The new customer experience – or how so many carriers are getting journey mapping wrong

The new customer experience – or how so many carriers are getting journey mapping wrong

Journey mapping, the process of defining the customer experience, is an activity that has been gaining in popularity over the last two years.  Carriers are using this technique to document the existing customer experience in order to identify areas to improve.  The underlying assumption is that a superior customer experience will drive retention and perhaps improve new business.  Which makes sense.  After all, it’s pretty evident that customers are demanding a different relationship model from their insurers.  They are looking for more transparency and simplicity. They are increasingly self-directed and financially literate.  And they are demanding increasing participation. 

Their expectations are increasingly driven by experience in non-insurance categories.   I can see where my uber car is real-time – why can’t I tell if my claim check has been issued.   I can custom assemble a new pc online with instant knowledge of all the options available and the price associated with them – why can’t I tell what additional insurance options are available and what they cost.   I can get recommendations from Amazon on what I might like and what others like me are purchasing – why can’t I get  good recommendation from a carrier to help me compile the best package of coverages, terms and conditions to suit my profile. 

While efforts have been made to drive effectiveness for insurance processes from an internal perspective, there are still many areas where improvements are possible from a customer perspective. So carriers are working to define an extraordinary experience for customers. They’re defining personas, mapping the new business acquisition process, the billing process, claims, complaint handling, customer inquiries, and all the major processes that occur when customers interact with carriers. 

But that’s the problem. Carriers are focusing on optimizing all those places where the customer and the carrier interact.  Now don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with this.  Carriers should make sure that interactions are optimized.  Focusing on automating decisions, automating correspondence, and using workflow to assure tasks are completed in a timely manner can have a dramatic effect on delivering a consistently good experience.  Omni channel, real time, digitization – all those trendy words – are very relevant here. But it’s not enough.

If you really want to build loyalty, think about the customer experience when they aren’t interacting with you. Let me give you an example. 

Allstate has a target market of motorcycle riders, and has a mobile app for them called GoodRide.  The app is available for both Allstate customers and non Allstate customers.  It helps riders keep track of all repairs and maintenance.  They can plan a ride –  checking weather, locate gas, and even find others to ride with as it is integrated to social media. They can track their ride by adding notes, adding photos and tracking miles ridden. There’s even a gamification element that awards badges.   And by the way, they can report a claim, check proof of insurance and pay their bill.  So this application really looks at what motorcycle riders are looking to do outside of the insurance interaction and embeds the insurance interactions within the full context of the customer’s life and where insurance itself plays a role rather than simply looking at the interactions discreetly.

In the commercial lines world, a similar application could be industry based and provide tailored risk management materials, an “Ask an Expert” corner where customers can check in with risk management consultants,   create a Facebook-like collaboration mechanism for customers to talk to each other,  arrange discounts on products relevant to the industry.  and of course, access their policy online, pay a bill, pull a loss run or handle other interactions. 

Expanding the customer experience beyond the pure insurance interactions makes a carrier more relevant to a customer by engaging in their everyday lives and looking for ways of adding value within context.  And it creates a way to have an ongoing conversation with a customer – building personal loyalty. 

So – is customer journey mapping a good idea?  Of course.  Are carriers thinking big enough? That is a different question.

What I will say, is exactly what I told a carrier earlier today –  The secret to organic growth?  Deliver a customer experience that your competitors can’t match. 

Conversation systems and insurance — one experience

Conversation systems and insurance — one experience

To start with full disclosure, I am a huge fan of the Amazon Echo. We have them throughout the house, and have automated our home so Alexa can control most light switches, ceiling fans and more. We play music through them, ask for the weather, schedule appointments, and more.

All my kids are believers from our 5 year-olds on up. It’s fun to hear one of my five year-olds ask Alexa to play the song YMCA and then burst into full song, including the dance. My one personal recommendation. If you have an Echo and children, turn off voice purchases. I found out the hard way.

So I thought I would check out how Alexa does with insurance. My plan is to try all the skills and leverage them into a report. I may even have to purchase one of Google’s new Google Home devices just to compare them in this use case.

So I spent considerable time this morning trying to get an auto quote. Let’s just say the outcome was that I gave up. I won’t name the insurer, as I am sure that their Alexa skill works well in other areas such as information sharing and likely works for others to get a quote, but it sure did not for me. I do want to give credit to the insurer, as they are out on the bleeding edge doing these quotes.

