The Art of Communication for Travel Insurers
In a world where communication is constant, instantaneous, and omnipresent, do travel insurers have any excuse for getting bad press when it comes to communicating with customers? Sarah Watson looks at why communication is more important than ever
Everyone understands the frustration of not being able to find information you need online simply and quickly, and then trying to contact a company with your query and not being able to reach the right person you need to talk to, or waiting for what feels like an eternity for them to reply.
Travel insurers have not been immune to causing such frustrations and have, thus, been working hard in all these areas in a bid to keep customers happy, onboard, and even safe. But travel insurance is a complex product and one that has no ‘off’ button. At the same time, one method or channel of communication might not be suitable for each customer or at each point along the customer journey; so great strides of progress have been made in broadening the scope of communication that travel insurers offer in order to meet customer expectations at each step of the way. And the rewards are bountiful.
As Alexis Greenwood, Digital Transformation Manager at consultancy firm Logic20/20 in the US, said to ITIJ: “In industries where consumers have a lot of choice and the cost of switching is low, the bar for service is particularly high. Companies must both eliminate barriers to omnichannel communication and architect seamless customer journeys to grow relationships and reach.”
At a time when building the travel insurance industry back up is front of mind, communicating information around new products and services is vital for insurers. Knowing that the travel industry, and with it the travel insurance industry, will undoubtedly rebound from the impact of the pandemic certainly does not mean that insurers can rest on their laurels when it comes to communication with customers. In fact, efforts to keep consumers informed, up to date and engaged have never been more important.
Receiving you loud and clear
“Last year, when Covid hit, insurers received increased numbers of calls from customers asking about their insurance and what it covers, suggesting that they don’t truly understand the cover they have purchased,” Clare Bolingford, Director of Banking and Insurance for the New Zealand Financial Markets Authority, told ITIJ. Given the complexity of insurance products, not least travel products, regulators around the world expect insurers to provide clear and effective communication to customers, so they understand their cover and how to make a claim. “We expect insurers to communicate clearly with their customers during the sales process and throughout the life of the policy,” said Bolingford.
The benefits of such communication are plentiful. Customers who have products that meet their needs and expectations are happy customers. Happy customers are more likely to be repeat customers. Furthermore, clear communication about coverage not only reduces the incidence of denied claims, but also of disputes, saving insurers time; and time is money. Communicating the benefits of a product and engaging with your target audience in an effective manner can also make insurers money, not just save them money.
For whatever reason a customer – or potential customer – might want to reach out to a travel insurer, or vice versa, there are some key societal shifts that have made the process of communicating much easier. Most important has been the shift to digital, meaning we now live in a world where communication is simple. Or is it?
Insurers have a number of decisions to make when it comes to communication with customers, most notably around their digital offerings – which platforms to use, the importance of social media channels, and how proactive to be in their communications; and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. These days, customers also want open lines of communication outside of ‘normal’ work hours and they want almost immediate responses. On top of this, insurers need to decide, just how much communication is too much?
Companies must both eliminate barriers to omnichannel communication and architect seamless customer journeys to grow relationships and reach
The shift to digital
“Insurers have increasingly invested in digital capabilities allowing their potential and existing customers to interact with them,” explains Renaud Million, CEO at insurance business automation company Spixii in the UK. From the early digital days of providing a phone number on a website, through email communications, to today’s artificial intelligence (AI) driven chatbots servicing travel insurance customers, ‘conversation between insurers and customers is key to ensuring good service across the insurance value chain’, says Million.
When it comes to value, we’re not just talking money here, but also time. “Chatbots are all about executing processes quicker and better than call centres, web live chat and webforms,” says Million. “Not all processes can be executed by a chatbot, though, so identifying the right process to automate in a conversational way is key to creating a great customer experience.”
Another growing form of communication being requested by customers is text (SMS) messaging. Allianz Partners has spent a lot of time in recent years refining its fulfilment materials and overall customer communications, says Joe Mason, the company’s Chief Marketing Officer for Travel based in France, and part of that process has been garnering customer feedback ‘to collect more information about how frequently customers want to be communicated with, in what mediums they want to receive information, and what types of content is most useful to them’. One of Allainz’s key findings was that SMS communication is growing in popularity across generations. Other findings were that, overall, digital methods of communication are preferred by customers over non-digital forms of communication; and mobile applications (apps) are clearly driving usage and providing other utilities for consumers.
In industries where consumers have a lot of choice and the cost of switching is low, the bar for service is particularly high
“In light of these customer preferences, we have focussed on fine-tuning our digital communications and ensuring a consistent end-to-end experience,” said Mason. “Few customers are experts in travel insurance, and we understand that.” As such, the company has also been working hard to meet customer expectations that doing business with it is easy, by ensuring its communication style is clear and easy to understand.
