Just like Formula 1 racing, insurance companies are racing in market to offer most appreciable deals to their valued customers. We are here talking about customer satisfaction. It is not that customer get satisfied and becomes loyal instantly, it is with constant research on information related to customers’ wants and demands and pleasing efforts (promotional offers, discounts, free or discounted insurance) by insurance companies that such customers prefer and promote quality product by the company.
They must not only buy the insurance product but feel great about it. Insurance industry faces challenges like lack of awareness among customers about policies and insurance products, customer complaint about low service quality, prolonged claim settlement, tedious and lengthy document filing work, competition and limited share in market. In India, because of poverty, insurance is more of a luxury than necessity.
To combat this situation, Insurance company must ensure a strong grip on existing customers because they will bring them business again and again and would also spread positive word of mouth leading to more new customers. Success mantra for insurance companies is none other than “customer retention.”
Customer retention was long undervalued and companies had been be fooling self by investing more and more in acquiring new customer leading to decreased ROI. With time, they realized that tweaking organizational structure a bit and making use of already existing database and social media, they can work wonders on retaining customers. The customer today wants to keep the communication short, sweet and simple. Forget those long boring brochures, emails and phone calls; rather say hello to Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp for personalised approach. Make it a happy conversation, generate delight for the customers and they will be glued to your organization forever.
Why to retain insurance customers?
Companies are moving from product centric approach to customer centric approach. It is not important “what” you sell, what is important is “who” you are selling it to. In the year 1970, Burger King realized the significance of being customer centric and came up with the slogan “have it your way.” It is not that this customer is just the ‘king’, the customer of today is ‘king forever’ first and then a well aware king. This customer king is not only concerned about your valued products and but also your quality services so, if you do not serve him well regularly on these two grounds then he may switch to your competitor.
Therefore, no more “ullu banawing” as highlighted in Idea Cellular commercial featuring Abhishek Bachchan. Keeping the two challenges of competition and advancement in technology, customer awareness is also a concern. For instance, Policy Bazaar (www.policybaazar.com) is a website that provides you options available for different insurance products, compares them and suggests the most suitable policy for you.
This induces cut throat competition but if your product is up to the expectation of your customers and you are successful in providing customer delight to your customers, then your reviews will be excellent and this would promote more and more customers to buy your product and you will succeed in gaining competitive advantage.
We are aware that whatever insurance policy or product a company has it needs to be marketed to the customer. Kotler defines marketing as “the process by which companies create value for customers and build strong customer relationships in order to capture value from customers in return.”
The marketing process starts with understanding needs and wants of customers. For better understanding of the same, survey conducting is very important. Maintenance of information collected through survey is also important, this information goes to concerned departments of the organization for example, marketing, sales, R & D, Customer Relationship department and finance department for their respective uses.
On the basis of needs of customers, insurance companies come up with most valuable products. While catering these products to customers, insurance companies ensure quality services which leads to satisfied customer, who turn out to be loyal to the insurance company and is retained for a longer duration.
Customer retention is “an assessment of the product or service quality provided by a business that measures how loyal its customers are. Customer retention statistics are typically expressed as a percentage of long term clients, and they are important to a business since satisfied retained customers tend to spend more, cost less and make valuable references to new potential customers.” Root of customer retention is customer delight.
Customer delight is defined as “the very favorable experience of the client of a business when they have received a good or service that significantly surpasses what they had initially anticipated. A marketing department can use instances of customer delight to a company’s advantage by requesting referrals and obtaining testimonials from delighted customers that can help attract new customers.”
All insurance marketing activities are customer centric and thus, to win over heart of customer he must be provided with customer delight. The cumbersome process of applying for insurance policy and then long wait period for claim settlement pulls away customer from insurance policies. What matters is customer delight. Generating and maintaining customer delight is a long term activity and not one time affair.
A happy employee at insurance facility or a happy representative at customer care handling the customer as a king would help in generating customer delight. Once this customer delight with simplified procedure for applying for insurance policy and faster claim settlement is there, than this customer would feel like coming for a repurchase of insurance policy similar way she goes to spa. This customer delight will help her feel connected with the insurance company.