First it asked me my birth year. It heard 1916. That’s not when I was born, but that’s what it heard. I tried to correct it, using the instructions it had provided, but no dice. I gave up and started over, only to be born in 1916 again. This time it was so stuck I had to unplug the Echo. I was surprised, as Alexa’s voice recognition amazes me.

I’m old, but I’m not 101 years old.

I finally made it through on the third try with very careful enunciation. Made it through my wife’s birth year and the fact we’re both married (apparently being married to each other wasn’t important).

Got to the question on what body style. I tried convertible, since, well, it is a convertible. That wasn’t an option. Since the app had prompted 2 door car as an example, I tried it. Um, no. That’s not supported. That seemed odd, but I tried car. Apparently car is OK.

Made it through miles driven a year.

Go to age of the car. My car is a little older, but no antique. However, apparently 12 years old is fatal, as the app crashed with “Sorry I am having trouble accessing your skill right now”.

OK, odd, but wireless sometimes blips, so no problem. Started over for the fourth time.

Worked my way through all the questions, enunciating very, very carefully and got to age of my car.

Yep. Crashed again.

At that point, I gave up and decided to write a blog instead.

Or I could have played a game of Jeopardy with Alexa.

CES 2017: JUST HOW SMART IS AI GOING TO MAKE CONNECTED CARS AND CONNECTED HOMES?

CES 2017: JUST HOW SMART IS AI GOING TO MAKE CONNECTED CARS AND CONNECTED HOMES?
Walking the exhibit halls and attending sessions at the mammoth Consumer Electronics Show, it was easy to identify the dominant theme: AI-enabled Intelligent Personal Assistants (IPAs).
  • Manufacturers and suppliers of connected cars and homes are betting big on IPAs: overwhelmingly favoring Amazon Alexa.
  • Impressionistically, Google Assistant, Siri, Cortana and others trailed some distance behind.
Natural language commands, queries and responses provide a vastly more intuitive UX. And these capabilities in turn make owning and using a connected home or car much more attractive. But there is a deeper potential benefit for the connected car and connected home sellers: developing context-rich data and information about the connected home occupants and the connected car drivers and passengers. This data and information include:
  • Who is in the house, what rooms they occupy—or who is in the car, going to which destinations
  • And what they want to do or see or learn or buy or communicate at what times and locations
Mining this data will enable vendors to anticipate (and sometimes create) more demand for their goods and services. (In a sense, this is the third or fourth generation version of Google’s ad placement algorithms based on a person’s search queries.) Here’s what this means for home and auto insurers:
  • As the value propositions of connected cars and homes increase, so does the imperative for insurers to enter those ecosystems through alliances and standalone offers
  • The IPA-generated data may provide predictive value for pricing and underwriting
  • IPAs are a potential distribution channel (responding to queries and even anticipating the needs of very safety- and budget- conscious consumers)
A note on terminology: the concept of “Intelligent Personal Assistants” is fairly new and evolving quickly. Other related terms are conversational commerce, chatbots, voice control, among others.

Smartphones, Apps, and Other Stuff

Smartphones, Apps, and Other Stuff

In 1985 when I was a kid in school, one of my favorite TV shows was Robotech, also known as Macross in some regions. They had the technology (alien technology by the way) to transform fighter planes into mechanical robots (a bit like Transformers), however they did not have either cellphones or smartphones. Instead, they had mobile cabs that would travel around the city looking out for when to pick the person up. Not to mention, in some episodes, they even had some kind of Google glasses. It was all very cool stuff in 1985.

Fortunately for us all, today we have our own smart stuff in the form of a super computer in our pockets – being the smartphone. Many of us no longer need to run to a red box to make a call; and a long with smartphones we have data usage, internet, and apps.

The great challenge with smartphones for insurers, is how to engage with customers in this mobile world; that is, how to make apps attractive to them beyond the basic proposition of moving consumers to the mobile channel in order to lower the operating cost.

In insurance, availability of mobile apps varies by region and by country, so does functionality.  In most countries property and casualty insurers are taking the lead, especially to connect to auto insurance policy holders to provide them with a very array of self-servicing features through the app. In many countries, insurers need to work with the regulators hand in hand to find the best ways to boost financial inclusion and the use of insurance through digital channels.

