Travel insurers are striving to better meet consumer expectations through customer education and embracing new technologies. Robin Gauldie finds out more
Cynical consumers often seem to perceive travel insurers as cumbersome entities that are slow to handle claims, difficult to communicate with and reluctant to settle. A common complaint is that exclusions are often buried in small print or couched in language that is hard for the customer to understand. For insurers, finding ways to meet customer expectations – and ensuring that those expectations are realistic – has become a key issue. Digital technology enables consumers to shop around for their policies, meaning that companies that fail to meet their demands will lose out. Digital technology in the insurtech age is an ever more useful tool, offering swift online handling of claims and settlements and, for insurers who embrace it, a closer and mutually beneficial means of communicating with their insureds. “Over the last few years, there have been some incredible initiatives among travel insurers and their supporting third-party administrators to improve the customer experience and embrace the growth of app, mobile, and online journeys in the education, sales and servicing of policyholders and claimants alike,” said Carl Carter, Managing Director of Voyager Insurance.
Part of the problem is the ridiculous language the industry uses, which means nothing to customers
Voyager, Carter said, has been working with its insurers and third-party administrators to deliver ‘innovative solutions that add real benefit to the customer’, including eClaims Solutions, a fast and effective online alternative to the customer having to print out, fill in and post claims forms, which Voyager has rolled out on 'virtually all' of its products. “On our high-risk Voyager travel insurance product, the customer has access to an emergency 24/7 app that can even share geographic co-ordinates with the emergency response team, as well as giving them one big red button to push rather than having to rely on saving or remembering the helpline number,” Carter said. “We are also working with insurers that can deliver access to video doctor services while abroad, saving costs to the insurer and the hassle in some cases for the customer by saving them having to attend a local clinic for routine non-emergency medical advice and support.”
Customer education is key
There is widespread recognition within the travel insurance sector that customer education is key to meeting customer expectations and encouraging consumers to read the small print and understand exclusions and the need to declare pre-existing medical conditions where relevant. “There have been some great initiatives to help customers understand how to get the most out of their travel insurance policy and to ensure they understand what they need to declare and how, as well as the consequences of non-disclosure,” Carter said. “We undertake a mountain of work reviewing, improving and optimising customer journeys for our products and those of the brands we support, both to help maximise sales but also work towards maximum understanding and awareness from the customer as to what they are buying. The use of well-placed information tips and pop-ups during the customer journey can really be effective, as can maintaining an updated FAQ page or live chat service.” Carter also said that Voyager engages with its audiences via email and social media to help improve understanding. “In addition to this, on some products we even have situational awareness advice built into an app or country information files available for download to keep the travellers up to date and informed of developments on the ground in country,” he said. “A lot of focus is about putting yourself in the position of the applicant or customers and helping them to make informed and educated decisions. It’s also important to gather live customer feedback on service and systems so as to learn from these and apply the feedback to seek further improvement in terms of product, service and systems – before, during and after the sale.”
Any online travel insurer worth anything will have a smartphone and mobile device-enabled website
Paul Firkins, Business Development Director at UK-based data- and tech-driven insurance specialist Hood Group, is scathing about the sector's failure to educate consumers around issues such as exclusions and declaring pre-existing conditions. “Travel insurers aren't getting the message through to customers,” he said. “Part of the problem is the ridiculous language the industry uses, which means nothing to customers. The industry needs to do a lot more to simplify things for the customer.”
Craig Morrison, Managing Director of New Zealand-based Holiday Rescue Travel Insurance, is if anything even more critical of the failure of some industry giants to engage with the issue of customer education. “I don't think that travel insurers are working to correct that image, even though they might say they are doing so,” he said. “The message is not getting through to customers, because by and large the policy wordings are written by underwriters, not marketing or consumer advocacy types of people. Policy wordings are 50 or more pages long because not everyone is honest and lots of people drink too much and do stupid things while on holiday.”
Persuading potential insureds to read and engage with travel insurance policy wording is another uphill struggle, Morrison said, arguing that independent specialist travel insurers may be better able to address the issue. “There are strategies to better and more clearly communicate to consumers to build trust. It's possible, but it's difficult for a large insurer to do it, due to competing internal priorities,” he told ITIJ. “Most travel insurers are part of large behemoth insurance companies which owe allegiance to shareholders, not customers, hence their reputation for declining claims or slowing the process just to frustrate the customer into giving up. Some of us, like Holiday Rescue, are trying to change that image by making our policies easy to read and making our websites easy to use, but it's a long, slow slog to turn around the ship of public perception that has been ingrained for decades.”
