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02:45 PM
Kathy Burger
Kathy Burger
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Improving Customer Experience In Insurance: It's Not Just About Technology

Insurers face numerous challenges in improving the customer experience, but the technology of customer experience may not be the hardest part.

We all know what a truly excellent customer experience is, even as we struggle to define and execute on this concept in insurance. After all, every carrier CIO, line-of-business executive, software developer and technology marketing professional is also a consumer. We're all policyholders and prospects, and we know what pleases or frustrates us in a business encounter. And all of us in the insurance technology world have had our expectations changed and shaped by our shopping, traveling and entertainment histories.

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For example, at the 2013 SMA Summit, SMA founder Deb Smallwood pointed to The Walt Disney Co. as a customer experience expert. It's not just that the company excels at service. What distinguishes Disney, according to Smallwood, is its ability to innovate and introduce new things while never wavering from its mission and what has made visitors love and return to the theme parks for more than 50 years. "Every time I go to one of those parks, it's the same experience but a different experience -- a new process or new techniques for lines," she related. "They've reinvented how to stand in line and make it enjoyable."

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If only making and keeping customers engaged and happy were as straightforward in insurance as it is at Walt Disney World. For insurers, venturing into the customer experience realm is more like the Tower of Terror than the Magic Kingdom. Said Smallwood: "It's dark, murky and full of challenges, because our world is complex." Anything an insurance company wants to change or do differently must be reconciled with "many different processes and systems, a complex IT environment. So when we go to implement a project or change [a process], it can get ugly before it gets better," she said.

Insurers know only too well there's no magic potion or sorcerer's spell that can provide immediate and unfailing insight into what customers want and how they will behave. That's where technology, research, collaboration and invention (along with long hours and lots of hand-holding) come into play.

At Scottsdale Insurance, everything from visualization tools to customer workshops to scenario planning to Web services is marshaled to help the carrier innovate on behalf of its customers, said Scott Good, senior director, customer innovations, at the SMA Summit. But this kind of interaction puts a huge burden on the insurer to deliver consistently. "Customers expect that you are listening and will follow up" on what they tell you, he said.

Thanks to technology consumerization, customers' have heightened expectations. Technology gives insurers the capability to meet and exceed those expectations. It's the culture part -- mission, vision, mindset, values, communications -- that's essential to transforming that legacy frog into a next-generation prince.

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

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