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Phil Jeynes: Why aren’t providers brave enough to talk to customers?

A couple of months ago, I accidentally conducted some consumer research which, as I write, has been seen by nearly two million people, has had feedback from close to 13,000 and has had direct responses from around 1,000. Here is how I stumbled across it.

My car insurance renewal came through and the premium was higher than the previous year. This seemed fair enough, as I had made a small claim in the preceding 12 months. However, it was quite a significant jump, so I ran some quotes via a comparison site.

The cheapest premium I got was nearly half my insurer’s price and my incumbent provider was also listed with a premium far lower than its renewal quote.

Despite having dealt with the insurer entirely online for a year, the only way to stop the policy renewing was to call. When I did this, I was told I should have called sooner so they could have had a chance to offer a more competitive price. I told them they had had that chance when they sent me my renewal quote.

I recounted this experience on LinkedIn, expecting a few industry colleagues to empathise, but quickly began to get likes and comments culminating in the numbers I shared above. I could distil the majority of comments into: “I had the same experience; it’s not just car insurance, all insurers aim to rip customers off by default”.

The few that did try to justify the insurers’ behaviour explained how underwriting, sophisticated algorithms and commercial models were at play. They received short shrift from the mob.

In protection, we see ourselves as distinct from general insurers; even when operating under the same brand. Conferences, sales channels and strategies are separate and business practices likewise. It will come as little surprise to some that the general public makes no such distinction.

This is not a new revelation for most in our market, yet still some fundamental steps remain untaken.

Claims can still require paper forms and onerous processes for capturing information, sometimes taking weeks to resolve. This gives the impression we do not want to pay – an impression compounded whenever a story hits the headlines.

Many insurers do not send annual statements to customers, worrying that doing so would cause them to question the worth of a direct debit they had otherwise forgotten about. Similarly, many brokers have no ongoing contact with customers having sold them a policy.

When we neglect to talk to customers, the void we create is filled by negative press stories about declined claims and tales of poor practice from other areas of insurance and financial services, all of which culminates in the perception we are not to be trusted.

My social media experience demonstrates that customers are keen to speak with providers. The question is, will they be brave enough to enter the conversation?

Phil Jeynes is head of sales and marketing at UnderwriteMe

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