Craig Weber

About Craig Weber

Craig Weber is the Chief Executive Officer of Celent. He leads a team of associates spread across North America, Europe, Latin America, and Asia. Craig has been a management consultant and analyst for over 23 years, with the majority of his experience coming from various positions within the insurance industry.

Your customers hate your group email box (and you should too)

Your customers hate your group email box  (and you should too)

I’m currently dealing with two group email box issues. In one instance, I’m a frustrated customer, irritated beyond belief by the lack of response to my repeated email service requests. In the other instance, I’m the party ultimately responsible for a group email box, and I’m getting an earful from a frustrated customer. The overlay of these two, unrelated incidents is perfect: Some sort of cosmic justice is clearly being served.

Stages of Group Email Box Grief

You might be familiar with the Kübler-Ross model, which shows how grieving people progress through Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. I think something similar happens when any of us try to use a poorly managed group email box. It goes something like this:

  • Hope. After the initial disappointment of not finding a human being with whom we can interact directly, we console ourselves that, at least, our problem has been recognized by our service provider. By creating a named email box, the service provider is clearly implying that help is a click or two away. Got a generic question about your health plan coverage? Email coverage@xyzhealthplan.com. Need help from someone in Finance to get an expense check cut? Why, ExpenseTeam@yourcompany.com sounds like a productive place to turn. But the relief at finding such elegant, targeted service solutions is often short-lived.

  • Perplexity. After a day or so of non-response, we wonder. Did I really send an email to that email box? Did it get through? If it got through, did anyone read it? This stage is characterized by self-doubt and forensic examination. We check and recheck our Inbox, Spam Folder, and Sent Mail under the (reasonable, by the way) assumption that if the tool was working, someone would have responded by now.

  • Dismay. A week has passed. On the realization that no process could possibly take this long, Dismay sets in. In this stage, we ratchet up the pressure, typically by resending our original note with a snarky addition, like, “I really would like to hear from someone on this! Please?”

  • Anger & Activation. At this stage, we realize that help is not forthcoming. For most of us, this happens between Day 7 and Day 8. (Though my experience with them suggests that Millenials make the entire progression from Hope to Anger & Activation in as little as an hour.) We start looking for alternatives, as confidence in the system plummets. In the extreme, we try to get face to face with someone who can solve our problem (“I’m going to drive in to the cell phone store and make them solve this billing issue!”). But alternatives include calling switchboards and asking for the CEO, starting a Twitter rant, or activating a defection to other providers. None of these reactions enhance a customer relationship.

The Service Provider’s Response

As a service provider myself, I’m embarrassed to admit that emails to info@celent.com don’t always get perfect, productive responses. Of course we have a process in place that routes inbound queries to more than one person, to make sure we don’t run into out of office issues. But things occasionally fall through the cracks, due to technical reasons (e.g., aggressive, evolving spam filters), scheduling quirks (e.g., all Celent staff are in the same meeting), or simply due to human nature.

The latter category is particularly vexing. When several people are responsible for something, the real-world effect is that no one feels responsible. I’m convinced that using an info@ email box inevitably lessens the sense of accountability and responsibility that drives all effective service teams. Add in the dynamic of impersonal, electronic communicationswhich by its nature generates less empathy than a simple conversation between two human beings and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

In this annoying age of one-to-many communication (says the blogger, ignoring the irony), there’s a strong case to be made for enabling more direct, personal connections. Many companies will resist this old-fashioned, and by some measures, expensive, view. They will go down the path blazed by online retailers, and try in vain to provide acceptable service levels via FAQ and info@ email boxes. But the price they will pay is customers who frequently progress to Anger & Activation, and then walk away grumbling.

A smarter play is for firms to foster real relationships with their customers. For me, that means going old school. Making it easier for customers to navigate to a real person who is ready to listen and willing to solve problems. I’ve told my team to plaster their direct contact info on every report, presentation, and marketing piece. I’ll keep the info@celent.com address open as a benign trap for spammers. But the rest of you are encouraged to email me directly at cweber@celent.com.

