In this episode of “The Digital Broker”, Steve and Ryan discuss how insurance agencies must evolve from providing “customer service” to “customer experience.”
By listening to this episode, you’ll learn:
- What’s the difference between “customer service” and “customer experience”
- Why it is important to provide more than the minimum expected service
- How a well-designed customer experience plan can grow a business
- How to design a customer experience program
- What specific things can be done to win the loyalty of clients
In this episode, Steve and Ryan discuss how simply providing “customer service” is no longer enough in the insurance market. More and more clients have greater expectations of insurance agencies than selling policies and processing claims. This episode explains what is meant by the concept of customer experience as well as how an agency can go about developing a program that reaches out to amaze clients and win their satisfaction as well as their loyalty.
What’s The Difference Between “Customer Service” and “Customer Experience” and Why Has the Latter Become Necessary? (1:35)
With the advent of the internet age and a changing marketplace, it can be argued that insurance agencies should no longer focus on “customer service”. Customer service, at best, is the minimum expectation of performance of an agency and tends to be transactional. An underlying feature of customer experience is going beyond the mere transactional relationship and developing an ongoing relationship that provides a consultative approach. It requires going beyond simply what is expected.
What is the Definition of “Customer Experience?” (2:30)
The term “customer experience” can often have different meanings or give different views. For the purposes of this discussion, as relating to the business of an insurance agency, the term customer experience is in relation to how an agency makes a client or a prospect feel about their organization.
What Are Some Examples of Successfully Providing a Superior “Customer Experience?” (2:30)
When consumers think of “customer service”, they increasingly view that term as referencing the actions of a business or firm doing the expected, or essentially only what is required. On the other hand, a great customer experience is exemplified by actions that both surprise and delight the purchaser. Imparting a great customer experience can be shown in the following examples:
Example 1 – Movie theatres (4:15):
Whether you call them movie theaters, cinemas, or cineplexes, the theater business has changed significantly over the past few decades. As recently as two decades back, movie houses were often dirt rooms with sticky floors and uncomfortable folding seats. The food offered was usually overpriced junk food which had to be purchased in the lobby. The draw of the theater was being able to see a newly released movie on a big screen as well as seeing the movie before it was released to television or recorded media. There was no real competition. However, with the advent of technology, affordable large screen TVs, cable services, and online streaming such as Netflix, theaters needed a hook to get people to leave home to watch a movie. Today’s megaplex theaters adapted to that competition by learning to provide a customer experience that entices people to leave their homes. Today’s theaters have recliner chairs, wait for staff with menus who bring delicious and occasionally exotic foods, soft drinks, snacks and even cocktails to your seat. This is a different experience, one which makes for a memorable and enjoyable evening. The customer experience goes beyond simply watching a movie.
The movie theater example serves as an analogous lesson to the insurance agent or agency. The lesson is to devise methods that provide a different experience. The experience should be different from the competition as well as go beyond what is expected. There is an old axiom that people will forget what you do but will remember how you made them feel and this is how agencies must begin thinking.
Example 2 – Hotels (7:12):
Another industry with a great deal of competition in the lodging market. There is no shortage of superior hotels and often they are barely distinguishable from each other. If one were to look simply at customer service, a hotel might be judged on services that a guest would expect, such as an efficient and cheerful check-in process, a clean room, an on-site restaurant and bar, and convenient parking.
The problem with this business approach is that these services are found in any good hotel and a guest will not be delighted to find clean sheets on the bed – that is simply an expectation. Creating a good customer experience goes beyond what is expected to delight the guest. Examples include such touches as providing a birthday cake for a guest with a birthday during their stay, presenting a gift basket or bottle of wine to a couple celebrating a wedding anniversary, or providing a memento to an arriving tourist or conventioneer.
The hotel analogy is applicable to other businesses, firstly as an example of reaching out and delighting the guest, but more importantly by demonstrating that a proven process is in place to ensure implementation. Hotels often collect information about customers, especially from those participating in loyalty programs. In the hotel example, the first step in providing an exceptional customer experience may begin with mining the loyalty database, which will trigger other steps in an established program such as notifying the hotel bakery as to the number of cakes needed, arranging for delivery by room service, tasking guest services to create a thoughtful note or whatever is appropriate for the situation. This activity serves both as a “touchpoint” as well as providing a different experience which impresses the guest and creates a lasting memory.
Both examples exemplify excellent tactics in providing a great customer experience.
What Are Some “Touches” That Agencies Can Use To Create a Great Customer Experience? (10:52)
Agencies have a myriad of opportunities to leverage different client touches to ensure that clients are presented with a memorable and positive customer experience. Some touches will work with all agencies, while others may be regionally specific or agency-specific.
The most impactful ways to improve customer experience are rooting in communication. There are a number of ways to implement proactive communication to build a stronger relationship and improve your customer experience.
- Welcome Letters: Sending a simple welcome letter to new business conveys to them that your agency is professional and on-top-of-things.
- Education: Providing clients with information on types of insurance coverages, as well as information about the agency is a proactive way to add value to your client outside of just managing the transaction.
