February 12, 2014

Customer experience is not a new concept. It is a mature practice in the retail and service industries like hospitality. These industries depend on the customer experience for repeat business and to increase their sales through word of mouth referrals.

Ravi Koka
Ravi Koka, Polaris Software Labs Inc.

The advent of internet and mobile apps has spawned social media sites that provide ratings on customer experience based on user feedback. The luxury car market, with brands like Lexus, has successfully created a brand and differentiation based on their approach to customer experience. When you get your car serviced at your Lexus dealer the experience begins immediately with the service representative scheduling your appointment. The experience continues throughout the entire service with conveniences like a loaner car so your day can continue as normal. You can get a back massage while you wait. Accurate and timely status of service activities and cost estimates are provided using mobile apps and you have the opportunity to communicate through text messages and respond in real time with your decisions. The customer experience is designed for all aspects of the service and customer touch points in a seamless fashion.

In the insurance industry customer centricity and experience is evolving and the renewed impetus has been new channels of interaction like the web and mobile apps. Real-time analytics to understand customer preferences, propensity to buy certain products, and precision marketing to implement targeted campaigns are possible using large amounts of structured/unstructured data, both internal and external. Insurance companies can learn from social media applications like Yelp which leverage time and location data based on the individual's mobile device to provide relevant and contextual information to the user.

[Koka discusses how architecture for continuous migration can provide a single view of the customer across multiple systems, channels and devices: What Matters In IT: Gaining the 360-Degree Customer View]

Traditionally the interaction was primarily with an agent or a call center via phone or face to face. Today interaction is through multiple channels. Insurers need to address customer experience solutions comprehensively and not as piecemeal projects that impact only certain areas like buying online or settling claims. Customer expectations today require thinking through all touch points and designing appropriate interactions and ensuring a consistent experience with quality customer data. An ideal design should be proactive and anticipate customer needs rather than react to a customer request.

This is easier said than done as most insurers run into the "legacy siloed system issues" as I discussed in a prior article. Synchronizing data across channels is a key element as this could lead to a poor experience at a higher cost of customer service and loss of brand value. Most insurers have initiatives to create a single source of truth for customer data but a lot of these projects have failed to deliver the promise as budget overruns have resulted in compromising on functionality.

The customer experience design must cover all touch points starting with shopping, buying, policy servicing and claims handling. It needs to be designed to support multiple channels. Budget constraints may not make it possible to cover all areas in one project. Finally, designing the customer experience should not just be an IT initiative that looks at bringing in new technologies like rich UI, mobile, big data and cloud. It should start with senior management articulating the company's vision for transforming the customer experience to the next level. Business and IT then need to create an operating model and roadmap with prioritized capabilities and an incremental delivery plan that improves the customer experience in a measurable way.

Ravi Koka is CTO, Insurance Products, at Polaris Financial Technology Ltd.