But that isn't everyone's perception. Travel insurers are actually winning the battle, suggested Jenna Hummer, Director of Public Relations at the US travel insurance review and comparison site Squaremouth, who sees indications that – in the US at least – insurers are successfully shaking off negative consumer perceptions that stereotype them as cumbersome entities that are slow to process and settle claims and are generally frustrating to deal with. “In the US, we consistently see high customer satisfaction ratings from consumers purchasing policies from providers on our site, which features comprehensive search filters, side-by-side comparison and in-depth product information.” Hummer said. “We have collected over 60,000 reviews from our users and can confirm that the customer experience is generally positive. Our Zero Complaint Guarantee allows us to mediate the claim process between consumers and providers. This gives us in-depth insight into the customer's experience and the ability to confirm that claims are handled in a timely fashion to the customer's satisfaction.”
All of Squaremouth’s customers have access to a mobile-friendly platform that offers them 24-hour emergency assistance, Hummer added: “We've seen a consistent drive for technology innovation across the industry, specifically with mobile apps.”
Carl Carter concurs: “Livechat and mobile-optimised service and support are very popular with our customers and the brands that we support,” he said. “We’re working on using AI and machine learning to help take the standard ‘FAQ’ page to a new level. Of course, all technology still depends on the service and experience behind it, and even more so when operating in a heavily regulated environment.”
Smart tech is expected
“Any online travel insurer worth anything will have a smartphone and mobile device-enabled website,” Morrison told ITIJ. “That's not a big deal in this day and age. It's expected: if you don't have it, you'll lose the customer quickly.” But he is more skeptical when it comes to some widely touted innovations. “There is lots of hype about AI, blockchain, fintech, and insurtech. While there are no doubt some useful things in there, in my view it’s too much gas, not enough executable tactics to either bring down the cost to the customer or to speed things up when they make a claim,” he said. “Maybe a big breakthrough is coming, but to me it looks like it'll be a long time before someone pays for their travel insurance with a cryptocurrency.”
All technology still depends on the service and experience behind it, and even more so when operating in a heavily regulated environment
Some major insurers are already embracing an array of solutions to improve customer experience. Xavier Blanchard, Travel business global Director, AXA Partners, said the company was the first major insurance group to begin development of new parametric insurance products such as its 'fizzy' retail insurance solution, introduced in September 2017, which uses blockchain technology to automatically compensate customers for flight delays longer than two hours. “Additionally, Setoo, an insurance and protection-as-a-service platform, is disrupting the insurance market by enabling e-businesses to create and sell great protection tailored to the consumers’ needs and fit for the digital age,” she said. “The first travel insurance products are flight delay, flight cancellation and missed connection. Two processes have been defined and already launched to simplify claims notification and provide a better customer journey.” A seamless teleclaims facility allows agents to assess a claim while talking to the customer and provide a claim pre-assessment directly at the end of the call. “The customer just needs to send a few pieces of evidence related to the claim and once they are received the claim is paid within 24 hours,” Blanchard said.
AXA has launched a new online tool that customers can use to notify and track claims using any device and 'natural' language. The process adapts itself to customer answers to ask only relevant questions, has been launched in seven European markets and is now being fully rolled out, Blanchard told ITIJ. AXA has also launched chatbot solutions, in addition to having radically reviewed its policy wording to make policies clearer and easier to understand. As a result, it has cut policy verbiage by as much as two-thirds, Blanchard said, and has introduced 'a more conversational style' during the online purchase process, making it easier for customers to choose the right product for their needs.
Partnering can help
Meanwhile, many companies are discovering that partnering with third parties is a useful way to enhance their offering by using technologies such as chatbots and provide products and services through mobile devices, according to Paul Firkins. “There is an emerging trend for tech to improve customer experience. We are both creating our own solutions in areas such as geolocation and chatbots, while partnering with other areas, for example providing face time with doctors for medical advice,” he said. Firkins also said that insurers are increasingly looking to collaborate with other companies to solve this problem. “Rather than rebuild their own systems and processes, they are partnering with more nimble companies to provide various parts of the value chain in a more customer-friendly manner, particularly in claims,” he concluded.
It seems that headway is already being made and, through continued collaboration, acceptance of new technologies and customer education, insurers and consumers can ensure they are on the same page.