Rethinking the role of the intercap

Rethinking  the role of the intercap
The trend-naming fashion of capital letters in the middle of words continues. I believe those “InterCaps”—also known as “BumpyCaps” and “CamelCaps”—are mostly a marketing trick intended to make terms sound important. I find them annoying. The hot example of late is FinTech. Plus its close cousins, BankTech, InsurTech, and RegTech. They’re popping up everywhere, including within the hallowed halls of Celent. We are all guilty of putting a new veneer on something that has been around for ages. What does that capital T in Tech imply, and why do the terms get such rapt attention? Is applying technology to the business of financial services new, and more worthy of our attention today than it was years ago? Is how we manage new technology fundamentally changed? I don’t think so. Maybe the point is to let us collectively off the hook for pursuing technology change so casually (was that it?) for the last 50 years. I can imagine the bank or insurance CIO, late in his/her career, saying, “Hey, if we had FinTech 30 years ago, this place might look a damn sight different by now!” Right, that’s what we were missing: Technology startups! Youngsters in hoodies! The truth behind technology and the financial services industry requires no such defense. Changing the world through application of technology didn’t depend on the arrival of startling new tools, or dorm room genius, as helpful as those might be in today’s world. It required a risk/reward shift. As an industry, we didn’t change because we didn’t have to. Our existence was not threatened by new consumer behaviors. Our livelihoods were not at risk from upstart competitors. We took a hard look at the costs and benefits of new technology, and behaved accordingly. Which meant…changing…slowly. But something is certainly different today. I believe that existential threats are emerging for our industry. We are now at risk. I’m firmly convinced that relationships between consumers and their financial providers are changing, with the industry’s participation or without it. There is a new dynamism, and it is clear that the entire ecosystem is feeling the impact. Instead of looking at FinTech and all the other Techs with an annoyed editor’s eye, maybe I should embrace the way intercaps communicate something important. They’re a stylistic irritation. But they’re also a visual cue that helps us rethink technology. And that is sorely needed in these times of powerful disruption.

Pushing beyond apps

Pushing beyond apps
It struck me while I was driving this morning: First-gen mobile apps are fine, but virtually everyone is missing high-volume opportunities to engage with their customers. Allow me to back up a step. I was stuck in traffic. Not surprisingly, that gave me some time to ponder my driving experience. I found myself thinking: Why can’t I give my car’s navigation system deep personalizations to help it think the way I do? And how do I get around its singular focus on getting from Point A to Point B? I explored the system while at a red light. It had jammed me onto yet another “Fastest Route,” disguised as a parking lot. My tweaks to the system didn’t seem to help. I decided what I’d really like is a Creativity slider so I could tell my nav how far out there to be in determining my route. Suburban side streets, public transportation, going north to eventually head south, and even well-connected parking lots are all nominally on the table when I’m at the helm. So why can’t I tell my nav to think like me? I’d also like a more personal, periodic verbal update on my likely arrival time, which over the course of my trip this morning went from 38 minutes to almost twice that due to traffic. The time element is important, of course. But maybe my nav system should sense when I’m agitated (a combination of wearables and telematics would be a strong indicator) and do something to keep me from going off the deep end. Jokes? Soothing music? Directions to highly-rated nearby bakeries? Words of serenity? More configurability is required, obviously, or some really clever automated customization. Then an even more radical thought struck. Why couldn’t my nav help me navigate not only my trip but my morning as well? “Mr. Weber, you will be in heavy traffic for the next 20 minutes. Shall I read through your unopened emails for you while you wait?” Or, “Your calendar indicates that you have an appointment before your anticipated arrival time. Shall I email the participants to let them know you’re running late?” Or (perhaps if I’m not that agitated), “While you have a few minutes would you like to check your bank balances, or talk to someone about your auto insurance renewal which is due in 10 days?” What I’m describing here is a level of engagement between me and my mobile devices which is difficult to foster, for both technical and psychological reasons. And it doesn’t work if a nav system is simply a nav system that doesn’t have contextual information about the user. But imagine the benefits if the navigation company, a financial institution, and other consumer-focused firms thought through the consumer experience more holistically. By sensibly injecting themselves into consumers’ daily routines—even when those routines are stressful—companies will have a powerful connection to their customers that will be almost impossible to dislodge. Firms like Google have started down this path, but financial institutions need to push their way into the conversation as well.

