This summer’s silly season for news stories ended early for the insurance industry with new rumours of Amazon making plans to disrupt the sector.
Well sourced reports in titles like
Reuters and Insurance Times suggested insurers were being wooed to join an Amazon aggregator service, while
Altus Consulting forecast how Amazon could shake up claims-management too.
Naturally there has been lots of good commentary on this, including from my own colleague Brian Desmond.
So, you might think little more can be said, but these stories about Amazon made me recall a great presentation that I attended this spring.
Steven Van Belleghem is a thought leader on the transformation of customer relationships and he was speaking at our London event on what this meant for insurers.
Amazon was talked about, of course. Belleghem sees them as one player in a new battlefield for customers. He spared few punches on how much insurers should be afraid when Amazon arrives. He related how the day after Amazon took over the Whole Foods supermarket
chain it slashed all prices by 40 percent.
I agree with Belleghem that a strategy for dealing with the entry of Amazon, and others, into the industry is to both work with them and to fight back, too. So, it is entirely sensible for insurers to evaluate an Amazon aggregator service or other parts
of their offering – for example
Travelers partnership with Amazon on smart home. However, in fighting back insurers need to both better understand how Amazon and the other tech giants like Google and Facebook operate; and realise their own innate strengths to repulse the attack on their
Belleghem spelt out the first of these very well. He described how Amazon is laser focused on saving time for customers: “The more time you save for your customers, the more time they spend with you and spend their money.”
For insurers to achieve this very desirable goal, means taking advantage of the data they already have and creating effortless interfaces that customers want. All sounds familiar, but I liked how Belleghem also warned the attendee insurers not to go off
track. For example, the prime goal of harvesting data should not be to make more money but to understand people better in order to deliver better services.
Fighting back sounds like a job for a lot of smart technology? The answer is yes, and a qualified no.
Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation are all technologies that can make insurers more customer centric, but simply throwing technology at the issue will not solve the challenge as to how insurers can hold onto and have a more direct
relationship with their customers. You need to start from answering the question, “How can I give the greatest value to my customers?”
Rightly, Belleghem called out a core potential strength that insurers can offer: human empathy. The very thing the big tech brands lack, but insurers have in abundance, is the human touch and the ability to be there at emotional times of loss and resolution.
When your home burns down, you want to talk to a human and not a machine, even if that machine is smart and bright as a button.
So, in facing down Amazon and taking control of their own destinies, insurers need to invest in their human capital. In this context, technology boosts the ability of staff to deliver help that is empathetic, perhaps by automating the tedious tasks and presenting
the right information at the right time to create the room, freedom, and authority that customers need and quite rightly expect.
What Belleghem said dovetails with what is now known as the engagement era of closer, more natural, and personal interactions between insurers and customers. It is not an era without challenges. As he explained, it is a transformative process, but it is
heartening and critical that the fundamental human values of a good insurance business are going to be what guides the industry to remain relevant and productive in the future.