An Omni-Channel Disaster: A Cautionary Tale

New SMA Blog by Mark Breading, Partner, Strategy Meets Action

Boston, MA (June 5, 2018) – The case for omni-channel capabilities is compelling. We are in an age where customers have many options for communicating. And the companies that can best provide them with capabilities to connect anytime, anywhere, via any method will increasingly be the winners. A recent personal experience highlighted both the potential and the pitfalls of providing omni-channel capabilities. Offering a variety of options can lead to increased customer engagement and retention, but poor execution can have the opposite effect.

On a recent travel day, bad weather was causing havoc for airlines and travelers. In the space of a few hours, I had four different itineraries due to delayed, canceled, and re-routed flights. As a frequent flyer, I regularly rely on automated alerts regarding flight status, extensively use the airline app, and leverage the call center to address significant changes or problems. Along the way, I also get confirmations or alert messages via e-mail and check the flight boards at the airport. All of these are great options for the company and customer to communicate. When it works well, it is quite useful and gives me a leg up on other travelers with advance notice on changes.

Unfortunately, it does not always work well. On this challenging travel day, the various channels were hopelessly out of synch. I was getting automated calls from the airline giving me flight updates for flights that I was no longer booked on. The airline app indicated that I was still booked on yet a different (earlier) flight. I received e-mails about flight changes that had already been superseded by new flight changes. It was confusing, to say the least and a very frustrating customer experience.

This example goes to show that near real-time synchronization is not always good enough. Actions do not necessarily need to be updated across all channels within seconds, but delays of 30, 60, or 120 minutes are unacceptable. You may be asking what this has to do with insurance, an industry that typically has interactions with customers only a few times a year. The answer is: if you are going to pursue true omni-channel operations, it needs to work – and it needs to be real-time.

As the world becomes more digital and more connected, the frequency of interactions with customers will increase dramatically. Smart homes/buildings, wearable devices, connected vehicles, and other rapidly emerging solutions offer great potential for the insurance industry. However, one implication is that the omni-channel environment will become even more complex, and the demands for real-time actions will increase. Imagine reacting to an alert from a smart home device regarding an overflowing sump pump. Not only is quick action required, it must also be synchronized with the homeowner’s app and any phone calls to or from agents or the insurer. Communicating frequently with customers to partner in risk management, improved health and well-being, and financial management is the future of the industry. And those customers will want to communicate in every way imaginable (including talking to live human beings).

This is a cautionary tale. One can imagine the kinds of scenarios just described regarding travel delays if they were applied to insurance customers’ problems – and the same or similar negative effects that such disastrous communication could have on them. Omni-channel capabilities will have to be coordinated in context and in time to provide true customer satisfaction.

About the Author

Mark Breading, a Partner at Strategy Meets Action, is known for his insights on the future of the insurance industry and innovative uses of technology. Mark consults with insurers and technology companies on forward thinking strategies for success in the digital age. His inventive methods and his ability to incorporate InsurTech and emerging tech into business strategies are unparalleled. Mark also leads SMA’s research program, has overseen the publication of over one hundred research reports, and directed custom research projects for insurer and tech clients. His thought leadership in the areas of InsurTech, emerging technologies, customer experience, and digital strategies has earned him rankings as a “Top Global Influencers in InsurTech” by InsurTech News and Onalytica and a place in the 10 finalists for the “Top Global IoT in Insurance Influencer Award.”

Before joining SMA in 2009, Mark spent 25 years with IBM, where he co-developed IBM’s Account Based Marketing program and led the global project office to implement ABM across all industry verticals worldwide. Mark has held both technical and business roles in sales, consulting, marketing, and business strategy and has advised insurers around the world for almost 30 years.

He is a frequent speaker at industry events; an InsurTech mentor with the Global Insurance Accelerator; and a frequent contributor of articles to Insurance Thought Leadership, Insurance Networking News, LOMA Resource, and many other industry publications.

About SMA

Exclusively serving the insurance industry, Strategy Meets Action (SMA) is an advisory services firm offering retainers, research, consulting, events, and innovation offerings to both insurance companies and solution providers. Learn more about SMA at

SOURCE: Strategy Meets Action (SMA)

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