In a recent Celent’s report, we found that at least 80% of P&C insurers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Portugal offer apps to their clients"

In Latin America availability of consumer-focused apps in insurance grew from 21% in 2013 to 39% in 2016"

So we expect in the following years that Latin American insurers keep up other regions. Not to mention that Insurers are very interested in mobility and they plan to invest in this technology.  To learn more about this report, please click here.

Going back to my story, there were occasions where the main character couldn't be contacted because there were no mobile phones, only robots, and maybe the outcome of the story might have changed.  It was 1985 for a story created much earlier; more than 30 years ago, but now mobility, artificial intelligence, robotics, and analytics are a reality.

Technology is playing a very important role enabling insurers to engage customers, and as part of the insurance industry, we need to be aware of these advancements. If you are interested in insurance technology and want to know more of case studies around world, Celent will be awarding the best technological initiatives in our 2017 Innovation & Insight Day in Boston on April 4, 2017

Also, if you are or know of an insurance company which exhibits best practices in the use of technology, please click here and complete the nomination form. Submissions are being accepted until December 16, 2016.  Categories include:

  • Digital and Omnichannel
  • Legacy and Ecosystem Transformation
  • Innovation and Emerging Technologies
  • Operational Excellence
  • Data Analytics

For more information about the Model Insurer program click here, leave a comment, or email me directly at lchipana@celent.com. I’d be more than happy to talk with you. The Celent team and I are looking forward to hearing from you and meeting you in person at the 2017 Innovation & Insight Day.

The Best Advice is Personal

The Best Advice is Personal

Much discussion has happened in the industry portending the inevitable elimination of the insurance agent as consumers move to purchasing insurance direct and online. Disruption of the agency model seems to be a foregone conclusion judging by the amount of recent investment in InsureTech startups focused on transforming the distribution model. The increase in insurers offering commercial insurance direct may be seen as an inflection point not just in terms of commercial lines sold direct, but in terms of a shift in momentum from the agent to technology, across lines of business. It’s not surprising that both insurers and consumers are interested in a shift in channels. It promises to be less expensive for an insurer to go direct, and consumers are clearly showing a shift in preferences for accessing coverage

However, consumers use agents for very good reasons. Prior to direct purchase on the internet, consumers needed agents to access different markets. There was no mechanism for a consumer to purchase directly from an insurer. With the advent of digital agents, aggregators, and direct-to-consumer insurance insurers, this reason is less important than it used to be. However, replacing an agent isn’t as simple as simply automating access to markets.

One of the primary points of value provided by an agent is personalized advice. Although access to markets is more readily available, consumers still need advice and guidance. Insurance is a complicated product. Understanding which coverages they should purchase, what limits and deductibles are appropriate, and whether additional terms or endorsements are relevant is one of the key points of value that an agent offers.

Consumers are more financially literate than ever before given all the information available on the internet, yet still want transparency in the choices available, and value guidance and advice as to what options are appropriate and why they are appropriate. 58% of consumers surveyed say that when choosing a financial services provider, they are looking for a personalized offer, tailored to the individual firm or person.

Until an insurer can accurately and appropriately provide advice it is unlikely we’ll see a wholesale shift of the channel. Some insurers focus on giving consumers choices by providing price comparisons with other insurers. Others have tried to provide choice by labeling side by side choices with titles such as “less coverage”, “standard coverage”, and “more coverage”. But these choices don't usually have any relationship to the actual risk profile of the prospect and don’t offer any suggestion as to why one option is better than another. Consequently, consumers aren’t confident enough to make a decision.

Want to know how to improve online conversion? Provide actual advice to a prospect with an explanation as to why a particular limit, deductible or coverage is relevant. Anecdotal conversations with companies who have implemented a feature like this indicate potential conversion improvements of 20-30% or more.

Automated advice comes in a variety of permutations that vary depending on how much automation is utilized and how much personalization is provided. Insurers can assess their capabilities and determine how to proceed down the path. Even small amounts of advice seem to have an impact on conversion.

Automated advice can range from very simple parameter driven advice, to incredibly sophisticated advice-for-one backed up with sophisticated analytics. It can be delivered via simple online suggestions, or through a guided journey using a chat bot. Each successive generation of advice engine seems to bring increasing benefits when it comes to conversion.

