Falling through the gaps – email and the insurance industry
Earlier this month, we published the 2016 Eptica Insurance Multichannel Customer Experience Study, which evaluated how insurers in the US, across ten sectors are meeting the challenge of new digital channels for customer service. To do this, we researched their ability to answer routine questions on five digital channels (web, email, Twitter, Facebook and chat), with the results analyzed for accuracy, speed and consistency between channels.
The findings highlighted an industry that is struggling to move away from analog channels such as the phone. The result is poor or patchy performance when responding to emails and social media messages This was combined with websites that failed to provide answers to routine consumer questions.
Overall, just 28% of questions were answered successfully across all digital channels. Email performed best, scoring 37%, against 30% for the web, 23% for Facebook and just 12% for Twitter.
In this blog, I’m going to delve deeper into email performance and highlight some of the lessons for all insurers operating on the channel.
The first thing to stress is that, despite its history, email usage is growing. Consumers like the fact that they can send a message at a time of their choosing, with a built-in audit trail, from their smartphone, PC or tablet. They don’t need to pick up the phone and, as it is not an instant conversation, they have the time and space to think through their responses before pressing send.
Email has big advantages for insurers too. It’s cheaper to respond via email than answer a phone call, and much simpler to process compared to mail and fax. You have a record of what has been said, making it easier to ensure that messages comply with company policies and government regulations.
The shrinking email funnel
However, insurers seem to be struggling to deal with the sheer volume of interactions they receive. While over three quarters (76%) offer email, 60% responded to a message, and then just 37% actually deliver a helpful answer. Essentially, performance seems to worsen at every stage of the funnel, with insurers either not answering emails (16%) or if they did respond, not providing a helpful reply (23%). This drop-off points to failures in the process – either emails are not being picked up or agents are not given the information they need to successfully answer them.
There are pockets of good practice. When it comes to accuracy, the pet insurance sector leads the way. 100% of pet insurers offered email, 80% responded to email, and all of these answered the question successfully. Yet, it was appreciably slower than other sectors, with an average response time of around 24 hours, double that of life insurance.
In contrast 90% of home insurers provided email contact details, and 80% replied, yet only 30% did so successfully. This is a wasted opportunity in a crowded market – potential customers will simply go elsewhere. The bottom sectors were health and specialty, where 20% of companies provided a helpful answer.
The speed gap between expectations and reality
Customers want fast, accurate answers to their emails, but there is a gap between what they want and what insurers deliver. Nearly six in ten (57%) of consumers expect an email response in an hour – with 43% wanting an answer in 30 minutes. However, just 10% of replies were received in an hour or under – and only 6% of insurers came back in less than 30 minutes. In fact, the overall average was nearly two whole days (1 day 23 hours 38 minutes). This was driven by a huge variance in response times, which ranged between 13 minutes (for a dental insurer) and 20 days for a Long Term Care company.
What can insurers do to improve email? Based on Eptica’s experience there are five areas to focus on:
1. Resource email effectively. Ensure that there are enough trained agents available to deliver responses within customer expected timeframes – 20 days is simply not acceptable in today’s fast moving market.
2. Empower agents with knowledge. Providing an unhelpful answer to a question is almost as bad as not responding at all. Make sure agents have access to up to date knowledge that helps them give consistent, accurate responses to customer questions.
3. Use technology to track performance. 16% of emails disappear into a black hole, not receiving any answer at all. This could be down to insurers lacking the ability to record incoming queries and route them to the best available agent for an answer. They need to put in place technology that ensures that messages don’t slip through the cracks.
4. Automate what you can. Use technology such as linguistics to help analyze incoming emails and automatically suggest template answers that agents can personalize before sending. This speeds up response times, ensures consistency and reduces the workload on your team.
5. Test your performance and learn from others. Carry out your own mystery shopper research to check how quickly your team responds, and look at how other insurers perform too. What lessons can you learn from their best practice?
Email continues to be the workhorse of insurance customer service. However, the Eptica study shows that too many insurers are not surrounding it with the proper resources to deliver the thoroughbred performance that it is capable of.