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Mike Mulcahy, OBRIEN
Mike Mulcahy, OBRIEN

Quality Customer Communications: Marrying the Old with the New

At most insurance companies, there are many viable communication solutions that exist at a line-of-business level that are simply not integrated into a company's communications architecture, or even known to the larger enterprise.

One of the most frustrating things for a customer to hear is, "I'm sorry, our system won't allow us to do that." Customers don't understand why their insurance company that collected so much information about them is unable to provide them information they need, when they need it, and in the format they want it.

In today's world of any time, any device access to information, customers have heightened expectations for how their insurance company should communicate with and serve them, and rightfully so. Unless an insurer is able to meet those expectations, customer satisfaction and retention levels are sure to suffer.

Customer Challenges, System Complexity

Customers expect to be able to communicate with their insurance company using all the electronic options available to them: text, email, mobile, smartphone apps, and any new formats that come online. However, they still want to do business the old ways as well. They may want paper copies of insurance documents or premium notices, and they may prefer to use postal mail for certain communications. They may choose to work through their agent all of the time or just some of the time, and they expect their agent to support the same methods of communication as their insurance company.

Also, customers expect to be able to change their communication preferences at their convenience. While a policyholder may use a mobile app today for a premium payment, he or she may opt for the traditional paper process in the next quarter. Not only do insurers need to utilize every means of communication known to the industry, they need to be nimble enough to switch between them on the fly on a customer-by-customer basis.

Mike Mulcahy, OBRIEN
Mike Mulcahy, OBRIEN

Unfortunately, the solution that companies often choose for modernizing to meet customers' demands for more methods of communication is simply to take a tactical approach of adding more systems where needed. This leads to not just more systems (and the cost that comes with them) but greater overall system complexity. It also creates redundancy when different departments purchase and deploy similar platforms. Multiple departments communicating with customers through different systems make compliance as well as standardization around marketing and messaging difficult.

Most troubling, this complexity leads to customer frustration. When customers cannot receive the same type of information and communication between different departments, such as billing and claims, or among different lines of business that they have with an insurer, they are left wondering, "Doesn't my insurance company know who I am?"

Solution Strategy

Replacement of legacy core processing systems, such as policy, claims, and billing, continues to be a top project priority for insurers. However, modernization of customer communications is not as straightforward as 'replacing' a system. Customer communication modernization requires integration of the old and the new platforms and processes that can meet the diverse expectations of customers across print and electronic communication channels.

[How the omnichannel revolution is changing core systems strategy]

The goal of communication modernization should be retaining the value companies have in legacy platforms, while adding new functionality to meet current and emerging customer needs and becoming nimble enough to shift between, depending on each customer's preference of the day. At most insurance companies, there are many viable communication solutions that exist at a line-of-business level that are simply not integrated into a company's communications architecture, or even known to the larger enterprise.

Modernization is a challenging process that can seem like constantly trying to hit a moving target. However, there are three key steps in creating an effective strategy:

1. Identify customer communication objectives. Analyze what customers' communication needs are and how meeting those needs fits into the overall business strategy; realizing that communications strategies need to address continually changing customer expectations. Determine the impact of those needs from a technology, personnel, and process perspective.

2. Take the enterprise view. Inventory communication systems currently in place across the enterprise. This will require digging deep, talking to various constituencies and groups that are involved in different aspects of customer communication.

3. Bridge the gap. Once the existing system assets are known, identify the gap between current capabilities and the desired state based on the identification of communication objectives. Keeping the need to be nimble in mind is critical when considering the desired state. As companies look at how to bridge the gap, they will begin to understand how to blend existing and new systems to meet customer needs today as well as in the future.

In blending those systems, companies may choose to build infrastructure internally to integrate channels. However, many quickly realize that the limits of the experience and bandwidth of internal IT resources make it difficult to accomplish. Additionally, the growth of communication infrastructures--both in size and quantity--can be costly and troublesome for internal IT resources to manage effectively for the long term.

More and more, insurers are finding benefit in partnering with a provider with the expertise to blend the legacy and modern communication assets to deliver a consistently high quality, yet flexible process - regardless of the customer's preferred method of communication. Those providers can also help in strategy development, bringing an unbiased, third-party viewpoint, combined with the experience of having been down this road before. They may offer expanded communication services, such as electronic options and print and mail, which fill gaps in an insurer's customer communication architecture.

Customers will always want to choose their preferred communication channel for each interaction with their insurer. Insurers that either don't understand or choose to stick with the status quo risk alienating customers and losing market share to those companies more willing and able to change with the times.

About the Author: Mike Mulcahy is vice president of new business development for OBRIEN, a provider of business solutions specifically designed to modernize and refine an insurance company’s digital customer communications.

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