Yet automated advice also carries potentially significant risks. The customer is relying on the technology – including the assumptions and methodologies that underlie it. For example – did the system ask the right questions; did the prospect understand the questions adequately to answer accurately; did the algorithms act as intended, were the underlying business rules appropriate?

Using third party data can mitigate some of these risks, but raises other issues including the accuracy of that data. On the one hand, consumers are more financially literate, are looking for more transparency and control, and expect insurers to utilize technology in an online environment. However, insurers also have to be careful not to be creepy when using third party data.

Insurers can overcome creepiness by not overreaching, and by clearly communicating how they arrived at their conclusions. In this transparent world, the path to the recommendation becomes nearly as important as the outcome.

Interested in learning more about automated advice engines? Check out my newest report “The Best Advice is Personal: Robo-Advisors v. Agents”.  

Changing the Landscape of Customer Experience with Advanced Analytics

Changing the Landscape of Customer Experience with Advanced Analytics

That timeless principle – “Know Your Customer” – has never been more relevant than today. Customer expectations are escalating rapidly. They want transparency in products and pricing; personalization of options and choices; and control throughout their interactions.

For an insurance company, the path to success is to offer those products, choices, and interactions that are relevant to an individual at the time that they are needed. These offerings extend well beyond product needs and pricing options. Customers expect that easy, relevant experiences and interactions will be offered across multiple channels. After all, they get tailored recommendations from Amazon and Netflix – why not from their insurance company?

Carriers have significant amounts of data necessary to know the customer deeply. It’s there in the public data showing the purchase of a new house or a marriage. It’s there on Facebook and LinkedIn as customers clearly talk about their life changes and new jobs.


One of the newest trends is dynamic segmentation. Carriers are pulling in massive amounts of data from multiple sources creating finely grained segments and then using focused models to dynamically segment customers based on changing behaviors.

This goes well beyond conventional predictive analytics. The new dimension to this is the dynamic nature of segmentation. A traditional segmentation model uses demographics to segment a customer into a broad tier and leaves them there. But with cognitive computing and machine learning an institution can create finely grained segments and can rapidly change that segmentation as customer behaviors change.

To pull off this level of intervention at scale, a carrier needs technology that works simply and easily, pulling in data from a wide variety of sources – both structured and unstructured.

The technology needs to be able to handle the scale of real-time analysis of that data and run the data through predictive and dynamic models. Models need to continuously learn and more accurately predict behaviors using cognitive computing.

Doing this well allows an carrier to humanize a digital interaction and in a live channel, to augment the human so they can scale, allowing the human to focus on what they do best – build relationships with customers and exercise judgment around the relationship.

Sophisticated carriers are using advanced analytics and machine learning as a powerful tool to find unexpected opportunities to improve sales, marketing and redefine the customer experience. These powerful tools are allowing carriers to go well beyond simple number crunching and reporting and improve their ability to listen and anticipate the needs of customers.

The 2017 Model Insurer Nominations Start Now

The 2017 Model Insurer Nominations Start Now

It’s been five months since we awarded Zurich with our top distinguished award, Model Insurer of the Year, during our Innovation & Insight Day (I&I Day) on April 13. I&I Day has been growing and gaining recognition since its inception over 10 years ago. Over last two years, more than 250 financial services professionals joined us in New York City at Carnegie Hall in 2015 and at The Museum of American Finance in 2016 to celebrate the Model Insurer winners.

From September 15, we will be accepting Model Insurer nominations. The window for new entries will close on November 30. We are looking forward to receiving your best IT initiatives. You may be announced as a Model Insurer at our I&I Day in 2017. The Model Insurer award program recognizes projects that essentially answer the question: What would it look like for an insurance company to do everything right with today’s technology? It awards insurance companies which have successfully implemented a technology project in five categories:

  • Data mastery and analytics.
  • Digital and omnichannel technology.
  • Innovation and emerging technologies.
  • Legacy transformation.
  • Operational excellence.

Some examples of initiatives that we awarded early this year are:

Model Insurer of the Year   

Zurich Insurance: Zurich developed Zurich Risk Panorama, an app that allows market-facing employees to navigate through Zurich’s large volumes of data, tools and capabilities in only a few clicks to offer customers a succinct overview of how to make their business more resilient. Zurich Risk Panorama provides dashboards that collate the knowledge, expertise and insights of Zurich experts via the data presented.