- Preparation Info: Giving clients detailed information and what to expect regarding claims, billings, renewals, and policy changes is another way to improve your customer’s experience.
Aside from communication, agencies can leverage technology to improve their customer’s experience. Whether that’s leveraging software such as Indio, or building their own mobile smartphone app.
Agencies should perform an analysis of their business and clientele to identify instances where it is possible to reach out to the client. The number of “touches” is something that should be carefully considered based on the specific client as well as the line of business. In some instances, it might be worthwhile to have as many as nine touches over a 90-day period. As part of this analysis, it’s important to measure and determine what is considered too many touches.
Are There Specific Items That Can Be Used To Reach Out to Clients? (14:18)
A great way of providing a meaningful touch to a client is to reach out with something that is both surprising and memorable. Thank you items, if properly selected, are an excellent part of a customer experience program. There are a variety of gifts which can be tailored to the specific client or a specific item can be chosen for particular events. Some of these items include a box, that when opened, pops out a helium balloon and includes a box of chocolates. Other items include gift cards, cookies, brownies as well as a host of other items. All of these are designed to say “thank you” as well as delight the client. These are both a transactional touch as well as a memorable one. This is the type of client outreach that will end up on social media outlets such as Snapchat and Facebook. Essentially, the client becomes a promoter of the agency.
Helping business clients understand what the agency has done for them as well educating them on the net gain they have received, is another means of building an excellent customer experience. This is often done by creating a portal for the client where they can access valuable information including graphically displayed claims history as well as other transactions. By doing this, the agency is providing more than just insurance and services. The agency is providing a business tool as well as helping the customer get better visibility into their own organization and internal management.
Another area to generate loyalty through a valuable customer experience is in the small commercial or mid-market. In this instance, the agency promotes the business internally to their own clients or on their website.
There is not a fixed set of solutions that will work for everyone. In most cases, the answer might be a tailored set of different solutions for each client or market segment. The agency needs to have the ability to analyze, create and deliver the appropriate solution.
How Can Agencies Design a Customer Experience Program? (16:05)
The first step is to define traditional touches for each market and process. The program needs to be more than simply two touches, or it will not make an appropriate impact. With proper analysis, an agency can determine where the loyalty, the buy-in, and the emotional impact hits. When that is determined, the individual touches can be created, and decisions made regarding capabilities that can be provided to the client.
While this sort of planning and analysis is not easy, it should be remembered that most agencies are doing nothing at all regarding customer experience. The important thing is getting started by defining and developing the touchpoints, then implementing the easy tasks while pressing forward to develop the entire program. The agency should draw the staff in and involve them in the analysis. An evaluation of the renewal process should be done as well as making sure that the team understands what the touchpoints are. Touchpoints are going to be different for each line of business. For example, high net worth clients in the personal lines market may require a special approach.
To get started, begin by creating a rough draft of possible touchpoints then discuss them with the team. Decisions will need to be made as to whether there are too many or too few touchpoints. Some points might be changed while others are eliminated. It is important to determine whether the client is being touched enough or too much. As mentioned above, there needs to be a way of gauging the appropriate number and types of touches. It is very important that it not be obvious that the touch is designed to generate revenue. The touch needs to convey a sense of genuine thoughtfulness in order to achieve the desired buy-in.
Can Touchpoints Be Tailored For Clients in Specific Areas? (16:05)
There are known specific risks that are pertinent to a region. In Florida and the East Coast, hurricanes are common. In the Northeast, it might be frozen pipes and ice damage. In the Midwest, tornadoes are a danger, while in western states there are risks such as earthquakes and mudslides. In this instance, sending out information about what the client should do and what services the agency will be able to provide is incredibly valuable. Adding or suggesting services, such as providing emergency advance funding, or having the producers show up with saws and tools to help mitigate storm damage are ways to improve the customer experience. Each area has a touchpoint that is appropriate for the season and it is a great opportunity to reach out.
Will This Approach Change The Way Business Is Done? (22:15)
There is a great deal of opportunity in thinking differently. Another example is in the claims experience process by documenting the procedures in place. An agency wanting to provide a superior customer experience will articulate how easy the process is and how the agency serves as an advocate for the client.
In fact, some agencies have actually created a role known as claims advocate, a position that helps retain a great deal of business by representing the client to the insurance company to advance their claim. Agencies that don’t help the client or even impede claims are missing opportunities. Some of the touches that a claims advocate can provide include reporting the claim, assigning an adjuster, and checking on a resolution. This is a visible measure of the value of the agency.
In conclusion, it is important to underscore that that the agency needs to identify and define touchpoints for each market and client type. Once this is done, processes need to be created for each type of touch. These processes need to be in place and ready to go, not created on the fly. The agency should be able to pull the process out and immediately implement them in a step-by-step manner when the circumstances arise. Agents are in the best position to provide that service as they know their clients better than anyone else. With a defined customer experience program, greater retention will result and often clients will become super advocates. This leads to yet one final touchpoint – being able to ask the client “who else will benefit from our services?”
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