This satisfied and delighted customer will end up being loyal to the insurance company and will result in higher customer life time value. Kotler defines customer lifetime value as “the value of the entire stream of purchases that the customer would make over a lifetime of patronage.”
If a customer purchases life insurance policy, maturity period of which is 10 years from the year of purchase and she purchases it at the age of 30, if she is satisfied with services by insurance company then she would return to them for a repurchase at the age of 40. Not only this, she would spread positive word of mouth about the insurance company and its services to all. This will bring more customers and investment on retaining her as a loyal customer will generate return on investment for the insurance company.
Customer retention leads to increased benefits for insurance company, for example; increased profits, cost reduction, better organizational culture, increased sales, motivation of employees, quality service leading to customer delight, customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, better analysis of product life cycle, better understanding of customer preferences and efficiency in building customer relationship.
In the research, following variables were studied from insurance marketer’s point of view to understand their awareness about customer retention weight age they assign to customer retention, cost reduction through customer retention, wide reach of loyal customers, impact of word of mouth, customer preference of personalized message, better organizational culture through relationship marketing, better understanding and analysis of product life cycle, customer delight and competitive advantage through customer retention.
Why customer retention is more important than customer acquisition?
Every business needs customers to survive, and it undertakes every possible action to get them. It runs advertisement campaigns on television, in print, and even on web. It hires public relation firm to build trust and create positive corporate image.
It hires search engine optimization expert to make their web presence prominent. It does everything that is needed to be done – from sponsorship to realizing corporate social responsibility to hiring best people to making product available within the customers’ reach to pricing it attractively.
A company does everything to acquire new customers, but when it comes to retaining them, most of the businesses fail; may be because some of the decision makers do not see any point in spending time on retaining customers.
I have heard business people saying that why should they worry about customer retention, if they can get a lot more by spending some dollars on promotion. I wish they knew why it is important for them to retain their customers for as long as it is humanly possible, and how customer retention becomes the only difference between a failure and success in business.
Cost implications of losing customers for insurance companies
A lost customer means lost feedback and the opportunity to improve.
A lost customer means lost sales and revenue that is lost forever.
A lost customer causes asking, “Why didn’t we recognize the problem before losing them?”
A lost customer means having lost a testimonial to use in selling to others.
A lost customer opens us up to potentially negative word-of-mouth that might affect our reputation with prospects, customers, suppliers and staff.
A lost customer means having lost all their possible future referrals.
A lost customer has a negative impact on the confidence of our entire staff.
A lost customer increases the urgency to prospect for new customers (and often at the worst time).
A lost customer and the resulting reduced revenue can slow or even halt plans to grow.
A lost customer means less money available for payroll, commissions and benefits for the work force.
A lost customer can demoralize the sales and marketing staff.
A lost customer may become an unexpected opportunity for the competition.
A lost customer means a distraction from other important issues.
A reputation for losing customers can hang a black cloud over the ability to find and hire the right personnel.
A lost customer can be the beginning of a reputation for losing customers that hangs like a black cloud over the ability to find and hire the right personnel.
A lost customer can degrade an image and reputation in the marketplace.
A lost customer forces undertaking tasks and changes that weren’t wanted or planned.
A lost customer can have a damaging impact on our sales projections, cash flow, receivables, and payables.
A lost customer can cut volume and prohibit meeting buying commitments with suppliers and vendors.
A lost customer can trigger the need to spend un-budgeted funds on marketing, research, new customer acquisition, etc.
A lost customer can disrupt inventory levels, inventory investments, ordering procedures and reorder frequency.
A lost customer may cause the need to refocus priorities and go in a totally different direction.
A lost customer can cause the need to focus attention on poor performance rather than growth opportunities.
A lost customer can cause doubt about the validity of service fulfillment and pricing strategies.
A lost customer causes hard work in an attempt to regain the business.
A lost customer can cause overreacting and even panic when confronted with similar situations with existing customers in the future.
A lost customer can discourage a prospective salesperson from ever trying the job.
A lost customer can lead to an accounting, collection or legal nightmare.
A lost customer can devalue the worth and sale-ability of a business.
