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5 min read
Jay Chitnis

Growing up as the eldest of five, ‘do it yourself’ was less an instruction but more a way of life for me. It is most likely the reason that nowadays, I have a real and constant struggle to allow anyone to do a task I know I will do better – unless it’s loading the dishwasher! DIY Jay was born.


So, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced changes in the way people interact digitally, one very thin silver lining was the opportunity offered by some suppliers to now complete tasks myself that had sat out of reach before, locked within manual and agent-controlled processes.


The majority of the applications provided by digitally mature insurers, brokers, banks and investment companies that I was interacting with were robust and established self-service portals. Here, customer-centricity was already a fundamental value, and iterations of these applications showed laser-focused attention on simplifying the process and personalising the experience. Furthermore, because these mechanisms existed, organisations could piggyback on the infrastructure and provide me with additional services, adding value and retaining me as a customer.


Insurance was no different. Customers required different types of products, additional coverage, financial advice, policy understanding and claims processing from their living rooms, creating large backlogs for organisations not accustomed to that level of demand.


However, 18 months on from the start of the pandemic, my taste for intuitive applications that require minimal interaction but quickly complete my objective has been refined and conditioned by market leaders. So, as self-service platforms have become ‘table stakes’, insurers must find new ways to differentiate themselves in the eyes of customers.


Keeping things simple


There will be a queue of friends and family willing to testify that I certainly am not a man of simple tastes, yet my demand for simplicity in insurance is echoed by customers worldwide. Insurance has always been and will always be complicated. In an attempt to provide flexibility and assurance to capital providers and customers alike, intricate pricing mechanisms or long-winded policy wordings often result in a negative customer experience.


This contrast between the inevitable complexity of insurance products and the customers’ expectation of simplicity challenges technology to find the right balance, so that products can remain competitive, economically viable and transparent.


Self-service solutions can bridge this gap in many ways, and one key tool is simplification based on personalisation, driven by external data to leverage known information about a customer. This can fuel insightful decision-making capabilities, giving customers an experience they will want to return to as well as the confidence that ‘we know you’ – but without the creepy undertone.


Insurers will be forced by necessity to introduce products that are customer-focused and provide clear and concise information about what a customer is buying – or they will risk losing business to those who understand these changing expectations in customer experience. From simple mantras like ‘Only ask a question once’ to adding value through product offerings based on intelligent data augmentation, such solutions will be useful mechanisms in gaining and retaining business.


Evolution revolution


Aggregators and the unification of brokers and underwriters to deliver ‘fair’ pricing to customers by working together have forced many insurers to create better value propositions and offer their customers more than just a competitive price. Embedding other products within a package offering or combining insurance inside a retail transaction has been successful in demonstrating that convenience and placement are value-adds that attract and retain customers. If a customer can handle one element of their insurance life cycle through a digital channel, the expectation is that the other phases will also be available.


Legacy can often stand in the way of enabling this, and the trend has been to introduce full-scale transformation programmes with high costs – and even higher expectations! Evaluating ways in which legacy can be utilised to best support the introduction of new digital experiences for customers can often deliver faster answers to immediate problems. Handling transformation iteratively in phases and adopting simpler solutions like low-code platform integration, migrating legacy applications to the cloud or using robotic process automation (RPA) to reduce unnecessary manual intervention can provide a solution that serves many a customer’s needs.


Technology as an enabler, not a disabler


Self-service solutions should concentrate on enabling customers, rather than producing additional steps in the often stressful process of insurance administration. Whether this means utilising an omnichannel approach to customer engagement or giving the customer the choice to continue down a digital path or speak to a human in times of crisis.


Despite insurance priding itself on being a very personal business, inevitability has forced both customers and insurers to rethink this engagement model to provide alternative mechanisms for all phases of the insurance life cycle. Utilising external sources to simplify a quote, buy or claims process by pre-populating data can not only demonstrate competence in the digital solution but also create a dependency, a key factor in customer retention.


With advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning, proactivity from an insurer within a self-service platform will transform the customer experience and reduce contact with agents. An example from the travel insurance domain: based on integrations with open-source data feeds, some insurers have enabled proactive claims payments before the customer has even contacted them after a travel disruption.


An efficient and robust claims process is often the most important weapon in an insurer’s arsenal to deliver excellent customer service – and their worth is often judged by how well they accomplish this final part of the life cycle.


What has stood in the way of real change?


One of the key obstacles to creating more innovative, customer-centric solutions has been the uncertainty caused by the ebb and flow of the global pandemic. In some situations, business and technology strategies have been demolished and not replaced as the dust settled on many global economies. This has also led to shifting priorities, such as IT budgets and resources getting focused on introducing remote working capabilities or supporting infrastructural demands.


Another key aspect has been the global scarcity of technical expertise. The demand for IT teams has increased dramatically and therefore caused a short supply of skilled operators to deliver the systems required to evolve an insurer’s business aspirations.


What can be done?


Concentrate on creating agile and flexible business strategies that take into account the changing nature of the insurance customers and the market but keep customer-centricity at their heart. Consequently, develop a technology strategy that underpins and supports those business priorities and combine these aspirations into a programme to keep your great (and rare!) teams engaged.


Analyse the quality and accessibility of the data that is fuelling the key processes within your business and establish a strong data strategy, so that information forms the foundation of any technical solution.


Assess the suitability of the technical stack charged with supporting and delivering the solutions, making sure it is future-proof.


Focus on the real and attainable value achieved when implementing a new software solution through a solid understanding of the advantages vs the investment required in the long term.


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