Professors' Points

Connecting With Your Customers in a Natural Disaster

Frank Heaps
Insurance Experts' Forum, August 30, 2011

The East coast of the United States has experienced a rough seven days from the earthquake centered in Virginia to Hurricane Irene. The good news for everyone is neither event was very severe and most of the major damage was localized to a few areas. Not to minimize the impact to those affected, but both could have been much worse. The earthquake was a surprise, but we had a good idea of what was going to happen with Irene. The US insurance industry appears to have responded well to the challenge, delivering exceptional customer service.

Many carriers are still very behind in adoption of social media and much is made of using social media as marketing tools to attract new customers. Even fewer are using social media as a means to retain customers. Facebook, Twitter and other services are a great way to communicate with customers in the event of a catastrophe whether it is expected (Irene) or not (the earthquake). Neal Ungerleider with Fast Company magazine wrote an article last week called “Text Messages Aren't Enough When Natural Disasters Strike.” The article discusses relying on social media during disasters too much and the pitfalls of not being able to receive information when power and communications are disrupted. All of that is true and legitimately disconcerting. But, the disruption of power and communications also affects TV, papers and possibly radio. All of whom require the same methods of communication that web consumers rely on.

As I read the article, I started to wonder about how many carriers actually attempted to reach out to their customers using social media after the earthquake or in preparation for Irene. Carriers these days seem to collect so much information on their customers that it would be easy to identify them by zip code and push out an email blast or Tweet to relay information, such claim call-center numbers, how to notify agents if you experience damage, etc. The same information can be shared to a larger audience using Facebook (assuming a carrier is encouraging consumers to follow them and distributing important information to them on a regular basis). Little things to provide customer care, education and service go a long way to support customer retention and help carriers protect their customer base.

Frank Heaps is the managing director for Innovation in Insurance (i3), and is an adjunct professor of insurance at the Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Frank using the “Add Your Comments” box below. 

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