Tuesday, June 23, 2009

For auto insurers, is retention taking a back seat?

Until very recently I worked on the acquisition side of an auto insurance account, where these days it’s all about the price—with virtually every auto insurer claiming they can save you $400 or $500. (Which makes you wonder, if everyone can save you money, which companies are ripping people off?)

But perhaps the most eye-opening aspect of auto insurance marketing is the lack of respect paid to retention. After all, if you believe the accepted adage that for every $10 spent to acquire a new customer it takes only $1 to retain an existing customer—why are auto insurers plowing so many millions into acquisition and spending next to nothing on retention?

It’s especially important to have a retention strategy these days because of the changing relationship between auto insurance buyer and seller. Once upon a time, most drivers had insurance agents who they had a one-to-one relationship with—but now, with independent agents becoming a shrinking breed, and with the rise of direct-to-consumer providers like Geico, 21st Century and Esurance, times have changed. Most customers have no interaction with their insurance company, unless they have an accident or are mailing in their premium check.

Seems to me it’s time for auto insurers to take a fresh new approach to retaining customers, one that begins building a relationship well before the auto policy is about to expire and the customer can be swayed by the latest “you can save hundreds” TV commercial.

Thought one. Adding a message on a bill insert, while a no-brainer, will do absolutely zilch to build a relationship with best customers. What’s needed is a more robust approach that includes a regular stream of print and/or e-mail communications with relevant information drivers can use like:

• invitations to online or offline tutorials on choosing the coverage right for me and my family
• info on safety recalls and maintenance tips for my particular vehicle
• Safety advice for teenage and senior drivers on my policy
• Reminders of why my insurer is the right choice and what it offers that the competitors don’t.

Thought two. Start engaging via social networking tools. With people so often confused by their auto policy details (collision? comprehensive? low or high deductible?), it seems like there’s an opening for an auto insurance provider to become the online source for honest, helpful information. So who will step up?

While some auto insurers are moving in the right direction by gravitating toward the communications opportunities offered by Web 2.0, many of the executions are weak at best and some companies have chosen to do nothing at all. A few quick observations:

• Market leader Geico barely exists in the Web 2.0 world unless you want to count a blog for the Miss Geico offshore racing boat—and a few “Screw Geico” entries from unhappy customers out in the blogosphere. Kash, the bug-eyed stack of money that stars in Geico’s goofy TV commercials, does have a Twitter account—but has just a single tweet over the last 4-months. (Kash may be the quiet type, but one tweet?.)

Esurance icon Erin, animated hero of the company’s television commercials, has her own blog on the company Web site—but after a fast start in 2005, it seems like Erin may be all blogged out—she has a woeful total of three blog entries in 2009. (Is she busy on a TV shoot? Have her write from the set!)

• Then, there’s Allstate. Very active with Twitter, they appear to be doing a bang-up job of responding quickly to customer comments and concerns. They also appear to be the only insurer to set up an online community which can be found at goodhandscommunity.org. The community gets an A for effort, but the execution? In a future post, I’ll give it a full review.

This blog entry was previously published June 15, 2009 on Loyalty Truth.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

I Love Premium Insurance Service!

The recession has truly set in...Not the obvious one in the economy...but the one in basic common sense.

Had picked up a small used car a couple of months earlier ( when the fuel prices made driving a larger car appear a criminal waste)

Unfortunately missed out on the insurance renewal date for the car...and was left looking for a new insurer and quickly. Having earlier worked with an Indian banking group, which also runs one of the largest insurance firms out here, called up an old colleague & friend and requested for some urgent assistance.

