Preference Management: Reaching Customers on their Terms

How to meet the intense and accelerating demand for delivering information at the customer’s convenience and through interchangeable touchpoints.

multitasking woman using tablet, laptop and cellphone, with blank screens, indoors on a table

(Image credit: Adobe Stock.)

Not so long ago, meeting customer communication preferences meant little more than the basics— gathering their preferred contact data and offering a choice between receiving communications either in print or electronically. However, as new communication channels continued to emerge, so did the need to respond to customer preferences with more granularity. Today, the fundamental basis for ensuring excellent customer experience is communicating with customers when, where, and how they want. Customers may want to communicate with you using e-mail or text, online or traditional print. There is also a growing number of others who may need a higher level of accessibility, requesting their insurance documents in braille, large print, audio, e-text or transcription, or accessible PDF in multiple languages.

Terry Frazier, Research Director, IDC.

Terry Frazier, Research Director, IDC.

Recent survey results reported by research firm IDC confirm that insurers are being driven to ramp up their customer communications efforts, including making those communications easier to access by any channel the customer chooses. According to Terry Frazier, research director for IDC’s Customer Engagement and Document Technologies and Services research, “The roll-out of true multi-channel communications is happening much faster, and in different ways, than I think a lot of people expected…In this consumer-driven era companies are trying to reach customers in every way possible.”

Locked into Legacy

However, in many cases customer preferences are often locked into legacy CRM systems that can’t be comprehensive due to a limited number of fields available for responding to different requests. Another avenue that captures customer preferences within an organization are specific pieces of software tied to (and controlled by) disparate lines of business, creating silos that approach the customer independently—and inconsistently. The result is a plethora of customer data floating around a company that is simply not cohesive.

Meeting customer expectations in a market environment with so many moving pieces and growing requirements demands a sophisticated strategy. It’s a strategy that today’s insurance industry CMOs and CXOs are trying to get their arms around. The challenge many face is simply where to start.

The first step in leveraging the power of preference management is having the functionality to cohesively collect how customers want to be communicated with, including when and where. And that goes beyond simply trying to serve today’s needs. It also requires the ability to anticipate behavioral changes on the horizon and be ready to accommodate changes in consumer behavior. A good example of behavioral change can be found in the evolution of customer service.

Traditionally, the tools available to support servicing customers have been centered around a company’s call center—and rightly so. Ensuring customer service reps had the tools needed to support customers calling in with requests for information or changes was a step in the right direction toward increasing customer satisfaction and subsequent loyalty. Now, however, companies are beginning to realize customers are moving from calling in to the call center to wanting to self-serve—obtaining their information on their own in real time, day or night. This means it’s time for insurance companies to get serious about investing in technology that lets customers update their preferences and gain information on demand, whenever they want and with the device they want to use.

One Size Fits One

A “one size fits all” approach no longer works with today’s consumers. Customer loyalty in the “age of the customer” is a perishable commodity. Ignoring customer preferences once they are known, or limiting customer channel choices, opens the door for customers to switch to insurers who will provide them with great customer experiences. Fortunately, technology is emerging that is specifically designed for handling preference management and can operate as an extension of your infrastructure. It is making it possible to accommodate specific requests and allow customers to update in real time as well as providing the ability to add channels quickly as more and more come on the social scene.

Setting up preferences early in the relationship and seeking feedback constantly when implementing a preference management strategy can move you ahead of the competition by getting important information to your customers faster and with a highly personal touch. Most importantly, it will help keep customers satisfied—and keep them loyal.

Ernie Crawford // An electronic document industry pioneer, Ernie Crawford is the President/CEO and founder of Crawford Technologies. One of only a small number people worldwide with M-EDP (Master Electronic Document Professional) designation, Ernie has more than 30 years of senior marketing and management experience in the high-volume electronic printing market.

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