Offering Experiences: The Emerging Basis of Competition

Can you imagine running into Steve Job’s office at Apple and exclaiming: “Steve, I just realized that the new basis of competition is being able to provide world-class experiences for our customers !” Either he would laugh you out of his office or call Apple’s security to throw you out of the company. Steve Jobs already knows that offering experiences is the way for companies to achieve stronger competitive differentiation and larger market share.

Apple, of course, is not the only company that has been pursuing this strategy. In our world of insurance, USAA, Progressive and Chubb are three insurance companies that immediately come to mind as companies providing a world-class experience for their clients.

But what about your insurance company? Of if you are a producer, what about the insurance agency or broker you work for? Does your firm provide a world-class experience? Is it planning to offer a world-class experience? (By the way, it is your customers, producers and other stakeholders who would be the ones deciding if your company offers a world-class experience.)

Let’s assume that either your company wants to offer a stronger experience or offer an experience in the first place. (Yes, every firm offers experiences. It is just that most of the stakeholder interactions are labored, awkward or otherwise painful.) What technology firm might you consider contacting that would enable your insurance company or agency / broker to offer experiences for your policyholders, prospects and others?

edgeIPK.

Who is edgeIPK? My question exactly. On Wednesday, January 27, 2010 Wendy Corman, the newly appointed president of the U.S. division of edgeIPK and her colleagues were gracious enough to brief me about edgeIPK and show me a demo. The purpose of this post is to get across the highlights of that briefing.

Please note that I am not saying you should rush out and purchase edgeIPK’s products. But given that three of their insurance customers are Allianz, Zurich and Willis, you might want to consider reaching out to edge for a conversation, a demo and potentially creating a pilot for one of your lines of business. I’ll leave it to you to decide if you want to go their web site, find the contact information and call them.

So, what does edgeIPK offer? Edge enables insurance companies the ability to wrap and extend their functionality simultaneously to multiple delivery channels in multiple formats. That means, your insurance company can provide the same look-and-feel to producers, policyholders, prospects or others regardless of the nature and form of the interaction.

Say what? Edge enables insurer or broker functionality to be delivered in a consistent look-and-feel to the web, to mobile devices, and to laptop computers. A critically important point is that edge is ‘target platform agnostic’ so it doesn’t matter if the insurance company or broker is reaching out to people who use IE, Firefox, Safari, or other browsers. Nor does it matter what version of those browsers the target audience is using because edge (supposedly according to Wendy during the briefing) keeps up with all the browser versions and ensures the content can be correctly rendered for the target audience.

Edge capabilities can be used by marketing, distribution and call center staff in the home office as well as field office, agency or broker staff. Edge realizes insurers conduct business on a global stage and so supports multiple languages and multiple currencies. As they told me during the briefing, edge can easily handle our UK cousins use of ‘u’ everywhere as well as our US spelling. Edge supports Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin, I believe) and many other languages.

Edge uses their open presentation platform to quickly configure screens for the home office or field office user or agent or broker. Edge can configure composite screens from different applications which is particularly useful for home office call center representatives or agency support staff.

Edge focuses solely on the presentation of the information required by the insurance company or agency for their target markets. It is part of their skill set to keep up with the growing number of widgets and widget libraries. Occasionally edge will even create their own widgets for their customers when necessary. Edge also deals with security and performance to ensure that the insurance company’s target audience – regardless of end-device or browser – experiences approximately the same level of performance.

Yes, edge is new to the United States. They are in the process of building both sales and services teams here in the U.S. But based on my thirty-plus years in the insurance industry, I believe they are worth a look. Edge gets it: with the evolution of the web, the growing number of devices that clients and field personnel use, and the absolute mandate for insurance companies (and agencies and brokers) to provide a consistent look-and-feel for their policyholders, prospects and other stakeholders, edge provides the software to make that all happen.

Insurers do not have to replace their legacy systems or purchase new core administrative systems. Edge wraps around all of those systems and enables insurers to bring their ever-increasing number of Moments of Truth to the level of a world-class experience.

I’ll be checking back with edge and their insurance customers periodically to see  how edgeIPK is doing in the insurance space.  But to repeat, based on what I saw and heard (and given that Zurich, Allianz and Willis are world-class organizations themselves), I suggest you call edge and see what they can do for your company.

Advertisements

NYL Is Improving Agent Use of Social Media

New York Life’s tag line is “The Company You keep.” New York Life (NYL) recognizes that the “company you keep” has to be involved with social media because that is where a growing number of their clients and prospects inhabit. In particular, NYL continues to build momentum and experience applying social media to strengthen their interactions and relationships with their agents and policyholders. Most recently, NYL has invested their time and resources with two social media initiatives supporting their agents: one involves using a technology start-up company and the second involves LinkedIn.

