Customer segmentation, fad or future?

Traditionally insurers have been structured by line of business and some have grouped those around personal lines and commercial lines to differentiate businesses from people. With the opportunities of varied distribution channels and more sophisticated technologies insurers are starting to be much more granular in their view of the customers. Insurers have now the chance to move from their traditional top notch markets and be able to create an offering to attract the different segments. Some of these moves include Microinsurance targeting people in the base of the pyramid and Small and Medium Business (SMB) insurance products. Microinsurance products are being launched almost every month in different parts of Latin America. Most recently it was announced that Asomi and Redcamif will be launching an initiative in El Salvador with life insurance policies written by Pan American Life Insurance Group (Palig) with premiums as low as $0,68 per month. Some brokers, large ones, are moving into the SMB market but using its affinity platforms instead of their commercial platforms to support this business. While originally SMB should have fallen into commercial, they realize that it requires processes and the agility expected also in their affinity business. In another interesting move, Metlife Mexico announced yesterday the creation of a new division that will sell to socio economic segments C and D and to young people, those that are not the usual target of insurers. According to the classifications developed by AMAI, a Mexican association, the country’s population is divided into five segments: AB (people with high purchasing power and income), C+ (people with higher-than-average incomes, whose families are headed by someone with a college degree and have at least two cars), C (people with middle incomes, whose families are headed by someone with a high school degree and have both a car and the ability to take one trip per year), D+ (people with incomes slightly below average, some secondary education and no family vehicle), D (people with low income levels and a fairly austere way of existence, who have a primary school education and who lack access to traditional banking services). Metlife Mexico will be offering simple and flexible products while also developing better distribution channels, with emphasis in the use of technology. Software vendors are coming in also to provide solutions towards being more granular. Solutions around analytics to better understand your customer, digital to better serve them and master the points of contact, core processing and BPM to adjust your products and processes accordingly, just to mention a few. Last year Guidewire presented its vision on how a core system will be able to support customer segmentation already delivering some required functionality. Core systems are just another gear in the engine and it’s important that vendors acknowledge how they need to integrate into other solutions for the insurer to be able to deliver a customer segmented value proposition. While I believe customer segmentation is where the industry needs to go, it is not without huge challenges. Insurers need to address the differences and purchase attitudes of those different segments.  Omni-channel is one of the aspects, but also dealing with channel conflicts and regulation. Products need to be tailored in a way that can be flexible but capable of scaling massively, and this means looking into pricing, packaging, marketing, distribution and servicing. Processes need to be adjusted in order to provide the correct value to each segment. At the end of the day you don’t want to be perceived as under-performing and not providing the required value, but neither you want to over deliver if this means excess of cost and important cuts in your margins. My final thoughts for you. How will your structure look as you move into serving segments? How will this affect reporting and statistics by the way, which today is seen by line of business (even by regulators)? Are you ready? Are we ready?

New Year, New Tools to Service Insurance Customers

For those interested in how new data techniques and availability are changing business models, I can recommend the article Smarter Information, Smarter Consumers in the latest edition of Harvard Business Review. The central premise is that legislation in the U.S. and U.K. now requires government agencies to make public data available and consumable in electronic form. This enables new techniques that leverage this information and provides increased value by making the purchasing process more intelligent. The authors offer their concept of “Choice Engines” – on line tools that guide consumers to make better purchasing decisions more efficiently using public information. At some point in the future, they also predict that private data will be added to the mix and allow the engines to work at a personal, individual level. Most of the use cases are consumer product-oriented, but as this blog has described previously, customer service expectations in other industries will influence insurance purchasing. The person who benefits because their cell phone company suggests ways to lower her bill (the authors’ example) will also want the same service from her insurance agent/company. Consumers and businesses will expect to be contacted by their agent/insurer when their risk profile changes. For example, if an addition is added to a house, insureds will expect that their insurance will be monitoring building permits and will want to be contacted proactively so their insurance can be adjusted appropriately. Two questions specifically related to insurance deal with timing and distribution models. Which insurance company will be the first to employ a choice engine for its insureds and prospects? Can an insurer with a mediocre data infrastructure and skill base compete with those which invest early and heavily in data techniques? Will independent agents embrace choice engines as an enabler, or reject them as a threat to their value proposition? Would an insurer be willing to offer such a tool to a distribution force that they don’t control? There is no question that managing risk will move from a point-in-time (usually renewal) event to a more continuous process. What is to be seen is which company changes the insurance purchasing model and transforms the buying process by using a tool like a choice engine.

Why the customer experience matters

At Celent, we have the opportunity to sit through several dozen demos a year of core systems. And in most demos, I find myself having sympathy for the ultimate end-user. The first thing that pops into my head is not how powerful the system is (and they often are), but how grateful I am not to be an underwriting assistant (or claims adjuster or CSR) that would have to learn how to navigate this application in front of me. The industry spends much time poking fun at the green screens from the previous century (ok, of this year in some insurers, you know who you are!). But the navigation and thought for the user experience has progressed little from those days. In the worst cases, it seems that the green screen has simply been re-coded in .NET along with easy access to specific screens through magic keys like F7. A Harvard Business Review blog highlighted some interesting facts about Android and iOS. Whilst Android outsells Apple phones, Apple iOS users conduct more e-business than their Android colleagues. So what is that about? The blog goes onto explain that it is the manner in which Apple devices support customer engagement that result in these same users doing more e-commerce. The fact that the face of core systems is misaligned with what might work best for the user is in my mind related to how we as an industry frame, discuss and talk about customers. Susan Scott  makes some great points on how we talk about customer centricity instead of customer connectivity. She points out certain tells of organisations that get this wrong. Do you recognise any of these? They include relying on  software to build relationships, using language that turns the customer off, and use of the term “customer facing” (If we don’t all care deeply about the customer of our business, then what are we doing?) Most insurer websites can be found wanting, as can the internal systems that staff use when they interact with these customers. For a smart industry, the link between customer engagement and user experience appears to be a blind spot. Inspired by companies that do get it right, I believe we should set a higher bar on the expectations. This is more than aesthetics. And let’s not forget the real skill in getting really engaging customers through technology.  Let’s not leave it up to the smart geeks who’s real skills are the wiring of the system.