Commentary: It’s Not Just Health Insurance Causing Headaches This Winter

By Laura Yorks, West Monroe Partners | February 18, 2014

As we move further into the New Year, when most people typically begin to let their resolutions slide, the federal government is still working on promises made at the end of 2013—to fix, or at least improve, issues with the new website. Since the site’s launch, the public has kept a close, critical eye on its myriad of back-end and customer-facing pain points.

As individuals struggle to navigate the healthcare exchanges, more people are realizing its not just health insurance causing headaches this year. As multiple regions of the U.S. continue to endure an unusually cold and stormy winter – the often-referenced Polar Vortex – ugly weather ramifications have illuminated significant and somewhat discouraging customer experience challenges within the home and property insurance sphere.

Though insurers often prepare for peak seasons by keeping the weather top of mind and lining up extra resources, no one—homeowner or insurance company alike—was prepared for this year’s severe, ongoing circumstances. As a victim of the hostile weather’s aftermath and poor insurance service as a result, I know all too well the pains many Americans are going through. Our recent experiences reflect the enormous gap insurance companies need to fill in regards to their customer experience delivery.

Navigating Difficult Terrain

Upon returning home from a business trip earlier this winter, I found multiple leaks in my ceiling and water dripping into various parts of my condo unit. A call to my building’s trustees and to my insurance company turned into visits from multiple adjusters and roofers—all blaming each other for the problems at hand. After fencing arguments from each side, my insurance company agreed to cover the repairs in my unit, but not the roof. Furthermore, there was a chance my rates would increase as a result of failed subrogation.

Even with over 25 years of professional experience in the insurance industry, I found myself in over my head with contracts and by-laws, making multiple calls per day to various parties, unsure of what my options were. If I was having trouble navigating this mess, how would the average customer fare?

Incentivizing Insurers With the Polar Vortex

In order to tackle customer dissatisfaction and prevent service concerns from reaching heights, there are a number of improvements that insurers should consider to amplify their customer experience. Though the worst of the winter season will soon be behind us, and the Polar Vortex’s aftermath along with it, now is the time for the insurance industry to regroup, learn from the negative and implement changes that could have a major difference on both their bottom line and reputation.

Here are a few starter recommendations:

  1. Facilitate self-service: Enhancing customer claims portals with advanced offerings, such as links to approved contractors or detailed FAQs, can better guide customers and help them decide between different solutions. By offering customers the resources to answer their own questions, you’ll likely see a drop-off in service calls and contact center complaints – making it a win for both external and internal audiences.
  2. Narrow the gap between expert and consumer: Adding alive chat option on your website that lets customers communicate directly with experienced adjusters is another way to expedite concerns and arm your audience with the knowledge they need to navigate even the toughest claims scenarios. Many customers even prefer a chat option versus emailing questions or posting on social media channels for support. A 2013 J.D. Power survey of wireless customer service found that almost half of wireless customers used a live chat feature online, compared to less than a quarter that used email.
  3. Take a step back: For insurers feeling hesitant about implementing such large-scale change, performing a Market and Customer Diagnostic study will help uncover the exact pain points in your customer claims process. Results from this kind of analysis will help firms detect what specific adjustments would have the most significant, positive impact on your customers.
  4. Plan ahead: Based on the insights gleaned from the survey, create a roadmap that outlines each step necessary in order to build a stronger experience for you and your clients. Outline the low-hanging fruit as well as the more long-term goals that factor into a customer experience overhaul.

Property and home insurers’ Polar Vortex struggles, not unlike the debacle health insurers have endured of late, point to a similar need for customer experience improvements. With minor adjustments to current channels and a thoughtful plan for the future, insurance providers can reduce the customer effort required to resolve claims and increase satisfaction – easily leading to more loyal, lasting customers.

Laura Yorks is a senior manager in the Insurance practice of management and technology consulting firm West Monroe Partners.

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