Data Mastery & Analytics

Asteron Life: Asteron Life created a new approach to underwriting audits called End-to-End Insights. It provides a portfolio level overview of risk management, creates the ability to identify trends, opportunities and pain points in real-time and identifies inefficiencies and inconsistencies in the underwriting process. 

Celina Insurance Group: Celina wanted to appoint agents in underdeveloped areas. To find areas with the highest potential for success, they created an analytics based agency prospecting tool. Using machine learning, multiple models were developed that scored over 4,000 zip codes to identify the best locations.

Farm Bureau Financial Services: FBFS decoupled its infrastructure by replacing point to point integration patterns with hub and spoke architecture. They utilized the ACORD Reference Architecture Data Model and developed near real time event-based messages.

Digital and Omnichannel

Sagicor Life Inc.: Sagicor designed and developed Accelewriting® , an eApp integrated with a rules engine; which uses analytic tools and databases to provide a final underwriting decision within one to two minutes on average for simplified issue products.

Gore Mutual Insurance Company: Gore created uBiz, the first complete ecommerce commercial insurance platform in Canada by leveraging a host of technology advancements to simplify the buying experience of small business customers.

Innovation and Emerging Technologies

Desjardins General Insurance Group: Ajusto, a smart phone mobile app for telematics auto insurance, was launched by Desjardins in March 2015. Driving is scored based on four criteria. The cumulative score can be converted into savings on the auto insurance premium at renewal.

John Hancock Financial Services: John Hancock developed the John Hancock Vitality solution. As part of the program, John Hancock Vitality members receive personalized health goals. The healthier their lifestyle, the more points they can accumulate to earn valuable rewards and discounts from leading retailers. Additionally, they can save as much as much as 15 percent off their annual premium.

Promutuel Assurance: Promutuel Insurance created a new change management strategy and built a global e-learning application, Campus, which uses a web-based approach that leverages self-service capabilities and gamificaton to make training easier, quicker, less costly and more convenient.

Legacy Transformation

GuideOne Insurance: GuideOne undertook a transformation project to reverse declines in its personal lines business. They launched new premier auto, standard auto, and non-standard auto products, as well as home, renter and umbrella products on a new policy administration system and a new agent portal.

Westchester, a Chubb Company: Chubb Solutions Fast Track™, a robust and flexible solution covering core business functionality, was built to support Chubb’s microbusiness unit’s core mission of establishing a “Producer First,” low-touch mindset through speed, accessibility, value, ease-of-use and relationships.

Teachers Life: Teachers Life has achieved a seamless, end-to-end online process for application, underwriting, policy issue and delivery for a variety of life products. Policyholders with a healthy lifestyle and basic financial needs can get coverage fast, in the privacy of their own homes, and pay premiums online in as little as 15 minutes.

Operational Excellence

Markerstudy Group: Markerstudy implemented the M-Powered IT Transformation Program which created an eco-system of best in class monitoring and infrastructure visualization tools to accelerate cross-functional collaboration and remove key-man dependencies.

Guarantee Insurance Company: In order to focus on their core competency of underwriting and managing a large book of workers compensation business, Guarantee Insurance outsourced its entire IT infrastructure.

Pacific Specialty Insurance Company: Complying with their vision is to become a virtual carrier, meaning all critical business applications will be housed in a cloud-based infrastructure, PSIC implemented their core systems in a cloud while upgrading infrastructure to accommodate growth in bandwidth demands.

If you have completed a project during the last two years that you feel is a role model for the industry, don’t hesitate to send us your initiative here. You may be the next Model Insurer of the year.

For more information about the Model Insurer program click here, leave a comment, or email me directly at lchipana@celent.com. I’d be more than happy to talk with you. The Celent team and I are looking forward to hearing from you and meeting you in person at the 2017 Innovation & Insight Day.

See you there!

Using private consumer data in insurance: Mind the gap!

Using private consumer data in insurance: Mind the gap!

Insurance is no different to other industries when it comes to capturing valuable data to improve business decisions. At Celent we have already discussed how and where in their operations insurance companies can leverage private consumer data they can find on social networks, blogs and so on. For more information you can read a report I have published this year explaining Social Media Intelligence in insurance.