It’s The Little Things

It’s The Little Things
I bought my wife some flowers recently, and was shocked to discover that the florist—as of this minute, my ex-florist—no longer gives out those little cards you tuck in the arrangement. The person behind the counter said, “We have these new ones from Hallmark, for only 99 cents…” Huh? I’m spending $20 on cut flowers that cost you only $5, and you think it’s smart to eliminate the cards that cost you two cents each? That’s nonsense. The real story here is that service experiences cannot be disaggregated. As a customer, I don’t view the Buy Wife Flowers Exercise as 10 separate steps, each with its own decision tree and cost benefit. I want it all, end to end, seamlessly. A good selection of fresh flowers, nice vases, honest and helpful service, a fast checkout process, maybe some ribbon, and those little cards that make sure I get full credit for my thoughtfulness. For that, I’m willing to pay $20. Start messing with the formula, I assure you I will look elsewhere. It’s the same with all of my financial institutions. The basic product features and price are important. So, too, are how they sell to me, how they communicate routinely with me, what happens when things go wrong. And if I’m sitting across the desk from someone, how they treat my five-year-old when he interrupts a financial transaction with an explanation of his favorite Lego. It all matters. The institutions I am loyal to are the ones that understand this. For example, I got an honest-to-goodness email from someone in a local bank branch when she noticed something unusual about my account that was, in fact, my mistake. “It didn’t look right, so I thought I’d ask,” she said. Problem solved, customer won over. In the case of the Lego interruption (a different bank), the rep couldn’t have been more patient, which taught my son an important lesson about polite listening. The next time the bank calls me to offer a new service, I’ll return the favor. I’m still waiting for one of my insurers or my broker to do something small but meaningful to convince me that I’m something other than a random, periodic check for them. They’ve got the big pieces in place, which is why I have relationships with them. But until I experience the extra touches and perhaps an occasional nice surprise, I’ll keep my eyes open for other providers.

Does Google Know Your Religion?

Does Google Know Your Religion?
An industry contact recently told me that her phone popped up the following “creepy” message one Sunday morning: “9 minutes’ drive time to St. XXXX Church.” This, of course, was a predictable result of Google Now keeping track of where and when she regularly went, and nobly trying to help her get to her regular 8:30 a.m. Mass on time. What makes it creepy is that most people put religion (and politics? and sex?) on a mental “Off Limits” list. Deeply personal issues like these are risky fodder at cocktail parties, and equally risky subjects for automated, data-driven insights. An application like Google Now doesn’t understand the issue unless its human coders are prescient enough to realize there are some connections we humans simply don’t want our devices to make on our behalf. But now the string of unintended consequences has begun. My contact told her story in a room full of people. The consensus reaction around the table was, “Google keeps track of where you drive, and even figures out what’s there? That’s over the top.” What else, we wondered, would the app notice about us and dispassionately reflect back via pop-up message? Some bland examples: “You’re almost out of gin, and there’s a liquor store nearby…” “Your wife won’t be home for another hour, and Melrose Place is on channel 7 right now…” “You’ve been getting a lot of emails from XXXXX—perhaps you should ask him/her out?” The conversation took us quickly from ambivalence to unease. Others in that group probably mentioned their unease to their spouses and colleagues and friends. As I write, an ever-widening circle of people is developing reasons to be suspicious and uncomfortable about Google Now—which, by the way, is a perfectly excellent and useful app about 99 percent of the time! It’s a grand example of the problem we’ll face as we try to harness the power of big data. Years ago, when desktop publishing first became a technical reality for business users, a friend of mine who was a professional designer put a sign on her wall: “Power Ability.” She was telling people that just because they could publish their own office newsletters, crammed with cutsie clip-art, didn’t mean that they should. Someone might want to give Google the same sort of advice, especially when church locations are involved.

