Customers are the Disruptive Force in Insurance

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4 June 2012
Benjamin Moreland

Insurance has traditionally been known as a risk-averse industry and thus the last to employ new technologies. This characteristic is more a comment on the old culture and way of doing business than really being risk-averse. Customers are now forcing insurers to deal with a change at a rate that is faster than they are comfortable. Customers have become a disruptive force in insurance.

When I was in the enterprise architecture team in a large insurer, the business drivers always included lower TCO (with respect to IT), improved ease of doing business and business agility. However, ease of doing business was primarily focused on Independent agents, CSRs and underwriters. The actual policy holder was an afterthought to the policy process.

Insurers created better UIs and in some cases enterprise portals to allow their agents, CSRs and underwriters easier access to their systems and better collaboration between these groups. While the policy holder was important, the agent was the insurance customer and the policy holder was the customer of the agent.

Then insurers opened up Pandora’s Box and enabled policy holders direct access to submissions, claims and more recently self-service. The problem is that their systems were not designed for policyholder access. In addition, these customers have a level of expectations that most insurers are not ready for.

Almost overnight, insurers realized that they had entered a world where the company no longer “owned their brand”, they could only manage it. Customers own the brand. Two examples show this change very dramatically. First is the well-known United Breaks Guitars YouTube incident . A customer, Dave Carroll, saw United baggage handlers damage his guitar and when he could not get satisfaction, created a creative YouTube video for the world to see. It went viral in a matter of days and by the time United was ready to fix the problem, the horse had escaped the barn. United now uses the video for training purposes. United learned the customer owned the brand the hard way and now they work hard to manage it.

A friend recently told me of a Moen faucet that they had bought. They didn’t get around to actually installing it until months later and it did not work. When he called, he was told that the warranty had expired and there was nothing that they could do. He tweeted his experience and within 10 minutes, received a tweet from Moen asking him to call them to allow them to fix the problem. Within hours, a service rep was at his door with a new faucet and installed quickly. All Moen asked is that he tweet his satisfaction about the fix which he was happy to do. Moen obviously was monitoring the social network and acted quickly to manage their brand.

While neither of these experiences have anything to do with insurance, they show the power of the customer. The same customer that now has and is demanding the same level of service they get from other industries. They could care less about legacy systems. They could care less about integration issues and complex environments and systems.

They know what they get from other places they purchase items and expect nothing less from insurance. CIOs now state that customer experience trumps features and functions when selecting vendor systems. They are willing to go with 80% of their desired features and functions if the vendor can deliver an excellent customer experience.

These statements come from two CIO panels I have recently viewed, one in insurance and one outside of insurance. "The customer is turning the insurance business model on its ear. While agents, CSRs and underwriters have put up with the old status quo with small improvements, insurers that do not quickly adapt will become extinct." "It has been said, the problem with insurance is dinosaurs lay dinosaur eggs. The customer ice age hit quickly. Which insurers will evolve at this new break-neck pace being demanded by the true customers and which will slowly die off?"


  • This is a good artical. However, I could still see the same drivers among insures even today, though the trend is changing and they are open to provide portals to agents & customers/clients.

    In India Public P&C insurers are still way behind Life insures as far as Customer service is concerned. It really need a revamp in their mindset as well as in IT landscape.

  • Quite True, 'Ease of Doing Business With the carrier' (from Customer's perspective) is no longer a 'should have', it's become a 'must have', though commercial insurance still has to find similar way

  • Actually, I wanted to ask this as a question. Will commercial insurance ever get to such level of being consumer driven? Regards,

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