E-commerce has fundamentally changed the experience of buying everything from travel to clothing to groceries. But PwC’s 2019 Global Consumer Insights Survey shows that financial-services products, such as insurance, still face big challenges in the digital space. The level of explanation, personalisation and persuasion needed for many of these products to resonate with consumers means that salespeople are still crucial to the business business-critical.
PwC spoke in January 2019 with Françoise Lamotte, the head of direct-to-consumer and digital innovation for MetLife in its Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region, about digital trends in insurance sales.
PwC: Our survey found that although a majority of people are comfortable paying bills online, reaching them online as customers in the first place can be a different story, especially for a complex product like life or disability insurance. We found that only 15% of our global sample had acquired insurance through a digital channel in the past year. What kind of customer experience might help change that statistic?
Françoise Lamotte: For fairly complicated financial services, you really need a hybrid model. You still need the human interaction with the customer to explain the product, understand the need and provide the right solution.
PwC: How important is it to differentiate between selling to and servicing your customers?
Lamotte: It’s extremely important. You can’t mix sales and servicing. It’s the same for banks. People who are already customers are very comfortable going online or on their mobile app to check their account balance, to pay their bills, to do any of the servicing transactions that are simple and straightforward.
But our bigger challenge is selling, which means acquiring customers. These might be people who may not have even heard of accident or disability insurance, or term life insurance. People aren’t necessarily familiar with these terms or products.
One thing we are always searching for is the right moment to connect with potential customers to talk about insurance. When you speak about life insurance, there are some trigger moments in life. Having children is one. Losing someone is another one. But some people aren’t yet aware of their needs — “Why do I need to protect my family?” This is our biggest hurdle.
Then we need to help create awareness for the solutions. “What are the products that can help me protect my family?” And then, “Which brand am I going to choose?”
It’s a long process, and that’s why I believe we still need human interaction. If you want to insure your family, it’s not for two months, usually. It’s for the long run. We get there by building trust and building relationships.
PwC: What channels are you using to find new customers?
Lamotte: We have started co-branded efforts with retailers and credit card companies targeting those companies’ customer bases. Those companies have credit cards or loyalty programs, and they have a strong brand affinity with their customers.
With retailers, for example, we sell insurance to their shoppers to cover their quarterly shopping basket in case of disability or sickness. That’s a recognisable value for the customer, and it’s very much connected to their shopping experience. We are sometimes reaching these customers through the retailer website, so we have a mix of some digital acquisition and some through more traditional avenues, such as advertising.
PwC: What are some other ways that you’re trying to connect with consumers and educate them about your products?
Lamotte: We think about how we can maybe come in contact with customers in a way that requires much less of a long-term commitment from them, for instance with short-term products or on-demand products that are connected to a specific experience. From there, we will be able to develop the relationship.
Say you are doing something tomorrow or have a special event, and for this experience we offer an insurance product. That could be a first step into insurance, and then we could continue the conversation. Partnerships — and even digital to some extent, in the sense of customer data and tracking — come into play here, too, since we could potentially find out about these opportunities to acquire short-term clients by accessing what other companies already know about their customers.
PwC: After digesting the survey results and reflecting on the growing importance of customer experience, PwC concluded that creating a good employee experience ultimately translates to good results for consumers. Do you feel that having a strong corporate culture that can galvanise employees is important? And if so, how do you translate that to your employees?
Lamotte: One important thing about our employees is that they really have this sense that we are here to protect people. We need to expose them to the value that we are bringing when people are having difficult times.
We have a specific purpose, because we are an industry that is here to protect people, or to be there when there is a problem. When you have a health issue, when somebody dies, when somebody becomes disabled, that’s where you trigger the insurance relationship.
In a way, it’s a very challenging relationship, because when everything goes well, you don’t need the insurance. But when something bad happens, that’s where you see the value.
PwC: How do you see the future of insurance in the digital space?
Lamotte: The challenge and the opportunity for us is to develop insurance experiences that bring together the human touch with digital channels just when the consumer needs that protection. If we can do that, our brand and business will continue to grow.