Competition in the insurance industry has always centred on one common denominator, price. There's no denying the impact search engines like ComparetheMarket.com have had on purchase decisions, with the cheapest provider almost always winning out. However, change is afoot.
In September, a spotlight was shone on the price comparison arena. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched a probe into Comparethemarket.com's contracts with insurers. The site is now facing allegations that it has done deals with insurers that prevent them from making cheaper offers on other websites. This is known as the "most favoured nation" clause and goes against fair pricing regulation in the UK.
While the news certainly casts a cloud over price comparison, the silver linings for insurance providers and customers are abundant. Where we have always looked to price as a means of securing the best possible deal, now is the time to realise it doesn't have to be this way. Perks and exceptional customer service in any other area gets people excited and leaves a lasting impression that usually turns people into brand loyalists. These factors are fundamental particularly when prices all appear extremely similar.
If we take holiday bookings for example, consumers typically research hotels, flights, and location for weeks before making a decision. With the cost of most two-week holidays in Santorini coming up as approximately £1,000, the hotel with the free airport pick-up, buffet breakfast, spa-package and responsive communication from the get-go, wins out every time.
This is the level of service the insurance industry needs. Direct Line, for example, exists as a beacon for the industry of a how a business can rise above simply a battle of price, by finding something else to offer customers, their service. This is part of the reason they steer clear of price comparison sites.
Challenger brands like Lemonade, are breaking the mould by offering convenience, at a competitive price point, quick returns and all from your mobile phone. Plus, any extra money not claimed that year they will donate it to a charity of the customer's choice. While incumbents aren't necessarily worried (yet) about the market share start-ups like Lemonade are encroaching on, they do need to pay attention to the shift in consumer behaviour.
Breaking away from the norm doesn't require a complete overhaul of the business or to start entirely from scratch. It only requires one thing: put consumers back at the heart of the business. Here are a few ways how:
Value trust & transparency: If the PPI blight is anything to go by, it's time to empathise with customers. £20billion pounds has already been paid out to at least 3 million Britons all because consumers were mis-sold insurance for over twenty years. That's enough reason to value trust and transparency over price.
Consistent communication that fulfils the brand promise is the way to build credibility amongst customers. Customers need to know how valuable they are to the business and when things go wrong, the business must own up to any issues and communicate clearly the steps being taken to resolve an issue.
That alone can take the business from being the best priced to the most loved. A much stronger position for a long term profitable business.
Humanise customer engagement: In a recent consumer survey we carried out, people want to hear the voices they can truly connect with, and regions and dialects is key in achieving this.
For example, when asked to pick from a given list, two thirds (66%) of Scottish people would prefer to hear a Scottish accent, a third (33%) of Londoners would prefer a London accent and 35% of Welsh consumers would prefer Welsh when receiving an automated call.
Seems straightforward? Already happening? Wrong. So many companies fail to localise, even at the most basic level as an accent.
Make the conventional, compelling: The digital revolution has made it impossible to manually handle the influx of customers while delivering the level of service they deserve without technology. Harness the power of Artificial Intelligence based technology to introduce new ways of engaging with customers that's highly personalised, yet scalable.
For example, imagine having the CEO call each new customer to introduce the business and thank them for signing up. No sale, no upsell just a simple way of establishing a more personal connection between brand and customer.
This creates the basis for long term and lucrative relationship with customers. This approach also provides a great opportunity to offer advice directly from a trusted expert and establishes a two-way and interactive means of communication with the customer.
It's easy to handle referrals from comparison websites via the website and pass the customer off on to email for all future communications. That's all too easy and all too ineffective. What customers need is a trusted advisor that can help educate and guide them through the process. As price comparison continues to comes under greater scrutiny it's time for customers to have greater expectations and for insurers to deliver more.
Sam Madden is UK Director at Wiraya.