It’s certainly not an easy undertaking to bring communications channels up to scratch, however. “The biggest challenge [regarding customer communications] has been the shift to digital,” said Nel Mooy, Head of Proposition, Travel for AXA Partners in the UK. Her company’s goal has been ‘to better understand and anticipate customers’ needs’ by readily making the information available that it knows customers want. Over the last few years, it has also put ‘a lot of effort’ into answering questions using social media – a platform that has become increasingly important for insurers.
“The way we relay and/or respond to all our engagements and feedback via our socials not only improves our relationship with our audience, it also better builds our brand and business perception in the insurance marketplace,” explained Rohit Nambiar, Group Chief Executive Officer at Tune Protect Group in Malaysia. That these multitude of channels are all ways for insurers to drive business is an obvious advantage for them, but managing each of the channels not only requires a unique approach, but many of them are required to be ‘always on’.
Appeasing a digitally instant society
“The way in which customers interact with their insurance providers has seen unprecedented change; due to the coronavirus pandemic, consumers have heightened expectations from businesses regarding [with] which channels they communicate,” said Monica Spigner, Executive Vice-President of Business Transformation at customer experience management specialist Teleperformance, based in the US. “With travel companies experiencing a 600-per-cent surge in customer requests during the first three months of 2020, the assumption now is that businesses are always available.”
One way in which companies can maintain around-the-clock support, she agrees, is by implementing AI-powered chatbots and other digital conversational platforms. “This allows for a continuous two-way dialogue and gifts customers with flexibility in how, and when, they interact with providers,” Spriger said. Results from her company’s survey of auto insurance customers across 13 countries found that 73 per cent of consumers interacted with their insurance provider’s customer service teams using a variety of technologies, from instant messaging to SMS and chats with a live agent. “With many sectors and businesses still reeling from the Covid pandemic and consumer confidence stagnating, it is clear that by investing in technology, companies can ensure that trust will begin to rebuild,” she stated.
Using the various methods of digital communication already discussed, as well as messenger services such as WhatsApp, US-based online travel insurance aggregator VisitorsCoverage says such channels are used by a significant number of people reaching out to its customer service team. “Insurance companies and the underlying ecosystem must build their processes and systems accordingly, to keep in communication with their customers, and to be available at all times,” said company CEO Rajeev Shrivastava. This is how society has evolved – into one that expects instant gratification – and technology is allowing this, across all industries, including insurance.
As Million at Spixii has also found: “The same proportion of customers tend to contact their insurers during office hours and outside office hours.” Those that don’t keep up with this demand are sure to lose out on business in what is a notoriously fickle market. As such, many companies are automating as many processes as possible so that customer requests can be dealt with any time of the day or night. Nambiar explained that his company, for example, is working on introducing AI into its app, ‘to provide round-the-clock support’, particularly when its agents are unavailable for live web chats.
Getting it right
While having their insurer available at the ‘right’ time – or indeed all the time – is clearly important for many consumers, this constant stream of open communication doesn’t necessarily work both ways. So, when it comes to the flow of information from insurer to customer, how much is too much, and what is the right approach to take?
“As the old saying goes, it is better to focus on quality rather than quantity,” said Million. “No matter how frequent or seldom the communication is, bad communication remains bad communication. Being useful at addressing the specific questions and needs of the customer is paramount in creating a lasting and fruitful relationship.”
Having customers enquiring about the status of their claims, he says, is clearly a sign that communication from the insurer is too slow and can be improved. Although travel insurance is a complex product and often involves the sensitive handling of claims, knowing which processes can be automated to keep insureds informed, and which require human intervention, is key. In any case, he says, ‘good communication is immediate and clear, offering complete resolution and relevant recommendations’.
Mason at Allianz also points out that the claims process is one of the most important times during which insurers need to get communication right. “After the customer submits their claim and sends us supporting documentation, the ‘next steps’ are typically ours to complete,” he said, explaining that in some instances, particularly if a customer has received emergency medical care outside of their home country, it can take a little longer to gather all of the necessary information. “In these situations, we’ve found that often customers prefer over-communication. As such, we allow many of our customers to set communication preferences in order to receive claim status updates via email, SMS, and even to request a call from us. We never want a customer to feel like they have to call us first in order to get a status update on their claim.”
There should never be a one-size-fits-all strategy when communicating to an audience, particularly on digital media
AXA’s rule of thumb is that they should only communicate on subjects where they’re the experts, and they’ve got something meaningful to say, says Mooy; and that, for sure, seems wise. “So, for the last year in particular, the focus has been on making sure all our customers are up to speed on how Covid-19 and Brexit might affect their cover, because we know those have been at the front of everybody’s minds,” she said.