The Implications of Going Driverless

The Implications of Going Driverless

Google recently received a patent for a driverless car that can handle the challenges of the open road. (Story: Google Granted Patent for Driverless Car Technology) I love this story, and the implications.

The NTSB’s proposed ban on texting will require a rewrite. Unless my autopiloted car and my smartphone are sharing computing power or connectivity, I’m assuming my texts sent while underway won’t impact safety. Of course, by the time this system is operational, texting will most likely have become passé.

The field of play for telematics is about to get more complicated. Sure, you can track where my car went. But was I at the helm, or was my car driving itself? And what if I get out of the car to let it park itself? Does that still count as me driving, for insurance purposes?

If my car can drive itself, under what circumstances will I even decide to go with it? For example, for many daily errands (e.g., picking up the dry cleaning, grocery shopping, taking the kids to football practice) the main value-adds I bring are navigation and execution of the route. Take those away, and I might choose to do something else.

We’re one step closer to answering one of life’s Big Questions. Namely: Are men or women better drivers? The answer may turn out to be neither, assuming that Google gets the product right. With R2D2 as our chauffeur, my wife and I will have to find something else to debate. Related question: Will my autopilot car stop and ask for directions when it gets lost, or will it just drive around hopelessly? For tradition’s sake, I propose to make that a user-configurable feature. I’d hate to have my car out-perform me in such an obvious manner.

Stirring The Creative Disruption Pot

Stirring The Creative Disruption Pot


One of the great things about being an analyst is that you’re expected to challenge the status quo on behalf of the companies you work with. The analyst-as-gadfly model was on display at Celent’s Creative Disruption workshop in Boston last week. Someone later told me, “You looked like you were having fun!” I surely was.

Celent’s message of “healthy discomfort” as a driver of positive change seemed to resonate with attendees, both carriers and their vendors. It came into virtually every conversation in some way. Here are a few nuggets I noted throughout the day.

  • Disruption is generally respected but only lightly pursued. Like “change” and “agility,” disruption is a term with positive connotations for most people. But when you ask companies what they are doing to make it a reality, you mostly hear the sound of crickets.
  • Agile methodologies are enabling change. And they’re not all about technology. They seem to serve as a signpost that corporate cultures are changing, giving staff a reason to rethink their traditional behaviors.
  • Vendors have an important role to play in driving change. This is well understood, by players on both sides of the vendor/carrier relationship. But it’s easy to revert to old models, where vendor and insurer interests are in opposition rather than being aligned.
  • Leadership will determine where disruption can thrive. Front line staff are thirsty for productive change. Being part of something bigger and more exciting is on most people’s wish lists, even if they don’t know it yet.  But absent some passionate vision from the top, “big D” disruption projects are doomed.

You can expect more coverage from Celent on this topic in the coming months, as we think it is vitally important. Your ability to keep operational concerns and creative, disruptive thinking in a healthy balance will be essential for you to get to the top of a competitive heap.

Creative Disruption Videos

Creative Disruption Videos
Celent’s Creative Disruption event last week was very well received. For those of you who couldn’t make it, I thought you might like to see the 3-minute videos that set the tone for several segments. (To view these over a slow Web connection, click on the HD button to toggle high definition off.) Special thanks to National Western Life’s CIO, Mike Hydanus, and Oregon Mutual’s CIO, Bryan Fowler, who shared their views on creative disruption on camera. Also thanks to Jim Kuhn, SVP from USAA, who talked about the Business Case. The Case for Creative Disruption Technology trends and consumer behaviors suggest we need to rethink our sales and servicing approaches. [vimeo clip_id=”31409934″] Speed & Agility Overused cliches? Maybe. But success stories are emerging. [vimeo clip_id=”31409842″] The Business Case Mixing art and science is the best way to get your business case right. [vimeo clip_id=”31399458″]

Are You an Advocate for Creative Disruption?

Are You an Advocate for Creative Disruption?

In the technology world, there’s always talk about “disruption.” This refers to new or innovated technology or business models that fundamentally change the world to which they are applied. Advocates for disruption take pride in their achievements, and rightfully so: driving productive change–rather than simply reacting to the changing world around you–is difficult and often risky work.