Actually there are various factors influencing insurers' decision to actively use private consumer data out there including among others regulation, resources adequacy, data access and storage. I think that an ethical dimension will play a more important role going forward. More precisely I wonder whether consumers and insurers' perceptions about the use of private consumer data are divergent or similar:

  • What do consumers really think about insurance companies using their private data on social networks and other internet platforms?
  • What about insurers; does it pose an issue for them?

In order to assess this ethical dimension, we have asked both insurers worldwide and also consumers (in the US, UK, France, Germany and Italy) what where their view on this topic. To insurers, we simply asked them what best described their opinion about using consumer data available on social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) and other data sources on the internet (blogs, forums, etc.). To consumers, we asked what were their opinions about insurers using these open data sources for tracking people potentially engaged in fraud or criminal activity.

The following chart shows the result and indicates that there is a big gap between the two sides:

UseConsumerData

Overall what is good for consumers is not necessarily good for insurers. In the same way, what insurers want is not always in line with what consumers expect from their insurers. Going forward the question for insurance companies will be the find the right balance between the perceived value of private consumer data and customers' satisfaction. In addition, it will be tough for them to figure out the impact (pros and cons) of all factors at play in the decision to invest in technologies allowing for the efficient use of private consumer data accessible on the Internet.

At Celent, we are trying to define a framework that can help them structure their reasoning and make an optimal decision. So more to come in the coming weeks on this topic…

The Great Insurance Experiment

The Great Insurance Experiment

There is a battle going on today for the future of the insurance industry. Like other industries there are those within the insurance industry and new entrants who are seeking to test whether alternate, digital models will prevail. As a participant in the industry and an observer the intriguing thing for me is no one has proven the existing model is actually broken or that there is a better proposition out there. It seems the telematics experiment I wrote about a few years ago is expanding in focus.

I'm sure taxi drivers said the same when faced with Uber, hotels with AirBnB, the print industry, the travel industry, etc. However let's look at the benefits of digital propositions to customers and see if they apply to insurance.

Transparency
One of the key benefits of digital propositions is transparency and low prices – something that telematics and IoT propositions endeavour to deliver for consumers. The peculiar thing about insurance is that transparency and too much data is at odds with what insurance tries to achieve. Put another way, insurance is designed to hedge the risks to a population across the whole population, so that individuals pay a reasonable price and those that suffer a significant loss are reimbursed disproportionally to what they put in. Absolute data and visibility – transparency in its purest form – will reveal the poor risks and in practice deprive them of the very service they need. Good for some who will not see a loss, but not good for all and not good for society as a whole.

Propositions in this area have moved towards education and rewarding behaviours that reduce risk – the win-win for insurer and client. Many have observed that this is arguably not insurance but rather risk advice, engineering and management. Others observe that claims prevention is absolutely part of insurance and has been all along, albeit the tools of old have been regulation, law and classical education rather than the digital variants.

Existing experiments reveal customers care do care about not claiming, about limiting the impacts of a claim and about small rewards for good behaviour. Regulators have also shown they're keen that all parts of society have access to financial services and insurance at a reasonable cost. Use of transparency and data can go so far in insurance but there are limits to how far it can disrupt.

Control
Another key benefit of digital propositions is the just in time and just enough nature of them – the ability to finely control the product and as a result the costs. This is another area that is being tested in insurance with micro control over what is and isn't on cover available to customers via their phone.

The challenge here of course is that this again removes some of the hedging. By assigning a cost per item turning everything on will typically yield a higher price for insurance than a classic contents policy which offers blanket cover for items in a property or even while travelling.

The other benefit of the classic policy is that one doesn't have to engage with it. It's all well and good that one can turn cover for items off and on quickly but to really take advantage of this capability the insured has to care deeply about the level of cover or the cost.

There will be customers who want this level of control in their insurance and will actively seek it – but for the mass market a good enough policy at a reasonable price will be just fine.

The long tail
Now here we could see some disruption, or at least shake up of the market. We're already seeing some splits in the market as people interested in health rewards take up the various incarnations of vitality insurance, young people take up telematics car insurance after being priced out of the classic policies. There will be customers interested in control over their policies, customers who give up human interaction in favour of digital cost control.

In this way we might see smaller, more agile companies with lower cost bases taking their share of the market by satisfying a niche.

Conclusion
In practice, the jury is still out and the experiment still continuing. Do todays consumers want the products they have always been offered or something new? What of tomorrows customers?

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.