AXA also uses data-driven insights to allow greater personalisation, says Nel, as ‘people only want to hear about products or offerings that are relevant to their needs’. “As an industry, we need to get that right,” she told ITIJ. Other insights that are gleaned from data analytics, Nel explained, include simple tools that you can use to see the proportion of your emails that are opened, and the number of people who unsubscribe, as a guide to whether you’re getting it right.
Personalisation is something that Tune Protect also works hard at. “There should never be a one-size-fits-all strategy when communicating to an audience, particularly on digital media,” said Nambiar. His company communicates its messages in ‘specific and customised’ ways across all its media platforms. Humanising and simplifying messages are one of its core strategies, in order to communicate information in an accessible and easily absorbable way, such as relaying to customers information that could be of benefit to them; for example, letting them know that when baggage is delayed they will eligible for a claim.
And this flow of information needs few limits if it’s of use to consumers, says Nambiar. He is of the opinion that when it comes to giving customers information they want or need, there is ‘no such thing as too much communication’. The company is, however, constantly evolving its methods of communication across its platforms to ‘fit with the times’. This year, specifically, said Nambiar, in light of Covid, the company has moved away from any hard-sell product campaigns and focussed solely on more engagement-centric marketing.
What are you waiting for?
Whatever the channel of communication or the message, one thing is for certain: customers don’t want to be kept waiting. In fact, Nambiar told ITIJ: “The speed at which we reply is more important than how the replies are received.” He says his company’s customers prefer ‘to do everything online via the app’. Thus, Tune focuses on making sure all the information a customer might need is available, in some form, via the app.
This is no mean feat considering the complexity of travel insurance, but the digitisation and automation of insurance process – such as getting a quote, changing details on a policy or making a claim – enables instant support for consumers and is allowing customer needs to be met more quickly than they ever have been in the past, says Million. “Customers do not like being confused or waiting to get clarity on their questions,” he commented. “Unfortunately, insurance is a complex and complicated product, often leaving customers with questions even after the purchase.”
Insurers need to do their best to answer these questions as swiftly as possible, as the longer they have to wait for an answer, says Million, the more their perception of the insurer will deteriorate. A lack of response, an answer that isn’t relevant, or a generic response can all be seen as unprofessional. “The more a customer has to chase, the angrier they become, and the more costly it becomes for the insurer to solve the request,” he said. Needless to say, the ultimate cost for poor communication, is losing the customer to a competitor.
A listening ear
“Our communications are battle-tested every day by our customers, and they are not shy about telling us what they like and what we could do better,” said Mason. “We have developed a very effective process to capture customer sentiment and we use it improve our products, services, and processes. Simply put: we ask, we review, we learn, and we take action!”
Receiving and reviewing customer feedback is imperative, he believes. In addition to this, Allianz also employs many customer-experience practices such as journey mapping and the creation of customer use cases, says Mason. “Combining these strategies allows us to more easily produce communications that are in line with customer needs and expectations. Moreover, because we do this process regularly, we keep our communications fresh and relevant,” he told ITIJ.
Million agrees that analysing qualitative information such as customer feedback is key to improving communication. “Customers sharing their feedback is not only gold dust for prioritising the next improvements, but also a good way to foster a healthy and constructive relationship with them,” he said.
analysing qualitative information such as customer feedback is key to improving communication
Once insurers know what their customers want, they can then work out how best to deliver it. An omnichannel approach to communication is without doubt the future of insurance, with much progress being made in this field and insurers now offering a range of options to suit the needs of different customer demographics. “The right balance of communication can vary greatly depending on the customer, and the customer’s unique situation … Our job is to ensure we are available and easily accessible for customers, so they can interact with us in the method they prefer,” said Mason.
This, of course, means that while tech-savvy customers can access the information they need via the digital channel of their choice, those customers who want to talk to a human instead of a robot, or even send a letter via the mail, have that option open to them too. “While we spend a good amount of time ensuring all of our digital technologies and communication mediums are in line with today’s standards, we spend equal amounts of time ensuring the service we provide over the phone (in-person) exceeds expectations as well,” explained Mason.
As big data allows for greater automation and personalisation, so enhanced digital communications will follow. But travel insurance will always need a human touch, due to the often-sensitive nature of its claims and the complex nature of the product being sold, so traditional methods of communication will be necessary for the foreseeable future. One thing is without question, however: if a consumer asks you a question, you’d better be quick to respond. In today’s digital-first society, the expectations on insurers to be ‘always available’ has never been greater.