The problem with disruption is that it appeals to the free thinkers in a group and scares the pants off everyone else, including (at times) those in the C-suite. This leaves potentially valuable ideas without sponsorship, which means they are likely to wither and die.

The Celent view of core systems technology and services is that they have reached critical mass in their capability to support disruption. There’s always more to come, but what is out there, right now, is sufficient to rock our world.

The availability of highly configurable, highly functional platforms that offer all the modern bells and whistles through a variety of delivery options means that buy-inclined carriers should reconsider their long-term core systems strategies. Build-inclined carriers have a host of modern tools for creating, testing, and integrating custom systems, and vendors that specialize in this approach. In addition, BPO offerings have matured tremendously, providing another solid option. In sum, platform changes that were unthinkable a few years ago might now make sense.

But there is another, necessary ingredient to making effective platform changes, beyond leveraging raw disruptive technology capabilities. It’s bringing a new sense of creativity to the game, asking, “What if…?” and truly letting the process flow from there. Are we ready to blow up processes and start over? It’s time. Are there new business models lurking in our collective brains? We need to let them out and explore them fully.

As an industry, we need to aim higher, think bigger, and expect more. Leveraging a combination of tools, vendors, and creativity is the only way we’ll get there.

Please note: We like the theme of creative disruption for core systems so much, we’re hosting a content-rich, one-day workshop that explores the concept. It’s November 3rd in Boston, and we hope you’ll consider joining us there. For more information, click here.

Slaying The Keyboard Dragon

Slaying The Keyboard Dragon

That sound you hear is me, tap dancing on the grave of my iPhone keyboard. And this is not a comment on the iPhone, per se. I love my iPhone, and my Blackberry before it. But let’s just say that neither machine was friendly to my fat thumbs.

The solution? Two applications by Nuance Communications. The first, Dragon Dictation, is a tool that converts dictation to text and then places the text conveniently in your application of choice. Apps such as SMS, e-mail, and Twitter are integrated, or you can cut and paste anywhere. Once you get used to dictating, Dragon allows you to express yourself quickly and easily. Due to the length and “normalness” of my writing, my friends assume I’m on my laptop, when in reality I’m on my iPhone. Cool.

Now Nuance has done it again, with Dragon Go!, an app that extends the dictation model. This time, the target is processing typical commands on your iPhone like reviews, searches, and directions, and pointing you toward best-fit solutions. For example, you can dictate “find sushi near me,” and Dragon Go! will 1) determine that you’re looking for sushi; 2) direct you to a pre-filled Yelp! Search for reviews of local sushi restaurants, 3) provide a phone listing of appropriate restaurants; 4) provide a Google maps page where possibilities are highlighted, and driving directions are a click away; 5) set up an Open Table page in case you want to make reservations; 6) open a Wikipedia page about sushi.

If that all sounds too confusing, it’s not. The app uses a clever tabbing system to show your options, and the most likely destination is always the first one opened. Plus, the integration to the standard apps like Yelp! and Google Maps is good: you don’t have to figure out what to do with your transcribed commands because Dragon Go! does it for you.

You can also dictate a command and a target web site, if you know what you want. So saying “malwarebytes on CNET.com” takes you to CNET’s mobile application, showing search results for “malwarebytes.” Currently, Dragon Go! appears to support almost 200 websites in this directed search mode.

The company says Dragon Go! uses natural language processing techniques (think IBM’s Watson supercomputer) to figure out what you’re really trying to do. I’m not sure how sophisticated this functionality really is, but for what I do on my phone, it’s plenty sophisticated. In my tests, results of dictated searches were highly relevant.

But what does this all have to do with insurance technology, you’re asking? I present it as more evidence that user experiences and tools are changing for the better, in both subtle and dramatic ways. The subtle side includes things like better integration across sites, and between channels. Plus user interfaces that are so effective that they don’t require manuals. The dramatic side is intelligent speech recognition, built into your applications. Twenty years from now will we even have keyboards on our devices? Probably, but I’m certain they won’t be the interaction tools of first resort. Whether you’re an insurer or a vendor, you need to jump on this kind of thinking to stay competitive.