NYL is working on a Proof-of-Concept with a technology start-up company to ensure that their agents remain compliant regardless of which social media sites they use. This start-up technology company accomplishes this by getting in the middle between NYL’s agents’ dialogue and social media sites the agents want to post information. With the solution from this start-up, NYL agents can use Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn and other social media sites.

Is this “Big Brother” in action? NO! The life insurance industry is a heavily regulated industry by the States the insurance company does business in and by various Federal Government agencies (such as SEC or FINRA, formerly NASD). The insurance industry also must comply with industry regulations as well.

Using the solution from the start-up company, NYL is ensuring that their agents can participate in the conversations of the digital marketplace whenever they want and remain compliant to the plethora of never-ending regulations. One other benefit of NYL’s application of this solution was the immediate realization that the Compliance Department had to be brought into the (use of social media) fold from the beginning – just as it should be.

NYL’s second initiative is with LinkedIn. Working with Sales & Distribution management, NYL created a template for their recruiting managers and agents who either are using or want to use LinkedIn. The templates provide NYL agents with a way to go beyond the obvious uses of LinkedIn and get much more out of LinkedIn’s functionality. With these templates, NYL has crafted a set of Best Practices that the company and its agents can improve going forward in time. NYL is driven to facilitate the agent’s ability to put themselves forward into the marketplace in a way they can best explain their personal value proposition to their policyholders and prospects.

Also regarding LinkedIn, NYL is participating in LinkedIn’s Beta Company Profile program. NYL has added several customized features, including video to the standard algorithmically-produced page, to provide a much more robust and richer media experience for their prospective agents and employees, and of course, existing policyholders. In particular, NYL has created a customized view for prospective agent recruiting of the insurance company for anyone whose LinkedIn profile indicates having a sales background or interest in sales.  Eventually NYL wants to feature as many as 72 different sales recruiters over the course of a year.

I was told at the end of our discussion that NYL realizes their agents – social networkers by nature – are using social media. The company wants to direct those activities in a manner that benefits their agents, policyholders, prospects and regulators. They feel (correctly) that the best way to do that is to adhere to the guiding philosophy “let the community live!” But, and here are important lessons for other insurance companies, monitor the community, pay attention to the community, and most importantly, learn from the community to sharpen the company’s strategies and tactics to best meet the expectations of all of the company’s stakeholders.

What is your insurance company doing? How is it applying social media to enable its agents or brokers? What social media software (whether Socialware or others) is your company looking to best engage in the dialogue within the social mediasphere?

Naughty or Nice

Iggy ran into Santa’s office and was almost out of breath when he got there and sat next to Robby. Robby, of course, had arrived on time and he and Santa were enjoying a warm cup of hot chocolate – with those little peppermint marshmallows – and munching on some just-out-of-the-oven sugar cookies he loved so much.

Santa merrily chuckled when he saw Iggy plop down and waved off his tardiness.

“Don’t worry about it. Here, have a cup of cocoa and some cookies. Let’s get to it. You two know I need your help deciding who has been naughty or nice in the insurance industry space.”

“What do you recommend? I had asked you, Robby, to think more about the insurance industry and you, Iggy, to think about the technology companies supporting insurers.”

Santa reached for another delectable sugar cookie covered with the many-colored sugar sprinkles. “Tell me who should get what so we can finish our N & N list.”

Robby said he did have some thoughts:

  • Let’s give the life and annuity insurers a large dose of hope for 2010. They are going to be regulated up one way and down the next in 2010. Plus the retirement crisis hasn’t really pushed sales as high up as it should have. probably due to the recession.
  • For property and casualty insurers, predictive analytics and other modeling capabilities would be nice stocking-stuffers; plus a large dollop of reality of the necessity of federal regulation. The marketplace has moved well into a national – and really international – framework.
  • For state insurance regulators we need both lumps of coal for those who think insurers exist primarily as whipping posts so they can remain in office – and lumps of sugar for those regulators who understand without reasonable capacity as defined by actuarial standards, insurers won’t be able to do business in their states in the first place

Santa put down his hot chocolate. “Anything else we need to put on the list for insurance industry players?”

Robby said there was one last item and it was a big one: “we need to leave a large saw for all insurers so they can clear a wide path in their companies to apply enterprise risk management practices and systems.”

