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Roger Edwards: We need to engage, not enrage

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Why do we see so little service design innovation in financial services and protection in particular? I am not talking here about the imminent arrival of UnderwriteMe and the obvious improvements it will make to the application process. I am talking about the overall customer experience.

Promotions focus on new products or tweaks to old ones, price reductions or the introduction of service improvements such as “dedicated business protection underwriting desks”.

We seldom hear about a genuine new way of doing protection business. We might have put an end to the previous paper application form, sending out PDF policies instead, but the end-to-end process is not much different to when we used rate books and paper, pen and ink.

The digital world makes engagement easy and affordable. Those that understand social media and do not just use it as another promotional tool push real client engagement and loyalty. Airline KLM, for example, has 150 people running its Twitter account, mainly to answer customer questions. That engagement generates an extra $25m in sales revenue: a great example of building new platforms into service design.

We have yet to see this in financial services. We hear companies talk about how they are “passionate about customer service” and how they aim to be “customer centric”. I am guilty of using such empty words in my previous roles in product providers.

It took a recent personal experience dealing with a financial services provider to make me realise the opportunity available for those who can move beyond marketing slogans and start to build these tools of engagement into their service design.

Trying to surrender a policy, I discovered my product provider does not make outbound phone calls. It takes at least five days to “action” a phone request and does not use email. If it needs to come back and ask for further information it sends a letter, thus adding another week onto the process. A quick email response is not possible due to a lack of investment in an encryption system. It also meets the suggestion of social media with an incredulous gasp and the clanging of descending firewalls. The result? I feel angry each time I come off the phone with them.

What could we do to enrich the protection customer experience? To turn a long, tedious process, punctuated by frustrating communications, into an engaging two-way communication? What about the direct message facility in Twitter, no longer restricted to 140 characters, so well used by the Dutch national airline mentioned previously. What about Skype and Facetime?

Digital experiences are integral to the way we live. Protection insurance will never be an aspirational purchase, so why make the process for those convinced of its value one that enrages rather than engages?

Throughout this year we will read about more product launches, marketing campaigns and initiatives designed to bring in more customers. However, without a genuinely engaging service proposition a high percentage of those customers will continue to be disappointed with their experience.

Roger Edwards is managing director of Roger Edwards Marketing and The Protection Review

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