June 10, 2014

Most insurers know that a strong mobile strategy is required to satisfy today's policyholders. Consumers have become more dependent on their mobile devices, and insurers must broaden their channel strategies in order to fulfill the increasing demand for mobile capabilities.

"It really is a challenging space, and that's due to the rapid growth," says Carla Silvey, director of e-commerce at Esurance (San Francisco; 1.4 million policies in force). "There continues to be this great opportunity to redefine the industry."

Consumers' expectations for mobile services are escalating, and the time is right for insurers to invest in more informative and engaging customer-focused apps. The question remains, however: Are carriers prepared to make this kind of commitment?

Demand For Innovation

"The insurance industry needs to pay attention to the fact that it's late to the game," says Jamie Bisker, senior analyst of P&C insurance at Aite Group. Policyholders are accustomed to the mobile applications available in industries such as retail, travel, and hospitality. They expect the same level of service from their insurance providers.

[The Most Important Mobile Capabilities, According to Policyholders]

To help close the mobile engagement gap, insurers are advised to look outside the industry for inspiration from corporate giants such as Amazon and Wal-Mart. These companies have to be on their game mobile-wise, says Bisker, because they're only a click away from losing customers to another retailer. Google, another top mobile strategist, has conducted research on how people respond to specific colors in website design -- details that insurers have not yet explored.

Thelton McMillian, founder and CEO at strategy and design agency Comrade, recommends that insurers look to tech-savvy startups such as Uber and OpenTable, in addition to established companies, for mobile inspiration. These up-and-coming businesses use their service design to engage customers across all touch points and provide a seamless interactive experience.

"It's about taking a step back, looking at the entire customer experience across time, and thinking about designing it in more efficient ways to get more functionality," McMillian says. He describes the Starwood hotel chain as another example of mobile engagement prowess and cites the ability of the company's mobile app to alter its home page according to the status of the user.

Some insurers are taking the lead in their mobile offerings. Esurance, for example, has explored new mobile capabilities. One is its video appraisal feature, which launched this year. This function expedites the claims process by allowing policyholders to schedule video chats with Esurance representatives so they can discuss claims estimates in real time. At the conclusion of their chat, the appraiser can send an electronic payment to settle the claim.

In addition to video appraisal, Esurance's mobile app offers policyholders the ability to file claims, schedule inspections, or monitor their claims process. Should they not want to use video chat, customers also can send photos of damage to Esurance.

Incremental updates and new capabilities are common in the mobile space, and it's important for insurers to stay current on trends that their policyholders prefer. "What [insurers] are still not doing is really getting into looking at the whole customer experience," Comrade's McMillian says.

He recommends that insurance companies create a journey map to view the entire mobile experience from the customer's perspective. By creating a visual of their mobile strategy, he says, companies can connect the many aspects of customer experience from start to finish and gain insight into how they should develop their apps. "I think that would be something that would really improve the customer experience, as well as engagement," he says.