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COVID-19 means insurers should pick up the pace on improving experiences

In an industry driven and sustained by trust, the pandemic has brought both challenges and opportunities for customer and employee experience.

Insurers have been focusing on customer experience through revamped service and product design for several years. In fact, shortly before COVID-19 hit, industry CEOs identifiedPDF customer experience as their top growth and investment opportunity for 2020. The pandemic’s sudden onset drastically accelerated that priority in two ways: by emphasizing the need for digitally enabled interactions — be they with consumers (B2C) or commercial clients (B2B) — and by requiring a more human-centric approach to those interactions.

Rarely have the mutual needs of customers and insurers been more pronounced. Consumers are staying with brands they know and trust, and insurers are focusing on retaining customers, for instance by offering them relief, such as extended terms or credits. For consumers, insurance touch points tend to cluster around stressful events, and COVID-19 is creating plenty of those. Whether people are seeking products to protect themselves or loved ones from calamities, trying to understand policies, paying premiums, or filing claims, there’s an undertow of vulnerability and anxiety affecting all these interactions. People need reassurance — in general, but now more than ever — that they’re protected and that the brands they trust will live up to their promise to be there when they really need them.

For insurers, consumers’ vulnerability presents an opportunity to shine, by prioritizing a customer experience that puts empathy, care, and trust front and center in every interaction. But getting from here to there will require plenty of attention — both strategic and tactical — along the customer journey.

Put customer care first. When it comes to the customer experience, trust is the elemental ingredient. But trust is not built overnight: It’s the product of a relationship nurtured over time, across an ecosystem of touch points, including marketing, interactions with agents or distributors, customer care and online platforms, and claims.

People need reassurance — in general, but now more than ever — that they’re protected and that the brands they trust will live up to their promise to be there when they really need them.

Policyholders will want to know their claims will be paid. But it doesn’t always work out that way — especially with a pandemic, which is not generally covered by insurance (except possibly through costly business continuity insurance). Customers are bound to be confused and anxious, and they need to feel that their questions and concerns are addressed with honesty and empathy.

Consumer expectations — for simplicity, speed, convenience, personalization, and interactions that reflect genuine care — haven’t changed from before the pandemic, but they’re more pressing now. Insurers can deliver on these needs faster and better, with a modern, efficient, digitized customer experience, supplemented at sensitive points by personal contact. From the first interaction (be it via website or agent), to sales, payments, inquiries about terms, underwriting, and claims, the experience should be clear, compelling, and always centered on the consumer’s needs and desires. The pandemic has accelerated the demand for digitally enabled, direct-to-consumer engagement (a demand that insurers have not always successfully met). But certain interactions, such as getting advice on policies or discussing claims, require the attention of an empathic and patient representative. The point is to deliver a consistent experience, regardless of channel, and to maintain continuity when handing off from one level of service to another (e.g., from mobile, to Web, to in-person).

Help B2B customers stabilize. Many small and medium-sized enterprises have been badly hurt by the pandemic. They’re struggling to find their footing and are hungry for practical risk-management expertise. Industry know-how has long been a selling point for commercial insurers; now is the time when insurers can demonstrate its value in ways that will benefit their business, their customers, and the local economy for the long term.

Insurers’ sector and business expertise can help clients stabilize their operations, and in the process help stabilize their own commercial insurance line of business. For example, if an insurance business insures many restaurants in a given region, agents can help those restaurant owners plan for the future by providing valuable big-picture insights on the threats, opportunities, and trends they face. Agents can also provide expert guidance on health and safety measures, which, if incorporated by the business, might even forestall an incident and the need to file a claim. Many B2B insurers are also going the extra mile and extending premium terms to help out businesses.

A relationship of trust with commercial clients that’s grounded in customer care and extends beyond the simple policy will likely outlast the pandemic.

Pivot from a transactional approach to one of overarching support. For insurers, points of contact with customers are often part of a larger transactional business approach. Businesses can take the lead in changing the perception of insurance as a “necessary evil” by pivoting from an incident-driven model to one that supports a broader ecosystem of life and business needs. Doing this carries extra resonance in this anxiety-ridden time of COVID-19.

Insurers can start by making their brand synonymous with care, at every level. They can build on that attribute by repositioning their offering as one that safeguards an ecosystem that helps customers live the lives (or run the businesses) they want. For example: auto insurance facilitates mobility; life insurance supports families; health insurance is central to customers’ and employees’ well-being.

The pandemic also presents an opportunity to take proactive, tactical actions, such as refunding auto premiums due to reduced driving, waiving premiums for first responders, eliminating deductibles for people who are directly affected by COVID-19, or fast-tracking claims. Not only do such actions demonstrate genuine care and empathy, but they can also help insurers show leadership — and get ahead of the regulatory curve, especially in the domain of commercial insurance.

Integrate brand and purpose in all your business does. The pandemic has thrown into relief the unique role the insurance industry plays when a large-scale disaster or disruption hits. And societal expectations about how businesses fill that role are high. A company’s perceived environmental, social, and governance stance is increasingly seen as part of its fundamental brand attributes. Yet insurers often underestimate that higher mission when thinking about how to deliver a positive experience.

To be successful, insurers should weave in, at every level of their service offerings, a deeper sense of the larger purpose of the industry: protection, care, empathy, support, and trust. It’s a message that must cut across all experience lenses, from consumer to employee to leadership.

Invest in employee experience to deliver on the brand promise. A positive customer experience is impossible without an equally positive employee experience, one that enables agents to fully focus on the customer conversation and gives them the tools to quickly and seamlessly address customers’ needs. Customizing agent dashboards, redesigning workflows, and providing frontline workers with training and incentives are some of the ways insurers are optimizing employees’ experiences so they can represent the brand well while serving customers efficiently.

The employee and customer experiences work hand in glove, and their impact can be measured by “return on experience” (ROX) — a concept originated by PwC in 2019. The ROX concept advocates that systematically connecting customer, employee, and leadership experience will drive and amplify value for the business. For example, connecting customer, employee, and leadership experiences will create real-time insights to help to improve every moment in the customer, employee, and leadership journey.

When it comes to experience, are insurers fulfilling their purpose?

COVID-19 has brought to the surface in a sweeping way the vulnerabilities and stress points of consumers, commercial clients, insurers, and their employees. It’s also illuminated needed improvements and reforms for the industry, many of which are long overdue. But by staying clearly focused on five key areas — putting customer care first, helping B2B customers stabilize, pivoting from a transactional approach to one of overarching support, integrating brand and purpose in all the business does, and investing in employee experience — insurers can turn this global crisis into a long-sought opportunity to dramatically reengineer their operations around the most important asset of all: customers.

Also contributing from Strategy&, PwC’s strategy consulting business, were Gero Matouschek and Christine Korwin-Szymanowska.

John Jones

John Jones is a leading practitioner in customer experience consulting for Strategy& and a creative leader in the PwC Experience Center in New York. He has spent more than 20 years designing experiences for clients across multiple consumer touch points. Based in New York, he is a managing director with PwC US.

Abhijit Mukhopadhyay

Abhijit Mukhopadhyay is PwC’s global insurance advisory leader. He has 25 years of experience helping clients on a wide range of issues, including customer centricity, customer experience design, and digital transformation. Based in New York, he is a principal with PwC US.

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