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In a digitally-connected world insurers need to focus on individual customers, not siloed products – and the latest technologies are enabling them to do just that.

Today’s consumers are at the centre of their own digitally enabled network. With a smartphone or tablet to hand, their interactions might include websites, mobile apps, social media, call centres and face to face discussions – and at every touch point they expect the business they’re dealing with to know who they are, and to be able to pick up the conversation where they left off. For insurers, delivering that omni-channel experience is critical to engaging customers as well as enabling agents to sell more and provide better service.

“We’re seeing an evolution in the insurance industry towards customer-centricity,” says Chad Hamblin, global industry director of financial services at Microsoft Business Solutions. “Insurers have realized that they need to fight to gain and retain customers. They need to make every aspect of their business – from risk to policies, pricing and claims processing – more customer-centric and that means understanding their customers as individuals, partnering with them to help them achieve their dreams by providing better services with more options, and tracking the communications that transpire along the way.”

“Consumer expectations move fluidly from one industry to the next, so when consumers have a great omni-channel experience with one provider, they expect all providers to deliver that experience regardless of the industry,” says Erik Sandquist, managing director in Accenture’s Insurance practice and leader of the company’s Insurance Distribution and Marketing business service in North America. “Insurance has traditionally been a very transactional, low customer contact category, but insurance companies are now considering how they can become more relationship-focused, and how they can prevent and protect against losses rather than just providing indemnification when they occur.”

In an increasingly competitive market, defining a richer relationship with customers is critical to differentiation. “Customers are willing to pay for great levels of service,” says Bruce McKee, financial services industry manager at Microsoft UK. “They’re buying insurance products from noninsurance companies such as retailers that have a reputation for great customer service. They pay little attention to which company is underwriting the policy, only to the one they’re buying it from. The long-term threat is that insurers could be substituted out by those brands and in order to avoid that, they need to provide the service their customers want.”

Delivering that service means bringing together information from traditionally siloed processes to enable a seamless experience for agents, as well as customers. In an industry that includes independent agents and brokers as well as direct employees and call centre staff, insurers face the unique challenge of providing an omni-channel experience for all. Because just like consumers, an agent who sells the products of several insurers will choose to do more business with the one that makes it easy for them.

“Agents and brokers need to get electronic data and documents across as quickly as possible, with all the information required from the insured, so they can provide comparative quotes that suit the customer’s budget,” says McKee. “If the quote is too high the sale could be lost. But if the broker can have a rich conversation and gather all the information around the customer’s requirements, and can use an online portal to tweak the product to the right price point or search the market and provide comparative quotes while they’re talking to the customer, that can enable them to conclude the business there and then.”

“Creating an omni-channel experience is about thinking from a customer interaction perspective and linking different data sources so that the customer can discuss all the products they want and get the advice they need without having to be passed between different departments, wait for information to be found, or repeat themselves,” says Mark Margolis, senior technical sales manager, Microsoft Business Solutions UK.

By harnessing the latest technologies, insurers can join up the data from those systems and deliver the information, tools and service capabilities that customers and agents need, across any channel. “Customer relationship management solutions are playing a big role in omni-channel,” says Sandquist. “These solutions are helping insurers to achieve a single view across different product lines, which is especially critical if you’re a multi-line insurer that is looking to deepen customer penetration and increase retention. They are enabling insurers to look across channels and fulfill customer needs through a seamless experience.”

“Every customer’s journey is different and we can’t know which channels they’re going to use at any point,” says Mark Floisand, vice president of product marketing at Sitecore, which provides insurers with portal solutions for customers and agents. “By separating content management from presentation using a single platform, insurers can gather all the customer’s interactions with different touchpoints in real time and join the data up into individual consumer profiles. That provides a single view of the consumer that can be used to personalize content on any channel the consumer chooses to use.”

Once they have a view across channels, insurers can collect data that enables them to deliver personalized content to customers, and to serve up the tools and insights that agents need to sell better. “Even if an anonymous user is browsing a site, the links they choose will still imply what they’re interested in,” says Floisand. “The system can gather that information and surface more relevant content to that user based on what they’ve been looking at. If an individual logs into the system, they might be identified as a long-standing, profitable customer who is eligible for certain discounts. If they’re an agent or broker, their profile might give them access to certain prices and rates. All of that information contributes to an increasingly personalized user experience, with a high degree of flexibility.”