I did not create this list, I don’t know its origin, but I find the value in the message, and I hope you do to.
How to retain customer?
Customer satisfaction key to retention
Philip Kotler defined satisfaction as – “a person’s feelings of pleasure or disappointment resulting from comparing a product’s perceived performance (or outcome) in relation to his or her expectations”. Hoyer and MacInnis another researcher said that satisfaction can be associated with feelings of acceptance, happiness, relief, excitement, and delight.
There are many factors that affect customer satisfaction. these factors include friendly employees, courteous employees, knowledgeable employees, helpful employees, accuracy of billing, billing timeliness, competitive pricing, service quality, good value, billing clarity and quick service.
In order to achieve customer satisfaction, organisations must be able to satisfy their customers needs and wants. Customers’ needs state – the felt deprivation of a customer, whereas customers’ wants, according to Kotler (2000) refer to “the form taken by human needs as they are shaped by culture and individual personality”.
The success drivers for the customer satisfaction and retention (CSR) can be a long list, as anything which we do contributes to the CSR in one way or the other. Here is the list of some key ones:
Product and services meeting customer expectations and product promise.
This is the core- There are two parts in there:
1. Product Promise-
This includes not only what you said in your brochures, and advertisements, but also what your sales person told the customer. It is evident that sales people can over play the good qualities of the product or may mis-sell the product. Therefore, companies not only have to focus on creating authentic published sales pitch, but also ensure that their products are sold but not mis-sold.
2. Customer Expectations:
One needs to manage customer expectations, as misplaced customer expectations lead to dissatisfaction even if you are meeting your product promise. As a customer behavior, in this sales driven world, consumer, do give a little tolerance to your performance short-falls, but its minor. The methods to manage customer expectations can be:
Try to address the key expectation gap areas (as you learn by your experience), and clarify it to the customer.
You can be factual about the key areas which can lead to customer expectations mismatch. For example, for a life insurance company, one can clarify to the customer the sales illustrations (which provides the estimate of the asset value of your policy till maturity), are a guess and not a promise.
You don’t have to go around telling everything what your product cannot do. Focus on key areas, where customers may have wrong expectations. As long as you are positioning it in a factual and positive language, it should do the trick. One other way is to submit detailed technical and functional specifications in a user friendly manner. The product comparison charts with your other products also helps.
Trust relationship with the customer
This is a soft factor, which provides long-term sustainability to your customer base and loyalty. It provides strong foundation to your brand perception and value. This factor mainly emerges from the corporate culture and value systems. The trust-factor with the customer is built in following representations:
Veracity of the statements in the sales material.
Authenticity of the sales statements and scripts
The product recalls, in case of product issue
Product promise match with the actual product features
NOTE- Our feeling is that, if you build an organization culture and value systems which promotes trust factor with the customer, you will build a trust-based environment within the organization itself. This will not only retain your customers, but also your employees and business partners.
Customer service and support
The quality, promptness and friendliness (in that order of priority) of your customer service and support will determine the level of your CSR. Customer service and support is a big subject in itself. Here are some key areas of Customer Service, which drives the customer satisfaction:
Knowledge of the product and domain- A customer loose confidence, if the person who picks up the phone does not understand the products or processes of the organization.
The following training and support of the frontline staff can help:
Product features and organization process
Top 500 questions, a customer can ask about the product and the organization, and their answer.
Create an online FAQ data bank and also the searchable product and process database
Create train the trainers, which are on the shop-floor to handle any complex query.
Identity of the customer and customer interaction history
This is a norm in large organization. All interactions with the customer should be noted in detail. This should include:
The customer issue.
What did we respond on?
What did we promise to do?
Was that issue linked to a previous issue?
A single view of the customer in terms of all his relationships and transactions is key to creating the customer identity. A good operational business intelligence platform or an operational data store can help.
Customer relationship and constant touch
A customer likes to be contacted without the context of any issue. The customer touch can be achieved on the following counts:
Checking with the customer on if the product is working well?
Checking with the customer on his level of satisfaction after a repair or service call.
Sending a mail or a gift token on important customer dates like birthdays and anniversaries.
Contacting customer with new offerings.
