A changing landscape

Customer expectations have never been higher, and with the insurance industry getting increasingly competitive, consumers can afford to be more picky than ever. David York argues that it is time to unravel the legacy spaghetti and start to get serious about putting customers first

"Today's customers call the shots. They no longer have expectations - they have demands and if you don't meet their demands, they will find another supplier that does", says Larry Hochman, corporate mentor.

Most companies think long and hard about their customers, but today, despite the best efforts of businesses to manage consumer relationships for profit, it is customers themselves who increasingly hold the cards.

Thanks to their access to information, they are more commercially aware and demanding than ever before. For insurers, this is proving a major challenge. When anyone can compare competitors' products, prices and performance at the touch of a button it puts huge pressure on business agility to win that long-term customer value that is today's Holy Grail.

It has become so easy to switch between insurers that customers really do seem to have the upper hand. Unless every part of the organisation - from quotation, through underwriting, to settling claims - is at the top of its game, you can no longer hope to profitably win and keep business.

Meeting key challenges

Yes, customers are all different, with unique requirements, histories and expectations. Yet they do also have a common mindset: "Make it easy for me to do business with you. Customise your products and services for me. Make sure your services delight me. Remember who I am. Don't waste my time. And do all this wherever, whenever and however I want."

So investing in channels, products and service is vital. Every touchpoint and every customer interaction with the consumer has to be just right.

But alongside that strategy, companies are also realising they need to invest in agility - to personalise offerings to meet each customer's unique set of requirements. They are looking to use information dynamically to keep pace with the changing demands of each and every customer.

The increasing use of technology by customers puts the spotlight on developing this capacity to adapt. As Tesco chief executive Terry Leahy has said: "Follow the customer, if they change ... we change".

So how can insurers achieve this? Firstly, provide useful and consistent information via any channel. So if customers want to carry information from one channel to another let them, for example take internet prices into the call centre and then cross-sell and up-sell incremental products without the need for re-keying or re-questioning.

Second, support the closing of sales in every channel. 'Quote and Buy' is now an accepted process in the industry. It requires the efficient integration of front and back office functions across all interfaces: call centre, web or mobile channels and broker networks. Customers expect consistency of service regardless of how they choose to make contact. Customer experience management applications, such as those provided by CGI partner Tealeaf, ensure the service excellence sought by today's online consumers.

Third, ensure business agility across the lifecycle. Take claims, where expectations are different yet again. The customer may be happy to use technology to log a claim. But they probably want to be able to talk to someone as it progresses: someone who has all the information at their fingertips. Regardless of how sophisticated your interactive voice response system is, when it comes to sensitive transactions like dealing with complaints, you have to offer the personal touch.

The right blend

Many find that blending technology and person-to-person interactions seamlessly is tough, given disparate systems and data arriving from all directions. But it is essential in today's fast moving market.

Companies are now looking to implement business solutions that can launch new products quickly and cheaply via branded websites created using "white-labelling" technologies. This ability to prototype new ideas is going to drive insurers' system strategy in the years ahead.

Underwriting is also likely to be impacted by emerging technologies like telematics and pay-as-you-drive, enabling companies to customise pricing and products.

So, in every part of the general insurance environment the customer and technology drivers provide a challenge and an opportunity.

At CGI we question whether insurers are changing quickly or smartly enough to get real advantage.

We believe too many insurers remain anchored by legacy systems intricately woven into the fabric of their processes. These systems have been adapted and customised over time to try and cope with the new customer-driven landscape. But they are now complex, slow, difficult to change and costly.

Untangling this legacy spaghetti involves looking at IT from a different perspective. Through the eyes of your customers.

So, which technology should companies adopt? There is no single answer to that question. You need a partner with a proven methodology to tailor solutions to the business legacy, to marketplace position and above all to customers.

Insurers need a partner who can deliver a pragmatic approach to aligning a business and IT strategy, determining what needs to be done to achieve their objectives, calculating the benefits and measuring performance.

Being able to design the right solution and determine how a strategy must be implemented to satisfy customers' developing intimate knowledge of their profiles and defining a consistent experiences, are also all important considerations.

Equally important is the need to implement the technology to realise a vision, creating a sustainable technical architecture, deploying technical solutions and managing costs to deliver maximum value.

- David York, director, Insurance Consulting, CGI.

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