“There's no such thing as bad publicity,” is a quote attributed to PT Barnum, the famous showman. Oscar Wilde, the Irish playwright, was of the opinion that ‘there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about’.
This may be true for some industries, but for the travel insurance business it is vital to keep a good impression in the minds of its customers. The theory is that as long as people are talking about your brand, it’s a good thing. Making sure that the customer’s perception is a positive one remains one of the most important points to achieve in such a competitive marketplace.
Trust in insurers is frail
In a fast-changing world of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the UK government in particular accused of using ‘confused and contradictory’ language over foreign travel, it’s no surprise that the public is feeling the stress and tension over insurance policies and whether they have adequate coverage.
According to Brian Brown, Head of Insight at independent financial information institution Defaqto, travel insurance complaints tripled last year – from 200 per month to 600 per month.
In terms of good PR, Brown says the public want respect; to feel like they are being treated as an individual, and that their insurer cares for them – not the policy. “Some travel brands have really tried to help their customers and there are some travel insurers that customers feel really confident with,” Brown adds. “The big brands don’t want bad publicity, so they will do everything they can to help you.”
With travel from the UK operating under a traffic light system, which seems to be constantly changing colour, educating customers about policy cover could result in grateful and loyal customers. Taking the time to explain what is important in a policy, what to look for, who you should contact in the first instance of making a claim and consumer rights can make all the difference, including talking through the reasons why a claim is likely to be declined, suggests Brown.
He also feels that setting expectation levels from the start can help to avoid disappointments later on, as well as urging those companies working with comparison sites to make sure insurers are promoting their products and offerings.
He notes the importance of explaining price differences to customers, and why, in particular, cheapest might not always be the best option. “You are better off going with a big, quality product brand and paying a few pounds more – and understanding what you’ve got in terms of the correct coverage,” he said.
Fear of a claim being rejected often results in anger and frustration for the customer, so success stories of where people have been helped in their hour of need, with claims paid out, leaves a very positive afterglow. However, says Brown, ‘no one wants to advertise they are great for paying out claims’. Not everyone might want to, but others are deservedly very proud of their claims payment rate and want to make sure that they can demonstrate they are meeting customers’ expectations.
Why buy travel insurance?
Sian Fisher, CEO of the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) says: “When people buy insurance, they are buying a promise of help when things go wrong. For that promise to mean anything, people must have a basic level of trust in the professionals that they are dealing with.”
What customers are really buying with a travel insurance policy is protection; the reassurance that they will be able to get home in an emergency or get the best medical care if they have what could be a life-changing accident.
According to the CII’s Public Trust Index, expectation gaps in travel insurance have increased. The index records the gap in expectations for key measures on a scale of plus or minus 30. Travel insurers received an 11.89 mark when claimants were asked if they could contact their provider quickly. Previously, the gap was 1.94.
What was most important for customers was getting through to their insurer with little delay, says Dr Matthew Connell, Director, Policy and Public Affairs at CII. “There was a spike in people being unhappy with their travel insurers and disappointment increased.”
Cara Morton, Global Chief Executive Officer at Cover-More, which operates in 15 countries, with headquarters in Australia, says actions always speak louder than words. “Our approach is always to put the customer first in how we frame our travel insurance proposition and design specific products.
“In the last 12 months, we have launched specific Covid cover into our policies across all regions. Though I do want to stress that many of our policies, especially in Australia and New Zealand, had always provided cover for medical expenses if a customer contracted Covid (or any epidemic, pandemic or infectious disease) and was hospitalised. That medical assistance offer has always been at the heart of the Cover-More brand.”
The company has boosted the cancellation cover available to customers if they contract Covid-19 and are isolating, and if they contract it while abroad and are placed into quarantine or hospitalised.
“Also,” noted Morton, “in the US, we have re-introduced our CFAR (Cancel For Any Reason) policy with cancellation cover for 50 per cent of trip costs with a ceiling of US$10,000.” Policies, she said are regularly reviewed to check there are no gaps between expectation and coverage. If they are identified, they are changed to improve the experience and outcome for the customer.
Transparency aids negative experience by boosting understanding
Overcoming negative experiences that a customer has had is one of the most difficult challenges. “Some people will complain if we decline their claim and in that case, we are always very clear and upfront about the reasons why. And we also make it very clear to people what options they have to take their case to a third-party adjudicator or ombudsman,” says Morton. “Then there are those rare times – and all insurance providers have them – when you don’t deliver the high-quality experience you aspire to. And that comes down to human error. When that happens, we’ll own up to our failure, apologise, and do everything we can to ensure that something like that never happens again.”
Now more than ever, in the age of customer review sites that pull in millions of traveller reviews and opinions, customer care is at a premium - evenone negative review can cause damage to a brand’s reputation.
At the 2021 American Business Awards, Allianz Partners USA won the Exceptional Customer Service gong. “Despite the challenges in 2020, we achieved an amazing Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 77 per cent, unheard of in the insurance industry,” Maggie Butler, Director of Customer Experience, Allianz Partners USA said. “Our robust call monitoring programme found that the quality assurance average for our contact centre team reached 92 per cent. A combination of an engaged workforce, advanced technology and enhanced training help us meet that goal every day.”
Allianz collects feedback throughout the customer journey to keep tabs on customer likes, dislikes and expectations. Their survey programme ‘enables us to quickly address any less than positive perceptions’, Butler told ITIJ.
Allianz also has a dedicated team that reaches out to customers who provided low satisfaction scores. “Our philosophy is to put ourselves in the customers’ shoes and treat everyone as if they were our family. We aim to provide the care, concern and treatment we would want for our parents, grandparents or children.”
Focus on enhancing travel insurance experience
Travel insurers need to focus and invest in enhancing the customer experience, and also be part of developing a global travel community – in whatever shape that takes in the future. So flexibility to adapt, using the technology available to provide customers with rapid answers to their queries such as risk rating, security alerts for traveller destination 24/7, real-time safety notifications including Covid restrictions and transportation disruptions.
It’s an opportunity for travel insurers to up their game. As international travel comes back on the agenda, customer care needs to be enhanced and improved – even post-trip – when customers come back from their holiday to gather feedback to improve the experience the next time they travel.
Communication is key, says Jeremy Murchland, President of Seven Corners. Over the past two years, the company has dedicated time to honing and refining policy language in order to make it more consumer friendly and less complicated. They also invested in different ways for a customer to manage their policies, such as self-service options, using WhatsApp and SMS methods to contact them, instead of an email or phone call.
Adaptability to fast-changing conditions was a vital ingredient. “There were abrupt cancellations, which impacted the claims process. We got inundated with four times the volume for a couple of months,” Murchland reveals. “It threw us into a tailspin. We had to make a lot of adjustments quickly. Sales were down but to me, there’s no better time when sales are a bit depressed to invest in your processes and technology.”
Murchland feels that the travel insurance business has been a little slow to adopt the Amazon-type of customer expectations. “We are in the age of instant gratification and there’s high expectations on consumer-facing companies.”
After a dip in fortunes, the silver lining for the travel insurance company is a greater awareness on the part of customers to get the right kind of cover. “A lot more people are considering insurance now. Prior to Covid, we estimate the penetration was about 30 per cent. After, we think it could go up to 50 per cent – there are a lot of first-time buyers in the market,” Murchland adds.
Will McAleer, Executive Director at the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada, believes that insurers are incredibly important in helping the travel industry to recover: “Travel insurers increase the confidence of travellers to get out there and explore once again. There is opportunity in this pandemic situation to deliver a better solution for customers.”