“That’s a good one,” Santa guffawed. “And Iggy, what should go on the list for technology firms supporting the insurance industry?” Santa asked as he got up from his desk and poured More hot chocolate for Robby, Iggy and himself.  

“To begin with,” Iggy said “I want to give technology companies a large tub of white-out or white tape.” “Why,” Santa asked. “Because everytime a really new concept comes along, too many technology firms just relabel what they were already selling and say they are now offering the new concept.”

“I also want to give some of the outsourcing companies sets of small scissors to help them cut out all of those CMM levels and professional designations from their business cards.”

“Isn’t industry training important? Isn’t capability modeling important?, ” Santa asked.

“Of course it is but we know from talking to insurance professionals they really care about their outsourcers having actual, demonstrable insurance industry experience and referenceable clients whose company names carry some weight.”

“That can’t be all, ” Santa exclaimed, blowing the excess heat from his cup of chocolate and putting more of those tiny marshmallows in at the same time.

“Nope, there’s more,” Iggy said and rattled off:

  • For technology firms new to the insurance industry, I’d put HBR Case Studies in their stockings. These companies have to come up with sharp and unstandable value propositions and ways to truly differentiate themselves from the existing technology players.
  • For technology firms who are in a specific niche – say billing or even predictive analytics – we should give them a financial planning manual to they can prepare themselves to be acquired … or maybe directions to the nearest white knights.
  • For technology firms who are creating products or services based on new technologies (say, semantic technologies), I want to give them a 48-month annual calendar because selling something new to the insurance industry is going to take a very, very loooooong time.

And that’s it, Santa. Iggy reached for two more of those sugar cookies.

What would you add to either Robby’s list for insurers or Iggy’s list for technology firms to help Santa decide what to pack in his bag in 10 days?

Published in: on December 15, 2009 at 7:34 am  Comments (2)  
Tags:

Classics

The other day I was thinking about some of the ‘classics’ we have had here in the Boston area regarding different types of food. Three came to mind immediately:

1. Blueberry muffins from Jordan Marsh
2. Ice cream sundaes at Baileys
3. Clam chowder at Legal’s Sea Food restaurants.

Fortunately the last classic restaurant and chowder still exists. The other two are gone into the pages of history.

What makes a food – or anything else for that matter – a classic?

I submit that the main attribute is the experience the food (or product or service) provides the customer.

But while all classics are wonderful experiences not all experiences are classics.

A company can build off of their classics. The company can generate a stream of revenue from them and broaden their footprint into other products. The experience customers feel from the classic allows companies to experiment or offer new products. Of course, not all of the company’s new products will be classics. And the company has an obligation to maintain the trust they have engendered with their customers. The new products must enable the same or similar experience the customer associates with the company.

What about insurance companies? Where are the ‘classics?’

I’d submit there are only a handful when we use the prism of considering classics – and in that case, companies known for the wonderful experience they provide their clients:

1. USAA’s customer service
2. Chubb’s exemplary attention to the high net-worth households
3. Northwestern Mutual’s focus on products (and producers which also benefits the insurer’s customers)
4. Progressive’s ability to leverage technology to benefit its policyholders from business acquisition through claim adjudication
5. ?????

Who would you add to number 5 – and beyond? But be honest and demanding before answering.

Published in: on December 12, 2009 at 12:06 am  Comments (2)  
Tags:

Razors and Razor Blades

One of the most enduring strategies for a company to use is “Razors and Razor Blades.” The strength of this strategy is continually on display from razor companies like Gillette. A consumer pays a basic price for the razor and then continues to generate revenue for Gillette through the life-long purchases of razor blades.

Another example of a company using this strategy is HP with their printers. Buy the printer at a low price and then purchase ink cartridges as they run out. HP added a new twist some years ago by having a message show up on the printer (and the print function on WORD) that states a cartridge is running low.

That got me thinking that my relationship with the car dealership I bought my car from is the same type of relationship. Yes, it is entirely in my control but I always bring my car to the same dealership for service.

An example that is not in my control is my iPhone (I just love this device). I’m always on the lookout for new apps and go to iTunes to purchase (or download free) applications. For Apple, it is a win all around – for them, for their developers and for me. And the constantly growing number of apps (now over 100,000) provides a nice competitive advantage for Apple.

Well, can the “razor and razor blade” strategy work for insurance?

How about property/casualty insurers who offer concierge service after an automobile accident? Hopefully it won’t happen with the same frequency as iPhone app purchases but seen over a vast number of automobile insurance policyholders who use the concierge service, these insurers are hoping that by providing a well-tuned (no pun intended) experience, they can better manage their loss costs than having the rascally claimants go to the body shops of their choice.