Thus commenced the comedy of errors...
a. The insurance premium quoted was about 10% higher than of the competition : Spoke with my ex colleague. He suggested I take the policy and assured me that the small premium was worth the high service levels

b. The surveyor arrived on a bright Saturday morning photographed the automobile extensively and left

c. The insurance chaps subsequently disappeared for a couple of days. After diligent follow ups and messages via several media, was informed that the policy had in fact been issued, but they had forgotten to send it across. Quite sweet of them considering that I had'nt even issued the cheque!

d. An email with the scanned copy of the policy arrives shortly thereafter.

e. A polite young manager, promising to carry the original copy, arrives the following weekend to pick up the check, but without the original. Am assured that the original certified copy would be forwarded via an express courier, which has not been received till date!

f. I realise to my horror, albeit a couple of days later, that the policy has been issued in the name of the previous owner, but with my residential address. God bless their verification processes!

g. Point this out to the young manager, who assures me of a prompt rectification. Not surprisingly he drops off the radar!

h. A discount cheque received a couple of weeks later, marked of course in the previous owner's name and to my address ( now this is salt on wounds!)

i. I catch hold of another chap ( not wanting to disturb my ex-colleague, to purely experience the joy of a privileged customer...) and plead resolution

j. Receive a call after another arduous week, and told that I need to pay a little more towards the premium amount as they had made an error in the calculation! Indicate to them that I have infact received a refund cheque, which of course they are not aware of! Silence for another fortnight

k. A delighted managerial call is received on a bright sunny morning, indicating that the breakthrough had been made! I would now have to pay a lesser incremental amount as he had fought with his senior management for the same! I suggested criminal and civil proceedings as a more civilised way of resolution. .....

l. Received a call that the policy would in fact now be modified, if only I could re-submit some of the earlier documents again...AND thus the story goes on.

The next time you're pitched premium service...you may like to reconsider the privileged life of ordinary citizens! I wonder when they are planning to launch a loyalty programme!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Can a little magic help Borders Rewards?

I’m a card-carrying member of Borders Rewards, the program run by book, music and movie seller Borders, who recently announced their rewards program had grown 23 percent over the past year and now totaled 32 million members.

I first discovered Borders via their bricks-and-mortar stores in the early 90’s and still love their open store layout and laid-back vibe. I generally find their salespeople to be well-informed and helpful. I’ve been to their Web site many times and opted in to their e-mail list years ago.

Yet I may be one of Borders’ worst customers.

You see, not long after Amazon.com launched in 1995, I became a regular there. As fans of Amazon know, they have the world’s best selection. Nine times out of 10, they have the lowest prices. And there’s plenty of customer commentary to peruse should I be on the fence about a specific book, CD or other product.

So it’s tough for either the Borders stores or Borders.com to measure up to market leader Amazon. Sure, I still visit my local Borders every now and then—but only after they send me a promotional e-mails with a coupon good for 40% off any purchase. (As I said, I’m not a good customer.)

Still, even with Amazon’s superiority in so many areas, Borders now possesses a potential game changer. If they can figure out what to do with it.

It’s called the “Magic Shelf” and it was launched by Borders just about a year ago, with little fanfare. This nifty feature enables registered customers like me to turn the Borders’ home page into my own virtual bookshelf. Through an attractive wooden shelf interface, I can quickly scan music, book and movie recommendations in several categories.

Importantly, it shows me selections based on my preferences, per an online survey I filled out, so the titles on my virtual shelf are personalized just for me. It’s a different approach than Amazon whose less attractive home page shows me items based on my past purchases, not my preferences.

So will the Magic Shelf make me more likely to shop at Borders or Borders.com?

Well, not yet. Old habits die hard and Borders needs to find a way to compel me to become a regular customer by better leveraging the benefits of the Magic Shelf. For starters, it would help if Borders both told and reminded customers about this very cool feature.

It also means Borders will have to move away from their current e-mail strategy, where it’s all about the discounts and latest money-saving offer. Currently, fully 75% of the e-mails Borders sends out are offer or price-based while most of the balance are for perks unrelated to their core business.

The solution seems simple: start sending personal, relevant e-mails, using information culled from each customer’s Magic Shelf selections. By filling e-mails with content that has real value—like info on new products I might be interested in—Borders stands a better chance of building a real (and profitable) relationship with me, because it will be based on my love of music, movies and books, and not my love of saving money.

With the proper use of the data gained from the Magic Shelf, it feels like there may be a small opening for Borders. Will they follow through on it? Or will they continue to beat their heads against the wall by trying to out-discount Amazon? Time will tell. But surely a personalized communications approach is a better way to go than continuing a price war against the mighty Amazon.

This blog entry was previously published May 29, 2009 on Loyalty Truth.