Although the insurance industry has come a long way in a relatively short period of time in terms of its utilization of the Internet, many questions about the technology's long-term impact remain. But in this ambivalence, insurers are no different from other businesses, which also are still trying to figure out the Internet. It's not so much the technical aspects of "being online" that challenge, but rather the ways we want it to shape customer interactions.
Two recent business developments illustrate how this still-evolving process remains full of complexities. Last month, Northwest Airlines announced a new tiered fare system that penalizes travelers who buy their tickets in person at a ticket counter. The best price is available only online. What's odd is the emphasis on penalties for purchasing a ticket in person. The discount airlines put a more positive spin on tiered pricing by marketing the fares one gets in person as "normal" and online fares as "discounted." It's the simple difference between the carrot and the stick.
Then there's software company Veritas, which has declared Fridays to be "e-mail free" in order to improve productivity. It's ironic that the key to making employees more productive may be to wean them from an online technology that has been touted as the ultimate productivity tool.
The e-mail-free-Fridays initiative has accomplished its goals at Veritas, while at press time it was too soon to tell if Northwest would in fact entice more customers to buy their tickets online. The outcome of both experiments could be significant to insurance companies that are still defining not only multichannel distribution strategies, but also the ways in which employees access and process corporate information.
Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio