Well sir, we’re not Amazon: online support lessons for insurers

Well sir, we’re not Amazon: online support lessons for insurers
I just got off the phone from a 40 minute phone call with an insurer that provides benefits to my family. I won’t name the company, as that is not the point of this blog post, but I thought I would share my experience. I am certainly hopeful that this could not happen at any of the companies for which our readers work. The same insurer handles my Group life and Dental coverages. It is a well-known company. I had previously registered for their website, so I logged on to print my new dental card, so I could get all seven of us to the dentist. When I logged on, it only showed my Life coverage, but not dental. Nothing on the site let me add it, so I resorted to the next best thing. I called. The wait was about what I expect – about 10 minutes – before they actually connected me to a person. After providing my entire life history (or at least it felt that way), to validate I am who I am, the customer service rep banged away at her keyboard for a solid 5 minutes before declaring that she could not send me id cards – that my account did not allow it. Getting beyond the fact that this is simply silly, she transferred me to web support. Back in the queue for another 10 minute wait, I finally spoke to a helpful gentleman who could set me up to access my dental account. Except he couldn’t. First, he explained that I had to have a second web account to view Dental. Apparently the siloed nature of their organization spilled over to their customers (Strike one). Then after being on hold for another 5 minutes, he came back to let me know that he could not set me up because my employer did not allow us to have an online account. Even when assured that my colleague DID have allow web accounts, he stuck with his guns. I tried, repeatedly, to convince him that my company would not have made that decision (Strike two). I finally gave up, ended the call and emailed our internal benefits coordinator. She responded that all I had to do was register for the site again, using a second email address. Naturally, this worked, contrary to what the insurer repeatedly told me (Strike three). Now, why did I title the blog as I did? Because my experiences with my insurer are not unique. I recently had trouble returning an online order from a major big box home improvement store. They wanted everything short of my first born to allow me to return a defective product. I had to jump through many hoops and take the product back to their local store. To make it worse, they wouldn’t be able to replace it. I’d have to order it again, and, by the way, the price went up $120. During that call, I commented that their service was complicated and poor and paled in comparison to Amazon. To which he replied: “Well sir, we’re not Amazon.” No, no you’re not. And I haven’t ordered anything else from them either, but Amazon gets my business regularly. The moral of the story? Oh there are so many:
  • Don’t show your organizational weaknesses to the customer. You may be siloed, but that shouldn’t make it difficult for the customer.
  • Make sure your support people actually know what they’re doing. The solution set should not include “making something up so the customer will go away.”
  • Customers expect your service to equal those of other providers. Admitting that you’re not Amazon just reinforces this notion.
I could go on and on, but it is a lesson the insurance industry needs to learn. We lag behind virtually every other industry in online support. Now I don’t want to leave on a negative note, because there are insurers in our industry that excel at online support. My auto insurer is wonderful. What’s a bit ironic is that once I got setup on the two almost identical websites for this insurer, the web experience is wonderful.

