Laying a Strategic Foundation for Customer Engagement

Customer engagement is a plan to improve your image in the policyholder’s eyes, and while technology is powerful, even the sleekest, priciest strategies fail without a solid foundation.

(Image credit: Warren Griffiths/photoeightyeight.)

Today’s customers exist within a chaotic digital world, inundated by ads, offers, and content. Carriers looking to successfully navigate this terrain and engage the modern consumer will need a well-thought-out technology strategy. However, before implementing the latest emerging tech, there are several foundational steps to be considered.

Insurance products tend to involve direct policyholder interaction only during initial sales, ongoing billing, and the occasional claim; in addition, the agent channel sits between many insurers and the consumer, diluting customer interaction further. Insurance has also been stuck in a reactive state, adapting their customer engagement initiatives so as to not sink in the wake of other industries. The point being: there is room for growth.

Before going external to get the “outside-in” perspective, so often recommended for customer engagement initiatives, carriers should put their blinders on and look internally. Getting value from customer engagement initiatives requires strategic clarity and a solid groundwork. While it may appear that automation, predictive analytics, and robotics will please policyholders, before they do, carriers should first assess their mission, their feedback loops, and their customer engagement leadership.

Understanding Your Company’s Mission

It is easy to get lost in the clouds, dreaming of drone-delivered customer care packages and Alexa-powered underwriting. Long-term planning is long-term planning, and tomorrow’s plan won’t satisfy today’s consumer’s needs.

The best way to stay grounded and avoid the temptations of prolonged foresight is to develop a well-defined company mission. In short, before taking off, pick a direction. What type of service do you want to provide? Is speed, service, brand awareness, or price your top priority? Is customer engagement even necessary for your company? Missions and their customer engagement counterparts should be unique and personalized based on the policyholder, services, and stakes.

Without a clear goal, customer engagement can get off course and expensive. Clear, succinct, and honest missions help drive the customer engagement that should be built and are important when reinforcing the need, or lack of, for customer engagement initiatives.

The Importance of Customer Feedback and How to Get It

Delivering on a mission requires constant monitoring, upkeep, and adjustment. Well-thought-out feedback systems are vital in understanding which customer engagement projects have been successful, which need work, and which campaigns should be abandoned. Feedback should be the most important factor in helping fine-tune customer engagement initiatives and realizing the company mission.

When questions are asked, progress is made, lessons are learned, and companies evolve. Customer experience metrics such as survey mechanisms and net promotor scores are a great first step toward understanding the policyholder but should not be implemented to merely tick a box. Carriers should consider what metrics they would like to be seeing and how the data will ultimately inform their business and technology strategies.

A main source of feedback is the customer survey. Surveys should be concise, well-timed, and quantifiable so as to measure changes over time. The customer survey has become an integral part of every industry’s customer engagement strategy, so it is more important than ever to be creative when implementing one. How and when you ask the question is as critical as the question itself. Should you ask a policyholder how their claim experience was after the fact or during the process? Over the phone or via email? Additionally, most companies ask how did we do and fail to ask what would you like us to do. Creating a new initiative as opposed to adapting an old one is helpful when attempting to step out of a knee-deep cow path.

Something to constantly remember is that the customer’s opinion is valuable. It is what business and technology strategies are built from. Enticing, rewarding, and incentivizing consumers is an active way of collecting meaningful and useful responses.

Putting Someone in Charge

Taking care of a customer is a lot like looking after the office plant. If everyone thinks that someone else is watering it, sooner or later you’re out buying a new plant. Creating accountability for the customer relationship is key to a successful strategy—meaning, someone should always be responsible for watering the plant.

That someone should also be tasked with deciphering the varying nature of a carrier’s customer touchpoints. How are policyholders interacting with the company when they pay a premium? How are they treated when they make a claim? Change their address? Understanding that there are differences is the first step. Only then can the right solutions be applied. With the right person in charge, what many see as an industry struggle can be used to build even stronger customer communities.

In order for a customer engagement technology strategy to be successful, it needs to be supervised like any other business function. Carriers should consider implementing a process to coordinate departmental customer engagement initiatives and monitor efforts with regards to the overarching mission.

Customer engagement is not a new bot or marketing email blast. It is a plan to improve your image in the policyholder’s eyes and provide a better service. While technology is powerful and alluring, even the sleekest and priciest strategies fail when a solid foundation isn’t poured.

Centering your company on a well-defined mission, stabilizing it with informed feedback, and creating accountability for the customer will support a level of self-awareness at your organization that will have broader impact far beyond customer engagement.

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Eric Weisburg & Jimmy O’Reilly // Eric Weisburg is a Vice President of Research and Consulting at Novarica. His expertise lies in insurance technology, operations, and finance. Eric has over 20 years of insurance industry, consulting, and software experience. Prior to Novarica, Eric was Managing Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Tower Group Companies, VP at AIG, the creator of the Insurance Strategy practice for Navigant Consulting, and led the insurance vertical for IBM big data and analytics. Eric has an MBA in Finance from New York University and a BA from Binghamton University. He can be reached directly at eweisburg@novarica.com.   Jimmy O’Reilly is an associate at Novarica. Prior to joining the firm, Jimmy worked in financial planning and wealth management. He has a BA in Economics and a Creative Writing Certificate from Wesleyan University. He can be reached directly at joreilly@novarica.com.

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