March 17, 2011

Yesterday was our virtual event on customer experience. It was not only my first event of this type here, but the first one I've been involved with at all, and it was a pretty fun experience. The event should be on demand soon [Edit: It is], so check it out if you didn't get the chance. (And if you did, let me know what you thought through e-mail, Twitter or a call.)

Deb Smallwood of SMA Strategy Meets Action kicked things off with an overview of how the customer experience benefits carriers. She noted that channel proliferation has led to a situation where policyholders, agents, and carriers all have relationships with each other as opposed to a more linear model. Even though the external influencers on the insurance market aren't different from years past — the economy, for example — the demographic shift in how customers want to be interacted with and the channels through which they expect service requires insurers to make the necessary adjustments on their end.

Though IT budgets devoted to customer experience initiatives are flat, Smallwood reported, there are more business segments (claims, underwriting, etc.) sponsoring these initiatives. Insurers, which are good in using behavioral analytics to establish risk profiles, must apply that skill to customer communications as well…

…a subject explored by Farmers' Murli Burluswar and New York Life's David Ray in our second session. Burluswar, who leads Farmers' customer experience initiatives, said that both hard and soft metrics are important in measuring the effectiveness of your customer experience. Insurers' concept of customer experience needs "a complete revamp," he said; the processes must be redesigned. The IT department is central to those redesign efforts, he added. Ray said that at his company, marketing is now "hitched" to analytics data, and that NYL's research showed most customers want to do online research before talking to an agent.

Of course, I was partial to our third presentation, a discussion I moderated with three Amica executives who showed how they were taking the best practices all the other speakers talked about and were implementing them at their company. AVPs Steve Gendreau and Sue Haney and assistant director Jill Rasmussen discussed the technology investments and changes required to back-end systems to deliver a superior customer experience across multiple channels.

They also discussed the company's social media strategy (which is notable enough to have earned a shoutout at an IBM luncheon I went to the other day; a nice surprise which I hope drove some signups to our event!)

Gendreau's last point summed up the entire day nicely: Insurers must listen to their customers and figure out how they want to be interacted with, and through which channels they want to receive service. I've only been at I&T for almost a year, but before that I spent a long time covering marketing across businesses. And, if there's one thing I've learned (and experienced), consumers are going to expect the companies with which they do business to be as technologically savvy as they are.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, ...