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A.M. BEST'S MONTHLY INSURANCE MAGAZINE


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Next Wave
The Human Touch

Apps, lower prices and faster quotes can’t replace the importance of person-to-person contact.
  • Carly Burnham
  • September 2018
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Carly Burnham

Carly Burnham

Insurance is a purchase that is still relational in nature. It is a promise, and it is based on trust.

My first insurance job was working as an office assistant in a small agency in a small town. The agent I worked for shaped many of the views I have about the industry, and I credit her for much of my passion for and belief that the insurance business provides service that helps society.

As an office assistant, the task I did most often was answer the phone. I was the first person our customers spoke to no matter what reason they had for calling. The agent I worked for stressed the importance of this role from the first day I started my job.

One of the earliest lessons I remember her teaching me was that the first thing I should ask a caller reporting a claim was “Is everyone OK?” Looking back now, I want to believe that I would have done that instinctively, but as an 18-year-old, fresh out of high school, with only a couple of years of retail experience under my belt, it's possible I wouldn't have. Either way, it's a lesson that stuck. I remember this more vividly than the time she explained replacement value versus actual cash value or medical payments versus personal injury protection. Of course, I believe the technical knowledge is important, but too often, when we bring employees into our agencies or our departments, we neglect to talk to them about the soft skills, especially the basics that we think they ought to already know.

Insurance advertising mostly focuses on an insurer's ability to settle claims on an app in minutes or to provide a quote in 15 minutes or less. When we're struggling to find and retain talent or customers, it may be seductive to think that technology can solve the industry's problems—that if we just “simplify” policy language enough, or “cut out the middleman,” consumers will like us more.

But, at the end of the day, if the consumer never has a claim, they're still paying for something they may not understand or value. If they have a claim, and the quick settlement reveals that their snappy quote wasn't what they actually purchased, the insurance industry still gets a negative rap.

Insurance is a purchase that is still relational in nature. It is a promise, and it is based on trust. Without human interaction, it is much colder. When you log in to report a claim, your app can ask “Is everyone safe?” And, you can check yes or no, but it may feel like the company is only protecting itself. Consumers may complain about insurance applications, but the best agents I've known can use them as a conversational tool, a way to learn about their customers and what is important to them. In particular, discussing a person's property application can allow the customer and the agent to build rapport. This is lost when you're simply filling out an online form.

There are consumers who prefer this, but I would argue that the preference may be more from lack of a good trusted adviser, which I believe all agents ought to strive to be. If we insist on seeing technology as that which will save us, we must build it with the human touch in mind. We must strive for a user experience which can delight customers in the same way that it delighted our agency's customers when the principal would call each individual on their birthday and leave a voicemail or have a quick chat sending her well wishes to them.

Carly Burnham, CPCU, MBA, has been in the insurance industry since 2004. She blogs at InsNerds.com and can be reached at bestreviewcomment@ambest.com.


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