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 Great Pokemon Experiment

Nintendo's latest mobile phone (and mobile) game just keeps smashing records – it's already the biggest mobile game in the US and is looking set to become a worldwide phenomenon.

It's not relevant to insurance though is it? Well it is sort of introducing new risks with players being mugged and wandering into dangerous places including Downing Street in London apparently.

What's more interesting to me though is the mix of gamification, rewards for movement and the way it is making people meet up in novel locations.

Two opportunities sprang to mind for the industry:

  • What's most interesting to me is that if we were to measure health app's impacts by how far they get people to walk Pokemon Go could be the biggest health app of 2016, despite only launching in July. I'm curious how the Vitality and similar propositions rewarding customers for healthy behaviour will respond to the sudden uptick in activity. 
  • From an advertising point of view and ability to drive foot traffic to say, an agents office, Pokemon Go has huge potential – potential not missed on the developers as hidden code in the game already points to a hook up with McDonalds. For now though, if you have a Pokemon gym at your office location it might be a great time to do a little advertising or push that recruitment drive you've been thinking about.

As a technologist the photos springing up around the world of "Squirtle" being found in toilets (be careful where you point the camera) also goes to show how augmented reality has become mainstream as well, along with the threats AR and virtual reality could pose in at least distracted walking. I love that the digital and physical world are coming together and it's actually bringing families together too.

Whilst some will marvel at this latest craze, for those insurers with investments in the real world like agencies, offices, billboards – and for those that are agile enough – this surprise trend could serve as a great marketing route to catching all the customers, as well as all the Pokemon.

The secret to profitable organic growth? Deliver a customer experience that your competitors can’t match

Maintaining growth and relevance is more challenging than ever for carriers. It is a hyper-competitive market with new entrants, a poor investment market, and rapidly changing customer expectations.  
  • Customers are demanding a different relationship model from their insurers. They are increasingly demanding transparency and simplicity with simpler contracts, clearer pricing disclosures and tailored recommendations with extraordinary service.
  • They are more and more self-directed and using non-traditional third party advice. Clients are more financially literate and are increasingly relying on aggregation and comparison tools. They look more for concepts than for entities – diminishing the value of advertising.
  • They are demanding collaboration and participation in product choices, claims, and risk management. They expect proactive communications that demonstrate knowledge of the customer. They expect customer service to be fast, excellent, and available through any channel they choose.
  Whether you define your customer as a policyholder or an agent, (it’s a matter of religion in this industry), expectations are being driven by innovations by non-insurance players. Uber provides instant information availability without long waits on the phone, which gives control and transparency to the customer. Amazon recognizes their customers and provides product and service recommendations that come to the customers without any additional work. Apple provides variations on their products that allow customers to choose among the different value propositions and the flexibility to change those purchases with minimal hassle.   But limited customer interactions in insurance have pushed incremental innovation to focus on products rather than customer experience.   As ardent incrementalists, most players in the insurance industry look at the customer experience from the inside out by thinking about all the points where WE touch a customer. However, being good at the discipline of focusing on customer experience requires taking a broader view of customers’ lives and the context in which they are interacting with the brand. Those who excel at customer service are masters at looking from the outside in, understanding what is going on in a customer’s life when THEY touch us and then delivering unexpected signature moments across a broader expanse of experiences.   Certainly efforts have been made to drive effectiveness for insurance processes, nevertheless, there are still many areas where improvements are possible. The way forward requires a comprehensive digital view that goes well beyond process automation. By recognizing that customer experience is about more than designing a clean and friendly user interface (UI), insurers can move beyond the superficial and achieve real results.   The technology is there to support this. But what keeps us from moving forward? Surprisingly, few carriers have anyone who owns the entire customer experience. Customer experience is usually owned by organizational silos. When no one owns the experience, it becomes a low priority. If there are limited metrics, or metrics which don’t focus on the quality of service from a customer viewpoint, then there are too many competing priorities to drive investments here.   Digital makes possible a level of engagement that was never possible before. But beware – the democratization of digital technology is eroding competitive barriers. And to meet customer expectations in an increasingly digital world, carriers will be required to make both cultural and physical shifts to incorporate new systems and processes while harnessing data and using real time analytics.   Like it or not, customer and distribution partner behaviors and expectations are changing the business model. It is not just about reducing expenses and writing more business. Carriers have to look at new distribution models, new product types well beyond pure indemnification products, and revolutionizing the customer experience.