Are there other insurance examples? Perhaps in the life or annuity segments? Please let me know.

Published in: on December 8, 2009 at 8:22 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: ,

Architecture of Geographic Reach for Insurance Companies

When we consider the set of insurance companies based in the United States, there seem to be six types striving to succeed in their particular marketplace :

  • Local: this type of insurer offers its products and services to a few counties or perhaps one state
  • Regional: this type of insurer offers its products and services to two or more states
  • Super-Regional: this type of insurer offers its products and services to most, if not all, of the states in a specific geographic region as defined by the U.S. Census (e.g. Midwest or Mid-Atlantic)
  • National: this type of insurer offers its products and services throughout the entire United States
  • International – Adjacent: this type of insurer offers its products and services throughout the US and to either Canada or Mexico (or both)
  • International – Broad: this type of insurer offers its products and services throughout the US and to one or more countries around the world

As insurers in the US decide how to expand geographically to reach more customers there are several matters they need to deal with:

  • Diversify risk: I would submit this is one of the primary reasons – along with economies of scale – that drive an insurance company to widen their geographical reach
  • Manage more regulatory requirements: One of the pleasures of being regulated by 50 state insurance commissioners is that once an insurer has met one state’s regulatory regime, it has met just that one state’s regulatory regime
  • Become locationally intelligent: expanding the reach of the insurer’s products and services to different markets mandates that the insurer becomes intimate with the consumer and business demographic profiles of that geography as well as with the skills and expertise of the available distribution channels, the economy of the geography, and the actual terrain of the geography (i.e. to better assess property risks and liability risks if the insurer is a property/casualty insurer)
  • Widen distribution channel mix: Unless the insurer is using online methods to reach, sell and support their products, the insurer moving to wider geographies will also need to appoint agencies or brokers in the new geography and create new field offices as well
  • Leverage product offerings: it is quite possible that the insurer can apply its same products – albeit with changes required by the state insurance commissioners’ offices – in the new geography as it sells in its existing markets. But the insurer should also take the opportunity to ‘tune’ its products and services according to its locational analysis of the new markets
  • Create location-specific customer service: prime example at play here is moving to minority-majority areas where mere translation of its marketing materials is far, far from being sufficient. Additionally, the insurer should have producers in its distribution channel mix and customer service representatives who are from the cultures being targeted in the new geographies.

What would you add to these lists?

Published in: on December 4, 2009 at 7:09 am  Comments (2)  
Tags:

Two Perspectives Enabling Stronger Strategic Options For The Insurance Industry

Getting down to basics about the insurance industry, how might someone perceive or reperceive the industry from a strategic perspective? Strategy, for me at least, is what a company does to differentiate itself uniquely from its competitors. That’s why I don’t consider core administrative systems (or one of the components of a core administrative system such as billing) to be strategic. But that is a post for another time.

The purpose of determining a perspective is to help identify those strategic elements to truly differentiate one insurer from another. It’s very much like people majoring or being expert in multiple disciplines. Reperceiving enables a fresh view; a new view; a different way of thinking.

I suggest there are, at least, two perspectives insurance companies should use when considering how to create or enhance their strategies. One is an information perspective and the second is a media perspective.

We all know that insurance is an information-based industry (not information intensive but information based). So, how might an information perspective help an insurance company differentiate itself from its competitors? Well, an insurer with an information perspective should:

  • Understand that information must be shared throughout the enterprise and realize that information silos are barricades to success
  • Craft an initiative to ensure that information is cleaned as it comes into, flows through, and streams outward to any and all parts of the value chains that encompass insurance decision-making and operations
  • Realize that information is just  not all of that structured stuff being held (sometimes held hostage) in the various databases in every functional area
  • Set a higher priority to monitor, manage and act on unstructured data whether that is text, pictures, sound or video
  • Create strong search and navigation throughout the information streams for both internal staff (and I would include agents and brokers in this category for the purposes of our current discussion) and external stakeholders
  • Create an information council made up of people from each business department

What would you add to this list if an insurer wanted to perceive its strategic objectives through an information perspective?