Hey Facebook and Google, why I'm Liking it and looking forward to +1ing it

Hey Facebook and Google, why I'm Liking it and looking forward to +1ing it
Perhaps it’s because I like technology, because I was born into an age of unprecedented technological advancement, because I’m curious or simply because I’m too lazy to keep in touch with folk but I have to say I love social networks. For me they’re a tool that allow me to keep folks up to date and to keep track of what friends and acquaintances are up to. The whole thing was brought home to me recently when I was tinkering with ancestry.com and talking to my family about my extended family. On a whim I had a quick look in Facebook for my Mum’s cousin and found her, alive and well in Australia. A few messages on Facebook later and I discovered she’d had a few children and there were grandkids dotted around Australia and the US. The real value of Facebook came home to me when I was able to sit down with my 3 year old boy and show him the pictures distant family members had shared and show him where they lived. All this and I can keep them up to date without doing more than i do today – got to love Facebook for that fire and forget, status update to everyone feature. So why use the Facebook Like button? I think about the Facebook Like button in a similar way to Amazon’s suggest feature. Every now and again I go on Amazon and tell it things I would like to get, things I’ve purchased and even rate some of the things. This investment pays dividends in relevant suggestions from Amazon on books and other items genuinely of interest to me. Facebook Like allows me to share likes with my friends and allows Facebook to suggest things I might like, so recently it suggested a bunch of my friends like Terry Pratchett’s Facebook page (I’m a fan of the UK’s most prolific author) and I happily discovered a new book is due out shortly and some of the other activities Terry is up to. For me Tweeting, Updating, Liking, Following, Friending – it’s all about filtering the wealth of information out there to find the bits I’m interested in quicker. I make investments by creating content and sharing it – like this blog post, and for my very small effort I am typically rewarded ten fold. This appeals to the lazy efficient part of me. This is how many (though not all) of my friends are using social networks today. There are issues with all this though. Different groups of people are interested in different things – I know colleagues, ex-colleagues, friends, family, folks who live in my village, people from university, school – people interested in games, technology, mobile phones, insurance technology and wierdoes as Craig Weber described them. Oddly enough I don’t know anyone who is all of these things yet these networks treat them all the same. To some degree using Facebook for some things, Linkedin for others, twitter, skype, etc. kind of works but this presentation on a version 2 of a social network really spoke to me. Google have just announced Google+ – something I’m looking forward to trying out because of a few key features:
  • circles – group friends in different ways so you can share content but only send it to those who’ll be interested. I’m looking forward to creating the wierdoes circle
  • sparks – a feature that claims to go and find content for your interests and pull them together – awesome – why search when the relevant web content can come to me?
  • hangouts – 10-way video chat! Need I say more.
Google+ is in it’s infancy and the literature lacks some of the business focus but I’m sure Google+ will find it’s way into Google Apps for Enterprise in due course. What should an insurer take away from this? The hidden subtlety here, and the reason Google has been forced to respond to Facebook with Google+ lies in sparks, or Facebook like suggestions or Amazon suggest. Internet users are moving away from searching. Brands focussing solely on search engine optimisation will lose out, as will company’s focussed on search. In the future systems will suggest content, reviews, products, brands and insurers to customers based on their behaviour and social circles. Whilst today’s drive to get Likes and reviews seems shallow and immature, it points to a fundamental shift in the role of the Internet in driving the acquisition of new business. It’s hard to say where all this will fall but a few things are clear:
  1. Whether we like them or not facebook and social networks in various guises are here to stay
  2. Google has re-entered the social network space, even if it’s not successful (like orkut?) the new features will change other social networks
  3. Social networks and they’re features are changing the way we interact with the world, each other and with insurers. Like Google, the insurance industry will be forced to respond
For more look at our coverage of social, read why Craig Weber isn’t using Facebook and look out for more on the value of Facebook pages and the social internet for the insurance industry in future posts and research. I’m off to tweet, like, post and +1 this blog post.

EC2 Troubles Must Be Taken in Context

EC2 Troubles Must Be Taken in Context

Proponents of cloud computing aren’t going to like the fact that Amazon had issues that resulted in outages among its EC2 customers’ sites. The know-it-alls out there are probably already saying, “If Amazon has issues like this, imagine what would happen if you placed your bet on a less-experienced cloud vendor!” The gravitational shift toward the cloud for both core and non-core systems has surely slowed down.

But the fact is that most insurers have their own outages when they host applications internally, in some cases with more frequency and severity than we’re seeing here with Amazon. It’s interesting to note how some of the customers who are known to be affected have reacted. “We wouldn’t be where we are without EC2,” said one. So despite the horror of having their public-facing site go flighty for a day (or two–we’re hearing the problems are not completely resolved), there’s apparently a reserve of goodwill that has built up over many months of near-flawless operation.

Instead of putting the industry on red alert, Celent believes this event should focus the discussion on the relative reliability of various approaches, and the tradeoffs between them. Should you know your vendor’s architecture and reality-check their DR and failover strategies? Absolutely. You should also run the business case for change, especially if gaining scale quickly, moving nimbly into new markets, or handling seasonal spikes in activity are issues for which you have few answers. Outages caused by a vendor are never a good thing, but they are probably not your biggest, baddest problems either.