The Future of Customer Relationships

Catherine Smola, President & CEO | Canadian Underwriter insBlogs

Our industry is in the curious position of selling a product that does not physically exist, and that is typically forgotten until either it’s needed or the bill arrives – or both. Maintaining effective, meaningful customer relationships can be difficult in this regard. Ernst & Young’s recent customer survey bears this out, with P&C insurers receiving only a 56% trust rating.

To put this in perspective, that trails the ratings for pharmaceutical companies (59%), car manufacturers (68%) and banks (73%).

P&C brokers and insurers have been diligent in working to improve their operational workflow and optimize the customer experience through technologies such as eDocs and eSignatures, to the entire broker channel’s benefit. However, customer relationships go beyond how easily and quickly we can serve them or how easy we make it to sign the paperwork. What are the key areas we need to investigate?

The Future of Customer Communications

Driven by the growth in mobile technology, 80% of customers now expect to use digital and remote channels for different tasks and transactions. Brokers and insurers alike can meet this expectation with tools such as live chat, video tutorials, online apps, and service request forms – anything that creates a seamless, convenient customer experience.

Taking the time to investigate which channels customers want to use, and then acting on that knowledge, could significantly improve both the quantity and quality of customer touch points across our industry. As customer service executives are known to say, customer loyalty is best developed by creating “moments of wow” – instances where expectations of ease, simplicity and efficiency are met or even exceeded.

And in the case of the insurance industry and its out-of-sight, out-of-mind product, those moments have the potential to make us both memorable and trustworthy, creating a positive impression outside of our usual touch points of billing and claims.

The Future of Customer Intelligence

Of course, Big Data, plays into this as well, though a new term has begun to emerge alongside it: cognitive computing. More than a means of analyzing data, cognitive computing attempts to mimic the way human brains process information, leading to flexible and adaptive systems that provide exactly the service or information a customer is looking for.

To one degree or another, this technology already exists today – in fact, many of us witnessed its power during a live demonstration of IBM’s Watson computer when it won a game of Jeopardy in 2011. Today’s next-level Watson platform has already been deployed in the insurance industry, used by insurer and financial planner USAA to provide streamlined, superior customer service. Watson analyzes customer questions to determine not just keywords but the context and meaning – it then identifies the relevant information from its database to provide an answer.

The resulting experience provides exceptionally convenient service to customers, and allows USAA staff to focus on more detailed calls requiring their expert advice. In comparison, traditional automated services that require users to select options from a series of menus look like antiques.

Between the robust communications channels readily available today and the emerging ubiquity of big data and cognitive computing, there is ample opportunity for our industry to provide exceptional levels of customer service.