Sending regular newsletter, industry developments, and tips on ‘how to make the best out of our product’ etc.
Level of customer satisfaction index
One can say that customer satisfaction index is inversely proportional to the customer attrition. This is not 100% true, due to following reasons:
An unsatisfied customer may not attrite, because the exit costs are too high.
A satisfied customer may attrite, due to aggressive competition campaigns or you may not have the product, which the customer wants.
Customer sales experience
Customer sales experience can leave a kind of good or bad taste. This after taste does contribute to customer retention or attrition. For example a great sales experience may retain a customer, even after some post sales issues. However, if a customer had an inadequate sales experience, it catalyzes attrition.
Customer post-sale experience
The post-sales experience can help reinforce the long term retention. The post-sale experience includes:
Introductory call with the relationship manager or account manager etc.
Exit Barriers for the customer
There are healthy and unhealthy aspects of these exit barriers. We have a dedicated topic for this purpose. One can create exit barriers without being unethical, so that a customer has a good stake in staying with you. Some of the ethical exit barriers you can have:
Exit clause in your contracts.
Provide value added but complementary services, which your customer gets used to.
Understand customers business and domain etc.
About Research: India suffers from poverty where insurance policy is not the necessity but a luxury. On top of this, lack of awareness among customers about insurance policy, competition among insurance companies and delayed claim settlement prevents customers from purchasing insurance policy. However, government promotes insurance through tax rebate yet, in such situation, customer retention is the only solution through which insurance company can mark its position in market for long run.
Based on alarming statistics about need of customer retention and customer relationship management and its impact on customers and companies revealed by Colin Shaw, this research highlights significance of customer retention in insurance industry and suggests that insurance companies must invest in their loyal customers.
It was found that insurance companies possess awareness on customer retention through CRM but noticeable action was required to be taken. Measures for increasing customer retention through CRM are suggested in this research.
Measures for Customer Retention: Customer retention does help in cost reduction but timely and proper analysis of existing customers is important. Yes, we are here, talking about customer churn. Insurance companies must invest on the existing churned customers for bringing in more and more revenues and new prospects for the company. Such customers must be rewarded or honored time to time to keep them glued with the insurance company forever.
Insurance company must make its presence felt to the existing loyal customers everywhere and anywhere- across web, mobile and in person for example branches of company at various locations. When the customer walks in at any other location of the company she must be treated with the same warmth. Branches at all locations will prove the authenticity of the insurance company and existing customer will further develop trust in the company to recommend it to more and more people and to buy again.
Insurance companies have their online presence and it may happen that due to little mishandling, an existing customer may post a negative comment which may be visible to all. Insurance employees must handle this customer with care, that is, employee may politely apologize to customer online and try to resolve the complaint so that others may get benefitted with the conversation and can notice your care and concern for your valued existing customers. Online discussion forum and advice from expert feature must be there on company’s website. If free advice is provided along with do it yourself, videos explaining how to fill policy form and not get cheated by outside agents, will help in building customer’s trust in the company.
On company’s blog, existing customers must be promoted to share their story about benefits of policy and claim settlement and option of rating customer service experience must be available. On the website of the insurance company, all relevant and required information useful for the customer must be disclosed to develop trust among existing customers. List of employees must be given to avoid fraud.
Motivation of employees and customers play a vital role in insurance industry. If an insurance agent or employee or if the company itself win laurels then the same must be shared on social media networking sites, pages and blogs. This promotes motivation among team and helps the organization gear up with the team to provide increased customer delight. Similarly, if a customer purchases hefty amount of insurance policy he must be honored online or company may host dinner in his honor to motivate other customers to purchase insurance policies from the company.
If a customer keeps on purchasing policies from you then she also deserves same honor. Existing customers who purchase and repurchase policies keeping their parents as nominees and oldest customers must also be honored by the company. Customers who recommend more and more people must be honored by company, this will motivate new prospects to buy from you. Honoring customers incur cost, so the insurance company must keep a check on the same.
In insurance industry, where tweaking insurance policies as per customer preferences is not much in the hands of company as the industry is governed strongly by government, generating customer delight becomes difficult. Insurance companies must go with surprise and delight feature. Quality customer service and being proactive is the key to generate customer delight here. Whenever a customer calls you to enquire about insurance claim, you may suggest another policy to her.