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.

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.

The first step of customer experience transformation

The easiest way to grow your book of business is to keep your customers happy. Retention goes up, cross sell goes up, and you will get referrals. This isn’t a big revelation. Carriers know this. The key to keeping customers happy is to create a top-notch customer experience. But insurance is complex. Consumers have a greater number of choices today than ever before and consumers are accessing carriers through more channels than were ever available in the past. This complicates the picture at the same time that expectations are increasing. Customers expect that the carrier knows the details of every prior interaction they have had. That is hard to do when customer data is fragmented across multiple systems. Customer experience includes many facets – advertising, the acquisition process, claims and of course, the quality of customer care. Carriers are looking for tools to help them provide a superior customer experience regardless of the channel the customer chooses to use at the time. That is probably why we are seeing a huge increase in the interest in Customer Relationship Management tools especially by small and midsize carriers who haven’t invested in this type of software before. Customer relationship management systems are one of the components in many insurers’ application maps. Although CRM solutions are not unique to the insurance industry like policy administration or claims systems, they are still key technologies used to manage relationships with customers, whether customers are defined as agents/distributors, claimants, end policyholders, or prospects. There are literally hundreds of CRM solutions available today from firms large and small, well-known and obscure. I’ve just published a report focused on enterprise solutions for larger-scale organizations similar to most US insurance firms. The report does not include CRM solutions that are appropriate for small organizations such as independent agencies or advisors. It also does not address horizontal solutions that are not specifically targeting the insurance industry with tailored capabilities. There are a wide range of CRM solutions on the market for insurers to choose from. A wide range of features and functionality are available. These systems are used in various capabilities within insurance carriers — from producer management, to call center support, to managing leads and campaigns. Integration with other systems will be needed to provide the most value to a carrier. There is no single best CRM solution for all insurers. There are a number of good choices for an insurer with almost any set of requirements. The right solution for a carrier depends on how the carrier plans to use the solution. Some carriers use CRM solutions as a front end to all the core applications. It is the entry point for a call center representative to access all data for those who are calling. Other carriers use CRM solutions to manage interactions with the distribution channel. Still others use it primarily to manage outbound marketing campaigns and may extend this capability to the external distributors. System selection also may be driven by how the carrier defines “customer.” Some carriers define the customer as their agency or broker-dealer firms. Others define the customer as the final purchasers of the insurance policies and annuities. Some solutions may be better at handling some business models than others (e.g., 20 million end user clients vs. 200 agencies), though most would claim to be able to handle all levels of “customers.” Therefore, the ability to build and maintain appropriate hierarchies (agency or broker-dealer, agent or advisor, household or individual) within CRM solutions is an important aspect to examine. An insurer seeking a new CRM solution should begin the process by looking inward. Every insurer has its own unique mix of distribution channels, geography, staff capabilities, business objectives, and financial resources. This unique combination, along with the organization’s risk appetite, will influence the list of vendors for consideration. Some vendors are a better fit for an insurance company with a large IT group that is deeply proficient with the most modern platforms and tools. Other vendors are a better fit for an insurance company that has a small IT group and wants a vendor to take a leading role in maintaining and supporting its applications. We recommend that insurers that are looking for a CRM system create narrow their choices by focusing on four areas:
  • The functionality needed and available out of the box for the way the carrier plans to use the system and the customer types desired. Check to see what is actually in production.
  • The technology — both the overall architecture and the configuration tools and environment.
  • The vendor stability, knowledge, and investment in the solution.
  • Implementation and support capabilities and experience.

