May 2019

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Personalising insurance

Source: Asia Insurance Review | May 2016

Too often, we hear about insurance companies struggling to attract, engage with and hold on to their customers in the long term. Dr Deepak Gandhi of Pacific Life Re Asia explores one of the ways that insurers can more fully engage with their customers, increase the “stickiness” of their business and go beyond just issuing a cheque at the claims stage. 
The perennial question and issue with the insurance market in Asia is why people are not buying sufficient insurance for their protection needs. There are of course many reasons why the perceived need for insurance is so low and why insurance companies struggle to attract customers. 
   Traditionally, insurance products are highly intangible and difficult for customers to relate to or engage with. There is also limited contact between the customer and the insurance company – typically only at renewal, where there are premium collection issues, or at the point of claim when something unfortunate happens.
   One way in which insurance companies can distinguish themselves – by being seen as more than just providing financial assistance when an unfortunate event occurs – is by providing a range of support services fully embedded within their products after a customer purchases an insurance policy. These services provide additional value-added support that is relevant to the customers, either in enhancing their personal well-being or reducing pain points in their lives.
   The addition of value-added services with insurance products brings tangible benefits alongside the financial protection that the policyholder gets from his insurance policy. It also provides an opportunity for the insurance company to continuously engage with the policyholder, providing support before, during, and after the risk event that the policyholder buys protection for.
Winning the customer
In order to address these needs, insurers need to take a step back and attempt to understand what their customers want. It is only then that they are better able to design more holistic insurance propositions with the right support mechanisms with their customers in mind. 
   This encourages both parties to interact with each other on an on-going basis, and provides the right push for the insurer to pursue a path of service (and product) innovation. This approach involves embedding a range of value-added services within the insurance product, thereby enabling the insurers to be seen as true partners that go beyond providing financial assistance to customers. 
   Consumer research also confirms that customers are more likely to display interest in products that cater to their implicit needs, address their pain points, and provide a product narrative that goes beyond the pure financial into the realm of delivering a holistic service, as illustrated below.
A tale of two customers’ journeys
When John Tan and Kevin Wong were diagnosed with cancer, their worlds turned upside down. They were at a complete loss. They had no idea what to do first. Who would they consult? What is the best treatment? Would they survive? How would they manage the entire treatment? 
   After approaching his insurer, Kevin was asked to submit the claim documents for the necessary due diligence. Everything went smoothly – his insurer admitted the claim and posted the claim cheque. While his insurer fulfilled the contract, there was minimal level of engagement between Kevin and his insurer throughout the process. 
Constant caring assistance throughout
Similarly, John called his insurer to ascertain the procedure to file a claim. He was promptly advised about the process and was also promised a call back within the next 24 hours. He was in for a pleasant surprise the next day when his call was promptly returned. 
   Linda, the case manager allocated to assist John, came across empathetically and patiently answered all his queries regarding the insurance cover and the treatment options available. Linda then advised John about the other services available and scheduled an appointment for him. The insurer’s approach to the whole situation came as a great relief for John. 
   During the discussion, Linda shared with John a listing of the oncologists’ and the centres of excellence for cancer treatment in the city. She also assisted John to schedule an appointment with the chosen oncologist. After the initial consultation, John still had a few ambiguities and wanted to consult another doctor to be fully sure of the diagnosis and the proposed treatment. Once again, Linda offered assistance in organising a second medical opinion for John with another oncologist, both virtually and in person.
   Having consulted two doctors and all his questions answered, John made a decision to pursue the necessary staging investigations and treatment. Linda continued to assist him and walked him through the entire treatment plan put together by the treating doctors. She patiently answered all his queries, and helped John and his family prepare mentally for what lay ahead.
   Linda also explained the services that were covered under John’s insurance so that the family was better prepared to manage the expenses. She also made the necessary medical appointments for John, resolved his queries and connected him to the 24-hour counselling helpline provided by the insurer. The transport services to and from the hospital for each session of investigations, chemotherapy or radiotherapy were arranged throughout the course of the treatment without having the family to worry about the details.
   Linda also continued to maintain records of all laboratory reports, scans, and treatment sessions so that at any point in time, John and his family were well aware of what the insurance would pay for. She worked closely with the team of treating doctors and also actively managed John’s hospital stay. 
   Finally, when John was ready to be discharged, Linda coordinated the discharge planning with the hospital authorities and arranged for him to return home. Linda also continued to assist with the filing of John’s claim and other reimbursements, ensuring prompt settlement with minimal follow-ups. 
   Once John was home, the necessary home nursing care was arranged to help him recover fast. Shortly after the initial phase of the recovery, Linda connected John to other cancer survivors as part of the “Survivorship Programme”, a form of support system for John in order to help regain his footing. 
Proactive approach in engaging with customers
Though not standard practice as of now, this is the path that insurers need to begin treading. At the time of a claim, when a customer is faced with the most trying circumstances and is coming to terms with a new reality, insurers need to hold their customer’s hand through the journey and provide all possible support to lessen the turmoil that he has been thrown 
   Insurers are probably best placed to assist the customer during such times by providing the necessary value-added support services. In order to achieve this, insurers have to move away from the traditional back office claims settlement role and pursue a more proactive approach in engaging with their customers, right from the time when their customers are on-board. This would create more satisfied customers, enhance brand loyalty for the insurer and also be a way for the insurer to give back to society. 
   Engaging with the customers right from the beginning of their insurance journey and elevating the service experience at each touch point through a well thought out and proactive customer centred methodology is the approach which insurers need to adopt. This is indeed the way forward for insurance – from merely honouring a contract to personalising insurance. 
Dr Deepak Gandhi is Director, Underwriting and Claims at Pacific Life Re Asia. 


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