The Steady Evolution of Online Customer Service
Insurance Networking News, November 2007
To many people, upgrading online customer service may seem the next logical step in the development of the Internet as a whole. However, many insurers may not be keeping pace with competition that is offering services and tools that not only attract new customers, but also address client's needs.
Traditionally, customer service for carriers has been based around the call center, or individual agents who field queries, claims and all other customer needs. While advances can be made to reduce this reliance on person-to-person interaction, doing away with this type of service altogether will never happen.
"Historically, in insurance, customer service has been provided by an agent," says Mark Gorman, strategic research adviser with Needham, Mass.-based TowerGroup Inc. "Now, organizations are recognizing that if they want to grow their relationships with the customers, they're going to have to take a more active role in the service of those customers and increase the number of interchanges they have with them."
Despite the fact that no amount of circuitry or slick interfaces can ever fully replicate the human element, which is still desired by many customers, increasing service interaction with customers on the Web is one of the best ways for insurers to build that relationship.
"There are certain market segments that are still looking for human interaction, because the process of insurance is viewed as an information exchange-they want that information exchange between humans to help them clarify their understanding," Gorman says. "There are other market segments-younger market segments-that are so comfortable with the Web as an information exchange source, and are relatively self-directed in its use, that they are looking to avoid that human interaction and actually want that interface."
The latter is particularly evident with San Francisco-based online auto insurer Esurance, which offers consumers the opportunity to complete transactions online as opposed to over the phone.
"Most of our customers start the process online, and many finish online," says Lisa Ward, director of customer experience, Esurance. "Some decide they'd like to speak to an agent midway through the process, or at the critical point where they need to input their payment information."
Designed to be a complete self-service solution, Esurance allows customers to speak with an agent at any time over the phone by clicking a link accessible from any page on the Web site. Then, contact between the user and agent can occur in one of two ways: users can either have the agent call them, or they can call the agent.
In order to address this increasing demand for customer service capabilities on the Web, carriers are constantly upgrading and redesigning their sites. Not only are companies looking to streamline processes, but also to add as many additional tools and services as possible to draw in customers and non-customers alike.
Jacksonville, Fla.-based BlueCross BlueShield of Florida (BCBSF) is redesigning its online services to be task-driven, where users log on and the site self-identifies what the person is looking for based on the links they click. According to Drew Thoeni, vice president of market intelligence and e-commerce, the site redesign, to be launched in Q3 2008, will automatically put users on the right tasks, and display the most helpful tool for that task, making it easier for users to flow through the site's features without having to figure out how to find things themselves.
Esurance is in the process of implementing a new customer sales interface. The result of extensive real-time usability testing and feedback from customers and participating insurance companies providing quotes, the platform refines the online sales process.
"For about the past year-and-a-half, we have been designing and developing a new sales interface that has rolled out live in five states," Ward says. "The platform has a whole new look, the user interface is updated, the pages and questions are revised to make the flow more streamlined and we've incorporated additional tools to make use easier."
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