Living with the Internet of Things (and crowd funding)

Earlier this week some users of the Wink smart home hub found that their smart home hub was more useful as a door stop or brick than as a hub. A fix is being worked on and rolled out to customers but for me this looks like the teething problems of the still nascent Internet of Things movement and one of the hurdles Apple is trying to jump with the Apple Watch. Earlier this month I received a portable handheld scanner from Dacuda. It’s not unusual for me to receive gadgets in the post but this one was particularly interesting to me as I had been one of the kickstarter funders of the item and have been following it’s creation with some interest. It piqued my interest particularly because I’d seen the technology almost two decades ago in a research lab but not seen it come to market at a reasonable price – a scanner that one moves over the page and software builds a picture of the underlying document. This isn’t the first item funded via crowd funding I’ve bought. My keys have a tile attached to them and I’m still wearing the original Pebble wrist watch (with e-ink display). I guess this firmly places me as an early adopter in the Internet of Things, wearables and crowdfunding space. I don’t have a Wink hub although it’s sort of appealing but not available in the UK yet. So far though it hasn’t been all clear pastures and dreams ideally realised. The Internet of Things has it’s teething problems. Let’s take the Tile for instance, a small device that emits a bluetooth and short rage wifi signal so you can track it’s location from a phone or tablet, thus, never losing it. I used to have 3 of them and now have 2, that’s right I lost one. I was rushing out the door, the school run running a little behind schedule and forgot my phone. Somewhere on the brief journey I dropped the Tile and what it was attached to. Had I had my phone with me it would have given me the location of the last place it connected to the Tile, as it was it told me the last time it saw the Tile was at home. No matter, in theory if I retrace my steps I will come in range and be alerted that it is found. This didn’t work either so I assume it was picked up. Since the battery lasts two years perhaps someone with the app will go near it and it may yet find it’s way home – but not yet. Part user error and part an unfortunate series of events perhaps, but another technology found fallible and a dream not quite realised. The Pebble has been more successful. The fact I answer the phone when it rings is largely down to my smart watch rather than the phone these days and the wrist-borne notifications are hugely helpful. I use the misfit app on it to tell me I’m not doing enough exercise and a Withings smart body analyser at home to let me know the end result of not having done enough exercise – all great fun! I may still invest in the Apple Watch. I have a standing desk so do stand, something misfit on my pebble doesn’t track and I feel I want to be recognised digitally for this at least. The little handheld scanner is more work in progress. My son’s somewhat fascinated when it works and hugely interested in the errors it makes and where they are made – such is life as an early adopter. More teething issues there. No doubt though we as a population are moving to a world where anything we buy could be connected, where we can buy a $50 hub that controls our lighting from an app and it’s failure is covered in the global (technology) press and where we can fund and follow the development of gadgets we’ve dreamt of owning for a couple of decades (even if the software needs a little more work). So what does this have to do with insurance? The fact is the Internet of Things appears to be running apace, smart homes are being tried out by the early adopters and bugs are being squashed. Did you know with the Wink hub, the app on your phone and this $40 quirky+ge water sensor you can get alerted in real time regarding escape of water events? Ever been out of the house and come home to find the kitchen, bathroom or basement flooded? Indeed just yesterday Karen pointed out this article suggesting insurers are getting involved with smart homes. There’s a lot of buzz around health and life insurance in part driven by the Apple Watch launch. I’m looking forward to Apple doubling down on the HomeKit API or someone credible getting there first; I’m looking forward to the same boom around the Internet of Things and insurers handing out moisture sensors to home owners. I’m looking forward to prevention and intervention products, rather than selling services after a loss. Perhaps we just need to squash a few more bugs first.

For Halloween: The Tricks to Get Innovation Treats

Innovation is not witchcraft but, when done successfully, there is a touch of magic. The magic happens when innovation becomes “part of the way we do things around here” (read: corporate culture). When people across the firm approach their jobs constantly through the lens of “how do I change my job so that I deliver more value to my customers?”, magic can happen. We discussed this in a webinar this week (Innovation in Insurance: Differences across Continents). The point was made that there are specific actions (tricks!) that prepare a corporate environment for magic. Specifically:
  • Establish a common language around innovation; what is it? what is it not?
  • Revise reward systems, especially around encouraging “fail fast” behaviors
  • Develop a communication plan around innovation – leverage Corporate Communication expertise to sustain a messaging effort around innovation
  • Tune existing governance structures to handle innovation initiatives differently than run-the-business projects
The message coming through in Celent research is that innovation is more process, sweat, and political capital than black art. So, try these tricks in your organization so that you (and your customers and teammates) can enjoy some innovation treats!