Then there is the media perspective. Of course, it is highly interdependent with the information perspective. However, an insurer that applies a media perspective would do best if it realizes it is both a consumer and publisher of information. So, the insurer would:

  • Identify the media (or information channels, if you prefer) that information is produced (published) and consumed throughout the company value chains
  • Look to actual media companies that are successful (e.g. Google or Amazon) and determine which processes, if any, can be repurposed for the insurance company (if the insurer is stumped at this point, they can just ask those stakeholders like their own staff or their agents or brokers how they would prefer to receive information)
  • Augment their own media capabilities with existing social networking web sites (e.g. LinlkedIn)
  • Begin to apply rich media authoring capabilities (e.g. Adobe’s AIR) to package and present information in a way that is more easily acceptable (not that the long, dry procedure manuals are not exciting and interesting in their own right)
  • And as above, there are a host of other ways that an insurer could reperceive itself strategically by thinking of itself as a media company

What would you add to this list of media perceptions for an insurance company to consider?

Published in: on December 3, 2009 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

We have all seen the statement that “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear’ and most every driver knows the statement is true. In fact, if the speed of the oncoming car behind us is faster than we are driving, the object will soon past us.

But what about objects just over the horizon that we’re not ready for? Are they closer than they appear? And if so, how do we determine what they are and get ready to deal with them?

The history of the insurance industry seems to show that insurers do not quickly respond to either objects behind them or to the soon-to-be-revealed objects just over the horizon. For insurers, objects just over the horizon include shifting demographics, changes in ethnic composition of their target markets, asset / liability matching and realizing how the impact of other industries applications of technology reshape the expectations of both policyholders and producers.

Objects from behind insurers include competitors from the insurance industry, the financial services industry more generally, other industries and even prospective policyholders themselves. When considering who their competitors are, insurers must continually keep in mind that it is both current and emerging customer needs that reshapes the competitve terrain. The old expression that people don’t want a 3/4 inch drill but a 3/4 inch hole continues to strongly resonate and should provide guidance to insurers who consider only other insurers in their specific segment as competitors.

What objects – either from behind or just over the horizon – should your company be ready to respond to competitively succeed?

Published in: on November 23, 2009 at 6:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

DK / DE

Some years ago I attended a LIMRA Annual Conference. For those of you not on the life insurance side of the insurance house, LIMRA is a firm that focuses on life insurance marketing and distribution issues and trends. Their employees are verytalented statisticians and others with quantitative skills. Life insurers from around the world are members of LIMRA. The Annual Conference is squarely focused on CxO level executives. (I was a management consultant at the time paying a steep entry fee striving to generate business from these aforementioned senior executives).

There was a big tent speaker who I have never forgotten. He had a flip chart on the stage – his only prop for his entire presentation – and on the first page he had written DK / DE.

His themes were quite straightforward. He told the audience of assorted senior executives that their companies had no “Deficiency of Knowledge.”  However, there was a significant “Deficiency of Execution” because insurers just did not get the job done in a timely manner nor in an effective manner.

If this person was delivering a similar presentation today, he might vewry well add DRM (no, not for digital rights management). He could discuss the fact that insurers have a deficinecy of risk management …. in their asset / liability matching, in the target markets they go after (hello, coastal properties!!), and in …

Well, in what? What other areas do insurers demonstrate a deficiency of risk management? And is it still true – or was it ever true – that insurers exhibit a deficiency of execution?

Published in: on November 23, 2009 at 9:12 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Something Wicked This Way … Is Spreading Rapidly

How many of you saw the article that Michigan may be putting a proposal in front of voters on the 2010 state ballot that if enacted would reduce automobile, home and business insurance premiums by 20 percent. The group – the Fair Affordable Insurance Rates – needs to gather more than 304,000 valid voter signatures and clear other hurdles to put the measure on the November 2010 ballot.

A few thoughts come to mind (that I can print and publish in a ‘family-firendly’ way):

  • Part of the problem here is the insurance industry’s inability to express or other wise communicate its value proposition to its customers and prospects. (Life insurers have had this problem forever and still have not solved it)
  • Inform Michigan voters that its alright to roll back insurance premiums by 20% as long as you also mandate a rollback of automobile and homeowners remediation expenses by 20% – for auto parts, for auto labor, for court awards, for plaintiff’s legal fees, for rehabilitation services, for medical products, … and, of course, for all products and services insurers and their field staff and their agencies have to use to stay in business
  • Leave the State of Michigan entirely – make it one giant state-government run insurance company
  • Provide bare-bones coverage for automobile, homeowners and business owners

It’s bad enough that far too many politicians seem to calculate how many votes they can buy to stay in office by mandating insurance premium discounts or not allowing insurers to charge actuarially sound premiums. It will be far worse if citizens think they have the knowledge to set premium rates.

So, for those insurers who do business in the State of Michigan: what are your contingency plans? And, have you built the horrendous possibility of this spreading into your own ERM models?

Published in: on November 12, 2009 at 9:19 am  Comments (3)  
Tags: , ,