As you identify the caller, tell her, her policy number address and other details you may connect well by saying, “Oh! You had your birthday last month, wish you belated happy birthday, hope you received our greetings in mail in time”. This is how you connect well with the customer, she feels she has her own important spot in your company. This requires managing and maintaining proper and updated record of customer communication and it makes co-ordination with other departments of the insurance company essential. Insurance company must connect with Pizza Hut, Dominos or bank debit/credit cards to offer discounts to their valued customers.
Insurance company must connect with all possible clinics to provide better claims to their valued customers. This will help in developing faith and confidence among customers. Third party and cashless schemes on medical claims benefits customers and such customers promote it more and more. Insurance companies may provide an add on medical insurance on life insurance depending upon government regulations to retain existing customers.
It gives the customer immense satisfaction when they partner with the company. They feel important and it adds to customer delight. Customers develop faith in insurance company when the company seeks their feedback and keep asking them ways to improve the services. This bond gets stronger when company work on suggestions by customers and acknowledge the customer for better performance through her suggestion.
When insurance company conducts research on improving customer delight and before survey they intimate
customers about the purpose of survey, then the customers feel connected. They feel important and valued like
stakeholders and not like ‘lab rats’. Employee employer bond also strengthens when their suggestions are implemented. These techniques help in retaining both customers and employees.
Customer retention is an ideology that must be inculcated in customer service and should be promoted and supported by top management. Insurance companies must use all resources available with them to promote customer retention, keeping cost factor in mind. Co-ordination from various departments of insurance company is required for promoting customer retention.
Working on surveys and feedbacks to come up with value based insurance schemes require innovation and maintaining superior quality customer service corrective measure and support from all levels of management and departments of the organisation. Imagine the level of motivation an employee will experience when she is rewarded in the meeting for handling the most difficult customer, a recognition in a meeting with an introduction “round of applause for our knight in shining armor who resolved the issue of our most promising and loyal customer when we were at the brink of losing her and this employees won the customer’s heart once again,” this statement will influence and motivate other employees also so to render better quality customer service to retain them.
Retaining loyal customers as well as employees help in identifying problems and finding their solutions at various stages of product life cycle. Partnering with them helps insurance company to identify the stage at which innovation is required and when to take the product to the next level. Keeping in touch with customers give an idea about delineation of market segment captured by insurance company with a particular policy and how the company can hold it for long duration with help of customer retention.
Warning! Excessive or No Customer Retention may go wrong
All customers, existing loyal ones or new prospects come with a caution “handle with care,” especially in insurance industry where everything lies up on trust, authenticity and great customer service. Following are the areas where an insurance company needs to be extra careful in dealing with customers it is eyeing to retain:
1. Band image: Word of mouth or insurance company’s image on social media impact its customers most. Recent incidents which were covered widely in Indian media were how Kamaal R. Khan, actor, tried to dilute comedian Kapil Sharma’s, image over Twitter. Kapil Sharma, who is a brand in himself, saved his image by apologizing publicly over Twitter for reacting to Kamaal Khan’s comments. This helped him further strengthening his image among his fans, in this case his fans are his loyal customers.
Similarly, to err is human, if there is some wrong information floated online by mistake by the insurance company or some delay in facilitating claims then employees of insurance company may apologize to customers. The employees must keep in mind resolving the issue and again generate customer delight but not at the cost of dignity of the company, apologize once and do not drag the topic, refund money only if it is legal and as per rules, do not incur loss, after all it is a matter of business!
2. Research team: For ensuring highest customer retention, insurance companies needs to conduct survey and collect feedback for research, frequently. It is important to identify the problem for research correctly, otherwise the whole research will result in chaos. Survey or feedback may go completely wrong if interviewer is biased with questions and analysis, same thing applies to interviewee/ respondent if her responses are biased or is not serious about the survey or feedback.
