Innovative technologies, user friendly interfaces, mobile apps, 24/7 customer service – while insurers are focused on modernization, legacy transformation, and leveraging the internet in their efforts to provide the ideal experience, have they forgotten that an insurance transaction is really based on a customer trusting that their insurer will be there when they need them?
Whether it's something as simple as answering a question about coverage or payment options, keeping a small business whole in the event of a natural disaster, or making the loss of a home to fire as pain free and manageable as possible.
For the insurer, building the required level of trust starts with the customer's first impression of the insurer during the shopping and buying process. And, there are no second chances when it comes to first impressions.
The consumer's perspective
How consumers communicate, and shop for and buy products and services has changed drastically with the reach of technology and social media. As a result, how trust is established has also changed. We used to ask our friends, neighbors, professional colleagues, and family for recommendations and opinions. Today, we not only inquire with this same group, but might also inquire with hundreds or thousands of additional friends and colleagues through LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. We may find scores of reviews posted or tweeted by those who have had previous experience with the company, product, or service under consideration. It's a wealth of information at our fingertips that needs to be digested and distilled to determine those worthy of our trust – and, subsequently, our business.
The insurer's perspective
Traditionally, insurer and customer both looked to the agent to have the strong relationship and knowledge of the customer. However, with more and more insurers looking at going direct, if there is a human involved in the transaction at all, it could very well be the underwriter rather than an agent. While underwriters do a fine job of assessing risk on behalf of the insurer, they have not been in the business of earning a customer's trust and ensuring a pleasant customer experience. The underwriter has always been tasked with carefully scrutinizing the customer with the goal of protecting the insurer. So, how can mutual trust be established in this relationship? It comes down to knowing the customer.
[Previously from Attia: Changing mindset to sell to small business]
Regardless of whether the point of contact is automation, an agent or the underwriter, a customer wants to be viewed as individual rather than a category of insured. An insurer needs to 'know' the customer well beyond the class of risk they represent. How? It's all in the data – data done well including internal and external sources -- the capture, quality, storage, sharing, and analysis of the data to best profile the customer as an individual, and then interacting with the customer as an individual at all contact points in the transaction, whether automated or human.
The shared perspective
Establishing trust and delivering the ideal user experience requires thinking like the customer. Customers don't want to be told what to buy, how to buy, and they certainly don't want to provide the same information multiple times.
Delivering a process that suits the customer means being where they are, whether it's on the phone, the internet, their Smartphone, a storefront, or a combination. It means being there when they are and with the products they need – even if those products are not within the insurer's portfolio of offerings. Yes, it's a tall order, but if the insurer is truly interested in earning the buyer's trust they will give the customer what they want, even if it's a competitor's product. Otherwise, they can forget being viewed as a trusted advisor and be forever cast in the role of a sales channel looking to sell a product.
If insurers focus on making a good first impression and earning trust, the ideal customer experience will be a natural byproduct. While what's needed to earn the trusted advisor moniker may contradict the traditional insurance sales approach; the changing times and technologies, changing consumer expectations and buying habits, and new insurance sales channels popping up almost daily require insurers to rethink their traditional marketing and distribution models.
Consumers will reward those insurers they trust with their business for the long term -- for a lifetime. It might just be worth it for insurers to start thinking differently by focusing on getting to know the customer and establishing trust with the confidence that the rest of what's needed will be self-evident and possible with technology.
About the author: Tim Attia is SVP of sales and marketing for Bolt, a provider of insurance e-commerce platforms.