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Customer experience and agility – Pairing the two in a Covid-19 world

Three months of lockdown have prompted seismic organisational change. With teams working from home, new technologies and tools being rolled out and workforces adapting to the new normal, it would be easy to overlook what Covid-19 has done to customer behaviours too. 

Customer wants, needs and behaviours have, just like businesses’, shifted dramatically throughout lockdown. As such, insurance and financial businesses must observe and respond to these changes if they are to curate and maintain a positive customer experience. 

Changing call behaviours 

Even before lockdown, data showed that insurance and financial customers had a very clear set of wants and needs. Financial services businesses were receiving 31% more calls at the start of 2020 than in 2015 with the need for urgent responses, verification of online research and seeking reassurance in the top three reasons to call. 

All of this is despite a boom in the use of social media to contact businesses.  The telephone still remains the most important communication method for customers. Now, in the height of a pandemic, it’s perhaps not surprising that 43% of all UK businesses say phone calls are more important than ever.

Throughout lockdown caller behaviours have shifted dramatically.  Call durations have increased by 15% as callers sought greater reassurance and friendly human contact and took more time to talk. Our need to talk and feel connected to others has been palpable.

Consequently, the pandemic has created a new expectation of the brands and businesses we interact with. We want more authentic and personal connections. 59% of customers consider being treated as an individual as more important than how quickly their needs were met or an issue resolved. In light of Covid-19 this need to be heard is even more important.  Life after lockdown might see call durations and volumes return to normal but it’s likely that our desire for meaningful human contact will remain and insurance and financial businesses will need to respond accordingly.

Customers’ patience levels have shifted too. While they were willing to accept delays, confusion or lack of contact at the start of the outbreak, they now expect firms to have adapted and normal service to have resumed. The poor response times that may have been acceptable in March, are simply not anymore.  Even before Covid-19, statistics showed that people were inherently impatient; 69%[5] of people will hang up rather than leave a voicemail.  As enquiry volumes increase and the world adapts to a ‘new normal’ it will be vital for insurance and financial businesses to have the communications tools and resource in place to cope.  That means staying accessible and valuing every enquiry.

Ensuring that calls are answered professionally and efficiently is critical to speedy business recovery.  35% of all phone calls in the financial services sector are new business leads so missed calls cost business and reputation. 

Insurers’ challenges

This demand for more personable interactions over the phone has not been without its challenges.  As insurers adapt to their workforces working remotely, many outdated legacy phone systems have been put to the test, unable to operate remotely and struggling to meet heightened demand.

Outsourced telephone answering support has provided a vital lifeline for many insurers and created the business agility needed to respond to these unprecedented times.   Being able to answer and manage calls remotely and circumnavigate the challenge of employees using mobile phones and working disparate hours, have become business necessities.  While the difficulties of lockdown and social distancing won’t continue forever, we can expect greater remote working to remain. This means ensuring that continuous accessibility for customers – especially in the hardest of times – is factored into all new ‘virtual office’ setups.

Live chat is one of the tools that has been particularly effective in supporting insurers with agility.  Providing a means to triage enquiries before they turn into calls and helping to generate more leads at a time of uncertainty – live chat has been the perfect tool to capitalise on the increased time spent online.  British people’s online time increased to 41.3 hours per week during lockdown, a 29% increase on pre-lockdown figures[7]

With chats taking place around the clock, live chat provides a more instantaneous means of communication and interestingly, an opportunity for insurers to learn even more about their customers. Enquiries via live chat offer more personal information than through any other marketing channel.  It seems the act of typing rather than talking is freeing and it presents a significant opportunity to improve customer understanding and nurture prospects through the sales cycle. For insurers determined to improve the customer experience this insight is key. 

Building long term agility into insurance operations

Covid-19 has presented an opportunity for insurance businesses to reimagine many parts of their operations and importantly,  it’s put the customer experience in sharp focus. The enforced agility of recent months will have highlighted numerous pain points and the lockdown quick fixes that must now be replaced with future-proofed agile strategies in order to protect the customer experience at all costs.   As part of this, there are three principle business communications areas to consider: 

  1. Business communications must support agility. Even as lockdown comes to an end it’s likely that a proportion of the workforce will continue remote working. It might even be your company wide plan.  To ensure this works well for your business, consider whether your telephone system is fit for purpose and if outsourcing might give you the business continuity and flexibility you need, without the capital expenditure.
  2. Think about adding other communications channels so that your business is accessible and ‘seen’ to be accessible at all times. The telephone is a business critical tool that customers expect to work all the time, at all costs. However live chat can provide valuable extra support and ensure that you capture all enquiries and leads, whatever time of day or night.
  3. Consider how well you know your customers. To curate the best experience you have to understand customers’ needs and wants thoroughly. Could you do more to listen and respond? Surveys, questionnaires and focus groups can all help but also take into account that  modern call handling and live chat technologies collect valuable data that can help to shape your product and service propositions and brand tone of voice as well as identify customer sentiment, concerns and opportunities.

The pandemic experience has forced everyone to re-evaluate what matters. The insurance and financial businesses that offer the human touch and are accessible, friendly and caring, will ensure the best customer experience. It all starts with responding to customers’ expectations, catering to new behaviours and perhaps most importantly of all, answering the phone.

By Louise Wilson, business manager – corporate from Moneypenny

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