Innovation that Delivers on the Brand Promise at USAA

The announcement today ( ) of the use of IBM’s Watson platform by USAA demonstrates several of the current research themes at Celent. The move is an excellent case of innovation at the intersection of brand, risk management and technology. First and foremost, this is another example where USAA is delivering on its brand promise – to improve the lives of active duty and veteran military members and their families. The company will use Watson will to answer the questions of service military members who are transitioning to civilian life. An firm’s brand promise is at the foundation of the Celent customer experience model. It is the key characteristic that signals the evolution from a customer relationship management (CRM) to an experience approach. Second, this development is an illustration of an increased focus on prevention and risk mitigation. Traditionally, insurance has been a backward-looking, financial indemnification product (we pay you when there is a loss). This approach shows how insurers will innovate to apply technology to help insureds more effectively manage the risk in their lives (reduce or, avoid risk, altogether). This redirection will occur in commercial, as well as personal lines (see previous post on this blog: “My Risk Manager is an Avatar”). Finally, this is a business application of a computing approach that, up to now, has been closely held in the laboratory, in select pilot accounts, and in a custom, controlled environment (such as Jeopardy!). It will be fascinating to see what we humans, and the machine, Watson, learn in from this insurance debut.

Are insurers ready for the milenial and Z generation? A Latin American perspective.

At corporate level we usually conceive and refer to technology focused on the internal use and how to reach to the outside world to provide better products, have more efficient value chains and improve service.  For example insurance portals or technologies that will improve call center performance. This conception has been very useful to the insurance industry enabling evolution and innovation. Let’s take the UK insurance market for example. The auto industry started mainly as broker based but then evolved into direct insurance. It got somehow more sophisticated with the segmentation of net-worth customers. In this sense, the use of technology has been usually seen as a support to the business, but more and more it is becoming a central part of the business model for many insurers, especially for those new and disruptive players. Following the UK example, the use of telematics and “pay as you drive” and “pay how you drive” type of insurance products has lately enabled disruptive models that also integrate internet, mobile and social media to deliver products and services. These insurers recognize the fact that consumers have incorporated technology into their daily lives and that they expect from insurers the same level of engagement and user experience they have with other players in other industries such as Apple and Amazon just to mention two. Computers are everywhere, in the office, at home, in our appliances, and electronic devices; even phones are now computers, and consumers are using them to interact with people and companies by web access, e-mail or social media. Mobility is a fact that insurers need to recognize as they deploy new technology driven strategies. A usual misconception is that emerging markets are behind most mature markets in terms of internet, social media and mobile usage. You might be surprised to know that Latin America for example:
  • Had 231M internet users in December 2011 (10% of the world internet population);
  • Had 145M Facebook users in April 2012 (18% of worldwide Facebook users), and
  • Had +500M mobile connections as from March 2010 (86% of the Latin American population)
As for smartphones, clearly of more interest for deploying self service capabilities for agents and upper income consumers:
  • Brazil has more smartphone users than France or Germany
  • Brazil and Mexico together have more smartphone users than Australia has inhabitants
  • Argentina smartphone penetration (24%) is better than in Germany
Latin American countries also present above-average usage patterns in many areas:
  • 65% of Mexican smartphone users search on their phones every day, compared to 57% in the U.S.
  • 90% of Argentine smartphone users use their phones to access social networks, compared to 63% in Japan
  • 29% of Brazilian smartphone users have changed their minds about a purchase while in a store due to research conducted on their phone, compared to 15% in Canada
Mobile is changing the way Latin American consumers interact with the world…
  • 57% of Brazilian smartphone users read newspapers or magazines on their phones
  • 73% of Argentine smartphone users check email on their phones every day
  • 81% of Mexican smartphone users watch video on their phones
 …Especially when it comes to shopping
  • 26% of Mexican smartphone users have made a purchase on their mobile
  • 45% Brazilian smartphone users have purchased on their computer after researching on their mobile
  • 82% of Argentinean smartphone users have researched a product/service on their mobile
Usage data and user behavior is indicating that engaging with consumers and stakeholders through the use of internet, mobile and social media makes sense. Though, our research shows that the priorities and investments by Latin American insurers in these areas are very low. There might be some isolated efforts, but no integral approach to embrace these technologies to provide an improved customer experience which could result in growth, retention and efficiency. This seems to be the time to start acting, unless the insurance industry in the region wants to wait and see if a disruptive outsider sets the new standard. Worth the risk?