That personalized experience needs to flow seamlessly into the call centre. With an increasing amount of information at their fingertips, consumers expect more from their conversations with service desk staff, and it’s imperative that those people have a 360-degree view of the customer and of the company’s products, so they can provide proactive service. “Our research has shown that 76 per cent of people have already researched the website or done a web search on their query, before they call the insurer,” says Margolis. “By the time they’re on the phone to the call centre, they already know a lot about the products they want so they’re likely to ask more difficult questions and expect increasing levels of expertise from staff. Call centre staff need insight into where the customer is in their cycle, and real-time information is critical to achieving that. Microsoft Unified Service Desk is designed to bring in information from the legacy systems that many insurers still have and provide a single view, not only of the customer but also of the different data repositories.”

The same principles apply to enabling a seamless experience for agents and brokers. By combining data from different channels and systems with familiar productivity tools such as Office 365 and SharePoint, insurers can empower field workers to access standard information and prepopulate forms, streamlining the process of identifying the right products at the right prices. “If the customer’s information is accessible in one place, you can provide a single view of the customer so the agent can see all their requirements, spot related products and create cross-selling opportunities,” says McKee. “For example, if the broker can see that a customer buys professional indemnity insurance from them but not directors’ liability insurance, they have an opportunity to open a conversation about that and create a competitive package that includes both, saving time and money for the customer. That single view of the customer, combined with access to all the ratings from insurers, is essential in enabling agents to provide those quotes quickly.”

Anytime, anywhere access is essential to any omni-channel experience, and in a world of ubiquitous mobile connectivity that has to mean any device too. “It’s no longer good enough to build a technology and then consider how it might work on a mobile device,” says Margolis. “At Microsoft we consider the mobile use case from the outset – including any type of device such as Surface, tablets or smartphones, in or out of the office, through the cloud or the internet. Anyone might research a product in the office and then use their personal mobile during their lunch break to continue the discussion, so it’s important that your apps and websites work on any device.”

As insurers seek to interact with customers and agents through a growing range of mobile apps, Microsoft is enabling them to achieve that inclusivity. “Windows 10 delivers the tools and applications people need on any device, and enables insurers to create their own mobile experiences,” says Margolis. “We know that insurers want to build their own apps for internal and external use, and these are a key part of the omni-channel experience that customers want, whatever device they choose to use. With Windows 10 Universal Apps, insurers can build mobile-based experiences that will work on any device. These apps are part of an omni-channel experience that extends beyond portals and websites to include mobile-specific experiences.”

Mobile capabilities are undoubtedly having an impact on the industry, but as greater capabilities develop to enable new possibilities, we are only beginning to see their potential. “Mobile is having an impact across insurance, particularly in terms of companies approaching experiences from an outside-in, customer-focused perspective,” says Sandquist. “For example, around a claim event, insurers are not just thinking about the capturing evidence of loss and being able to access proof of insurance on the mobile device. They’re also looking at how they can quickly order a tow truck and communicate when it will arrive, because somebody who needs a tow truck might be in a dangerous situation on the highway. They’re helping consumers find the nearest rental car agency and reserve their car. There are even some emerging opportunities around sensors that can recognize when an accident has occurred, and help shorten the time for help to be on its way.”

“Mobility is enabling new business models for insurers, including app-based scenarios such as telematics,” says McKee. “If a car insurance customer or prospective customer has an app that monitors their driving habits and how far they drive, that might enable them to get advice on how to reduce fuel costs, to compare their driving with that of their friends, or to get a tailored insurance product that suits their needs. But it also increases that consumer’s engagement with the insurer. Instead of communicating with the insurance company only when they buy their policy, when they claim or when they leave, they’re in contact on a daily or weekly basis. We’re typically seeing around five interactions per month on a telematics portal. That’s a level of interaction the company was not getting before, and it’s triggered by apps that are adding value. Insurers can use that information to provide offers, information and a whole digital ecosystem with other services that can be integrated, enabling the insurer to move from a product offering to a service offering that is focused on the customer.”

Insurers that enable an omni-channel environment stand not only to empower workers with insights from a growing range of systems, channels and applications, but also to provide an environment that truly engages customers and agents. The result is a business that is much greater than the sum of its parts. “Delivering an omni-channel experience enables the organization to move away from a transactional, product-byproduct connection to a relationship-driven one in which the customer is much more likely to buy – and the agent more able to sell – multiple products,” says Margolis. “In doing so, it brings the potential for new business models built on richer engagement and exceptional levels of service.”

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