Sometimes Opportunity is too Familiar to Recognize – Customer Communications

By Steve Heck, Managing Director, Symcor Art & Logic, (416) 232-3663

Introduction

Every once in a while, you get the feeling that the answer is right there, you just can’t put your hands on it. In the world of managing customer relationships, that is just what’s happening. Insurance documents are arguably one of the most under-utilized customer relationship documents in the mail today. While they do carry very personal, important information, they do little to further develop and strengthen the relationship between the policyholder and either the broker or the insurance company.

The irony of today’s situation is that the communication channel used most often is the one that is most in need of repair. On the flip side, it also has the greatest potential for bottom line impact. Information and printing technology has evolved to where this no longer needs to be the bottleneck. Further, the advantages that spring from using policyholder information provides a huge opportunity for the insurance industry, though little if any change has yet to been seen.

What does your client see? A quick conversation with an agent is the best opportunity for them to get business done, and for you to manage your relationship with your client. You can be responsive, helpful, and show them that the company understands them and their circumstances. This can be a big win if both you and your customer have the time, but most of the time the customer is making a claim or addressing something specific and just wants efficient service. The opportunity, then, to take stock of their situation and make further recommendations is limited or not possible. And, speaking to an agent happens once a year on average if you are lucky, and is generally initiated by the customer and follows their specific agenda.

Most communication initiated from insurance companies is done via documents, and represents the bulk of the problem. The problem is not the channel, but what is sent through this channel and how it reflects back on the company as a whole. For example, many insurers speak of understanding their clients, being responsive to their needs, and looking out for their financial future. Unfortunately, the documents don’t reflect any of this. A prime opportunity to re-enforce the client’s selection decision is left unused and opens the door to new insurers to explain the benefits of their service without the challenge of dealing with an informed consumer.

Increasingly, the responsibility for understanding customer behaviour, profitability, and support for marketing strategy lies with the Decision Support or Data Mining team you may have recently assembled. However, the fruits of their talent are only useful when they are reflected in relevant communication with each client.

Take another look at the insurance premium documents or investment statements you send out. Look past the facts and see what it says about your customer and ultimately your company. You are not likely to see much more than the facts. For most insurance companies, it is a low-cost document considered to be a necessary evil.

A New Perspective on Insurance Statements

The only thing that is mandatory about your documents is that they must carry certain information about recent transactions, etc., and they must have a stamp. The fact that you have to pay for the stamp anyway is opening the eyes of many marketers.

When you stop to think about it, the financial opportunities are significant. You pay for the stamp anyway so there’s little, if any, incremental cost. Customers generally read official documents, so your message is almost guaranteed to rise above the pile of irrelevant mass-marketing inserts and direct mail. Your message and the customer’s statement information are presented together so the context of your messages is extremely high. If sent on a monthly basis or immediately following a transaction, they are also likely to be the most timely communication channel as well.

Further, if your company has initiated a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program, you will soon realize that the information that is gathered about your customer must have some form of useful outlet. Benefits of such programs include increased profitability and loyalty resulting from a more focused marketing strategy and lower servicing costs, better personalization through relevant information and higher levels of customer satisfaction. The frustration for the failed CRM initiatives has been finding the link between the information and the customer. The problem is that there just aren’t that many contact channels that will leverage customer data and that have sufficiently regular contact with the customers to produce benefits.

In our experience, we have found that the biggest obstacle to adopting this new communication strategy is merely coming to the realization that the customer’s statement is a communications vehicle, not just a regulated compliance document.

Beyond the change in perspective, implementation of a new statement can typically be done in three to six months and can incorporate various levels of personalization and data-driven content. Many of our clients have most of the necessary components available already, and simply need help in utilizing them.

What will your customers think?

Without question this is a win-win strategy. Useful, relevant information is always seen as a welcome addition to any complex document. By incorporating some of this, you can really raise the bar on your competitors. The condition is that they can’t be just any message or offer they need to be selected for policyholders based on their own data and product selection. Even this does not have to be rocket science. Information relevant to a recent claim, type of insurance, or their stage of life will make them extremely happy.

But don’t stop there. Add some predictive modeling to your strategy and give them the information they need, when they need it, or potentially before they ask. Consumers don’t like to do any more work than necessary. If you can do more work for them, they will repay your efforts with increased satisfaction, increased loyalty, and ultimately increased profitability for you.

So what about that dry, ‘just the facts’ document now? It’s not such an ugly duckling any more. The databases have the raw data; your statements are already going out to your customers. You just need to bridge some of the gaps. And, those gaps are shrinking with every leap technology makes.

Sometimes the solution is sitting there, right under your nose�literally.

 

(Steve Heck, MA, MBA is Managing Director, Symcor Art & Logic. Steve brings over 10 years of experience in the area of data driven marketing, spanning from data mining and predictive modelling, to developing targeted, customer focused strategy and finally implementing these strategies via dynamic print solutions. Steve has held senior positions as Dun & Bradstreet Canada, Bank of Montreal MasterCard and now at Symcor Inc.)