Customer-centric insurers—Drive for show, putt for dough

Advances in technology and innovation in other industries are setting a new bar for what good customer service looks like in insurance. While new engaging websites, apps and social media platforms are an integral part of the way forward, what happens in the ‘back office’ is just as important to longer-term success.

Over recent years, the term “customer centricity” has become established in the global business lexicon. Unlike some other examples of business-speak, customer centricity is proving anything but a vacuous marketing concept, thanks principally to the actions of a new generation of retailers and technology specialists who are helping to reset customer expectations.

New start-ups want to exploit digitalization and technology to disrupt the market

These companies are finding innovative ways to attract consumers and to generate and satisfy retail demand across a number of sectors. Many are re-defining market norms.

This new, concentrated focus on the customer hasn’t been lost on the insurance industry. New start-ups want to exploit digitalization and technology to disrupt the market, and many existing players are now having to take strides to reinvigorate their business models to compete in this new customer-centric environment.

The question is how?

So far, many insurers have tended to focus mainly on the customer-facing elements of the end-user experience, such as faster, intuitive websites and user-friendly apps.

The broader challenge though is to get to know customers better and gain insights from the way insurers interact with them. Both aspects, however, need three things:

  • an agile and seamless architecture in the back-office
  • the appropriate organizational structure and supporting processes
  • the right talent to execute the transformation and deliver value

All these typically require a substantial amount of work behind the scenes.

The art of the possible

Nonetheless, insurers, while they may not be financial technology organizations, have a lot working in their favor. For a start, most have capital with which to turn ideas into reality. Secondly, they have customers – and normally lots of them– providing plenty of data with which to work and develop new analytics insights. Crucially, they also have people with deep industry knowledge and relevant experience.

The challenge for many insurers will be to organize differently the capabilities they already have to meet more customer-focused and cross-functional goals in an increasingly digital world.

This is only likely to happen if the “shop window” and the back office are working in unison. Or, put another way, and as golf commentators are so fond of reminding us, the top players don’t only hit the 300-yard drives, they can make the short putts when they need to.


Gary Williams is Global Head of Business Management in the Risk Consulting and Software practice at Willis Towers Watson and specializes in customer-facing business and management strategy development for insurers.

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