Similarly research plan, analysis and implication of results need to be applied flawlessly. Once the result is derived then proper testing must be done internally and proper training of employees must be conducted before going live. Conducting research for customer retention and applying corrective measure require constant monitoring and it will incur cost, insurance company must not exceed its budget in order to win the race of customer retention. Also, it would require proper co-ordination among various departments of the company, if there is conflict among them, than the whole exercise will get wasted due to lack of support from departments.
3. Management: Customer retention exercises require support from top management of insurance company. Lack of motivation and leadership from top management may demotivate and demoralize the employees. Management must ask for report on customer retention and must discuss proper plans and strategy to induce and maintain customer retention in the insurance company. Management must sanction budget for training for customer retention and hold workshops on regular basis, it must not forget rewarding employees in this area.
4. Sales representatives: How would you feel when you go to buy insurance policy and the representative is either not attentive or is not ready to listen to you rather all set to force the policy at you? Over the phone they call you again and again pester you to buy the policy and in person they irritate you by visiting again and again and thus encroach your personal space. Not to forget they follow you on social media and keep stalking your profile if you are their loyal customer. But why would you stay loyal to the company if they do so? It is important for sales representative and front end officers of the insurance company to be able to resolve the issue effectively which the customer puts in front of them.
They must have complete knowledge about customers and must possess skills to deal with the customer. They must be provided adequate training in understanding the customer and being polite with them to retain them for long. It also requires keeping customer data up to date and not irritating customers with more than 2 calls a day or lots of emails and text messages every day.
5. Customer Relationship Team: Insurance companies may outsource CRM operations but they must keep in mind cost constraint and dedication of the team. Irresponsible CRM team may be good with the software but may not be good with monitoring and controlling the activities. The team may post and forget something on social media and never control and manage the content.
6. Competition: If you are fighting for customer retention then be aware, your competitor is looking for a chance where you make mistake and lose your customer and they make your loss their victory. If you are partnering with your customers do not leak too much of information to them which is not relevant to them but may be relevant to your competitor.
Watch for your website and blogs, do not leak confidential information to make it a party to your competitor in your way of customer retention. Insurance companies hire agents, these agents may work for more insurance companies and they keep leaking your information to them and also break you bond with your loyal customers.
Customer churn is required to cut cost but proper analysis is required for this activity. Insurance company must be cautious as in the churning process it may lose on valued customers. Customer retention cannot be done by one person alone. It is a group effort and requires co-ordination and co-operation from all departments and levels of insurance company. It calls for coming together of all employees, employer and customers to generate better customer delight and develop an ongoing relationship.
Not the premium of your insurance policy, not the ranking of your insurance company, what matters most for customer retention is customer delight through quality service. Even if the premium for policy is higher she would go for it. “Price is not the main reason for customer churn, it is actually due to the overall poor quality of customer service” – Accenture global customer satisfaction report 2008.
On the other hand, with lack of quality service and poor customer complaint handling, this customer delight will zero down and customer would switch to your competitor. “A customer is 4 times more likely to defect to a competitor if the problem is service related than price- or product-related” – Bain & Company. Whether in virtual or real situation, this experience has to be pleasant.
Not to forget the recurring profit factor through customer retention. “Things that generate recurring revenue are actually more appealing to venture capitalists. Otherwise, the business model is banking on the hope that prospective customers will be loyal and be compelled enough to come back to buy the second product.” – Renee DiResta, a Principal at O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures.
As we discussed positive or negative word of mouth publicity, it impacts both loyal customers and new prospects. Providing customer delight for customer retention is an on going activity. The customer needs to be loyal forever and it means providing better experience to them every time even if you reach the level of perfection, either maintain it or go beyond that but not to the verge of irritating the customer with excessive CRM.
Customer retention makes innovation in services and products inevitable because customers need and preference keep changing and to drive away competition you have to be updated.
It has a take everybody along approach be it employees, departments or customers. It make its presence felt, touch your mobile and there we connect with the customers through apps, browser, texts, emails and calls.
Despite it being difficult to discover delineation of customer loyalty online, difficult to gain insight from customers before selling insurance policy to them, fear of losing information to competitors through some of the customer retention techniques and difficulty in connecting right with the customers, insurance companies are uncompromising on inculcating innovative customer retention strategies to stay in the market forever.