includes providing mobile optimised sites and apps, which are particularly suited to delivering valuable add-on services such as 'find my nearest' tools for car glass repairs, renewal reminders and support for reporting a claim.
People also like to do their own research. This, as we all know from our own experience as consumers, often starts on one channel, such as a mobile phone, and finishes with a purchase on another channel such as the telephone or web.
Technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) applied to chatbots is also popular for asking questions and sounding companies out before making a purchase (or not).
Mobile communications now shape the customer service landscape. (Photo: iStock)
Tweet, and repeat
Social media is also becoming increasingly important with the likes of Facebook Messenger becoming a useful communication channel. Meanwhile Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social platforms can be hugely valuable channels for interacting with consumers.
However, it's not enough just to offer these channels: achieving a true multichannel communications strategy means tying them together to integrate all of the data they provide into a single customer view. Put a broker in front of a client without this and it is very inefficient to access all of the policies the client has taken out, which makes it impossible to promptly provide them with relevant offers.
The market may be moving to a model that requires this real-time overview of the customer but with customer information in back-end systems, usually legacy systems, generally held in different siloes for the use of single departments, it involves time and money to collect all of this information into a single database to enable this single customer view.
But it is worth it
Creating new modern front-ends and integrating them with the different back-ends allows you to collect and pool all types of structured and unstructured data from various systems into one place more easily. Add in your organisation’s daily influx of Big Data including the information gained from using AI chatbots and you have a database full of information that will help you improve strategy and decision making across your business.
Once you are using these levels of data and technology, they will only get more useful. In the future for example, AI is expected to provide far more than simple chatbot automation, such as systems that help identify cross-selling or up-selling opportunities by suggesting which groups of clients to target with an offer for the best results, for instance, enabling insurers to identify areas where there are lower environmental risks to target with low-risk offers, or that automatically respond with an action to specific trigger behavior by consumers.
For those that deliver on digital, the opportunities are endless, but of course innovating through digital even at a basic level can be time consuming and not every organisation has the resources to make this happen by themselves. For this reason, it can be far more cost effective to outsource such a project to a third-party consultant who can help you work out how best to improve your user experience with digital as well as implement the process.
Insurance, as we all know, is a highly competitive market, and while newer entrants may have entered it with a strong digital offer, many of the older players are still stalling, but this brings the very real risks of missing out to better-equipped competition. Delivering on digital may be a challenge but as consumer online expectations continue to rise, failing to engage is simply not an option.