There is no doubt Ted Devine, CEO of Insureon, rattled some cages with his closing keynote presentation at Elevate 2017. He also delivered one of the defining quotes of the conference:
“Experience is the product”.
Before we can dive into why customer experience is the product, we first define the term (per Wikipedia):
“In commerce, customer experience (CX) is the product of an interaction between an organization and a customer over the duration of their relationship. This interaction is made up of three parts: the customer journey, the brand touchpoints the customer interacts with, and the environments the customer experiences (including digital environment) during their experience.”
The barriers to finding new products and service providers have all been torn down. Independent agents are no longer the gatekeepers of insurance coverage. The entire insurtech movement is based on the modern insurance consumers desire for a new customer experience.
But while customer experience building a modern customer experience may feel fairly straightforward for tangible products, there is a deeper CX application for a consumer brand that does not offer a tangible product (like insurance). This has always been the issue with insurance products.
Our product is a contract. Ugh.
There is nothing sexy about an insurance contract.
You can’t walk into a trendy boutique and “experience” the latest fashion in insurance contracts. Insurance contracts are intangible, obscure and obtuse. It is extremely difficult to build a customer experience around the insurance contract. Not to mention an entrenched belief among consumers that insurance is a commodity.
As independent agents we sell relationships and a promise built on trust. Relationships and promises are easy. It’s the trust part that’s tricky. There was a time when trust assumed based on our industry’s legacy in the marketplace.
The Baby Boomers parents used independent agents, so they used independent agents. Gen X’ers parents are Baby Boomers, so the same equation applied. But with each subsequent generation, (the Silent Generation, to Baby Boomers, to Gen Xers), more and more consumers gave directs and captives a shot.
This is why Geico was the most-advertised individual brand in 2016, for the first time taking the No. 1 spot on Ad Age’s ranking of brands’ measured-media spending, knocking off AT&T (the top spender in 2015). Geico had U.S. measured-media spending above $1.4 billion in 2016 (source).
Inherent trust in the independent agency channel began to wane as more insurance consumers built trust with competitive channels. This is where we find ourselves today.
Here are 5 ways to make customer experience the insurance product and save the future of your agency:
1) Get your entrance experience right
You’ve heard the saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Well, it’s true and the psychology behind first impressions is crazy. It can take as little as one-tenth of a second for us to judge someone and make a first impression (source).
The scary part, whether you are trustworthy or not is one traits determined during a first impression.
So what kind of first impression does it make on a new potential client when you advertise, (through word of mouth, digital or otherwise), around a commitment to customer service and then send inbound callers to a phone tree? That’s right, you can’t be trusted.
No one who actually cares about their clients sends them directly into a phone tree. But phone calls certainly aren’t the only way prospects get a first impression of your agency. Your website is big one for sure. Your social media platforms, including Facebook page, LinkedIn profile and so on. What about how your agency looks from the outside and even more important, the inside. When is the last time your physical location got a fresh coat of paint and some new carpeting?
However, all of this is simply lipstick on a pig, if your “Entrance Experience” does not match customer expectations.
LESSON: Sit down and think about what the type of client you want expects when they reach out to you the first time. The answer is where you begin building your customer experience.
2) Design your customer experience with the customer in mind
Designing the customer experience has nothing to do with you. This is mistake number one I see agents and carriers making. They try to develop a customer experience based on how THEY like to do business.
Nope. Not going to work.
Your customers (or potential customers in this case) don’t care how you like to do business. They care about how they like to do business. This is the defining difference between customer service vs customer experience.
Sydney Roe put together a fantastic video explaining this concept and why it’s so important to understand the difference.
Customer service is the company-centric model. Customer experience is the customer-centric model.
How your customer wants to do business, is the way you do business or they won’t be your customer for long.
LESSON: Think customer first. Always. How you want to do business doesn’t matter anymore.
3) Empower your people
Wegmans, one of the largest grocery retailers in the US, is commonly held up as example of steadfast commitment to customer experience. Their secret sauce you ask? Wegmans empowers their people. Staff members have complete control in their day-to-day interactions, without having to filter inquiries through several layers of management before they can resolve a customer issue.
At Wegmans, empowering their people is also letting them experience with new products and processes that may or may not work. In practice, this empowerment can range from the bakery department making pork-flavored biscuits to supporting an employee initiative to accept Apple Pay.
According to Kevin Stickles, senior vice president of Human Resources,
“When you think about employees first, the bottom line is better. We want our employees to extend the brand to our customers.”
So how does an independent agency owner develop enough confidence in her people to empower them in a similar manner?
Training and trust.
Wegmans does an incredible amount of training. Employees are not allowed to talk to a customer until they have had 40 hours of training. And the training doesn’t stop there. They send their butchers to cattle farms, their fish market team to Alaska and their deli managers to Wisconsin.
“What some companies believe is that you can’t grow and treat your people well,” explains Mary Ellen Burris, senior vice president at Wegmans. “We’ve proven that you can grow and treat your people well.”
LESSON: Your team can only be as good as you empower them to be. Train them. Trust Them. Then let them do their job.
4) Use technology to streamline the customer experience
We’ve written extensively on the insurance technology revolution, (aka insurtech) and the focus on customer experience. Take a deep dive here: How Insurtech Disruptors Will Defeat Independent Agents.
Customer experience is the insurance industry’s low hanging fruit. Independent insurance channel has avoided improving their own customer experience for far too long, (decades in many cases). This goes to carriers and agents alike.
However, a customer experience based solely on technology is far too easy to commoditize. Therefore, disruptors will not defeat independent agents on customer experience alone.
This does not give you the right to purposefully neglect technology at your customer’s expense.
Today’s technology is cheap and easy to use. There is no excuse for a lack of adoption. Your agency is NOT the unique snowflake who can survive without streamlining at least some of your customer experience touchpoints.
Here are just a few of the tools at your fingertips:
LESSON: Streamlining your customer experience with technology is cheaper and easier than ever before. Don’t allow the competition to pull ahead because of easy to solve technology problems.
5) Prioritize effectiveness over efficiency
At first blush, number five may sound contrary to number four. It’s not. For every shiny new object technology provides us, it must always be passed through the filter of effectiveness. Does this tool improve our ability to provide the customer experience insurance consumers desire?
And just any insurance consumer, but the exact insurance consumer you and your agency WANT work with. Not every powerful customer experience improvement scales over the entirety of your client base. Nor do you need it to.
Right now, our competition is winning on efficiency. In truth, I’m not sure the independent agency channel can ever win on efficiency. I’m not sure we want to win on efficiency. Efficiency isn’t our value proposition.
Effectiveness is our value. Effectiveness in coverage, in quality of carrier, in depth of connection.
LESSON: Always, always, always prioritize effectiveness of customer experience over efficiency of customer experience and your business will never be a commodity.