This Opinion piece is by Jon Fukuda, Limina Co-founder and Principal at Limina, a UX and technical design consultancy. Jon works with Fortune 500 companies and government agencies to design intuitive, integrated digital user experiences.
For a long time, the insurance industry has struggled to reach customers online, with difficult-to-navigate website interfaces for sign-ups and claims that seemed an afterthought to telephone customer service. That reality has changed over the past several years, as disruptive new companies such as Lemonade and Root have offered polished new websites, promising quick and easy interactions to customers. Older companies such as Allstate, Liberty Mutual, Nationwide, and GEICO have been increasingly forced to adapt in a world in which customers favor online experiences.
As a recent Gartner survey shows, more than 70 percent of consumers of all ages prefer to self-service online rather than speak with a representative over the phone. That leaves legacy companies facing the pressure to keep parity with disruptors in their efforts to create a seamless digital experience for customers when applying for insurance and filing claims. Gone are the days in which an insurance company can maintain a difficult-to-manage claims process. Today’s digital-savvy consumers are ready to switch companies at the first sign of friction, meaning companies must present as simple and transparent a process as possible.
At the same time, the younger, more agile companies have an uphill battle in convincing consumers to trust their brand as much as long-established household names. They must earn trust to be adopted into the lives of customers, who need to believe that their provider will be there for them in an emergency. The solution to both issues is the same—integrating scalable user experience (UX) operations driven by human-centered design. UX goes beyond the digital user interface to examine the holistic journeys that customers go through to achieve tasks and use products and services. An understanding of those journeys is essential in creating trust and transparency to help customers fulfill their insurance needs.
3 Ways UX Design Helps Insurers Improve the Digital Customer Experience
From conversations with UX executives at insurance companies and from my UX and technical design experience, here are three ways UX design can help companies create fulfilling experiences for their customers as they manage their digital transformations.
1. Integrate Digital and Human Interaction: Despite consumers’ clear preference for digital transactions, they must have confidence that a real human being will be there for them when needed—and will understand their goals, wants, and frustrations. It is essential that digital products or services are seamlessly interoperable with human interactions, no matter which channel a consumer uses. This includes online chatbots that leverage conversational artificial intelligence to realistically interact with consumers, customer service agents able to walk a consumer through a mobile app or website, as well as more traditional phone-based customer service. From the moment an agent looks up a policy, they need to be able to quickly and easily pick up where the consumer left off in their digital transaction.
“We are moving away from a website being a static experience, and moving into a world where we are hoping to intentionally connect and engage with customers in ways that are really delightful,” says a creative director from a major insurance company. “If you can present that to a customer and have them walk away with a definite brand impression, you’ve succeeded.”
UX design can help in this integration by shining a light on all of the people, business units, workflows, and systems that cut across boundaries when a customer is trying to achieve their goals. By deliberately and thoughtfully designing and putting in place a system to help people communicate and collaborate with each other, designers ensure that customers are never stranded, and always know when they are handed off from one business unit to another.
That is especially crucial for those times when a consumer has a deep human need—whether that’s a confusion in understanding their coverage during the application process or in submitting a claim under stressful circumstances. When the customer desires to speak with someone, it’s essential that the customer service rep is ready to provide salient information. UX can provide a roadmap for seamless transitions by mapping service design blueprints and customer journeys that facilitate customer success management.
2. Personalize the User Experience – The insurance industry offers a complex array of products, including life and annuity, homeowner, renter, and automobile policies. Consumers have vastly different needs depending on their circumstances; a 20-year-old just graduating college and a 40-year-old with three children, for example, will seek very different products. It’s essential that companies anticipate these needs and personalize their offerings to present options in a transparent and understandable way. A human-centered UX design strategy takes customer context into account, carefully considering their circumstances and focusing on solving real problems for real people.
That can be essential in establishing trust with customers by demystifying the jargon of the insurance industry and making it relevant to their lives. “We work through how we can be transparent about some of these confusing insurance-world terms around coverages,” says Jessi Pervola, who leads Root’s product design team. “We are always asking, how can we be really straightforward with helping people feel confident in what to buy based on their individual needs. We try to frame it in real stories they can understand rather than just, “Here’s the name of the coverage,’ because most people don’t know what these insurance terms mean.”
Like many companies in the auto insurance space, Root is also experimenting with rating customers in more personalized ways, going beyond factors such as education, zip code, and credit score and looking instead at how they actually drive. “There’s a lot of talk right now about how to rate people more fairly,” Pervola says. By implementing telematics that follow a user’s driving habits, insurance companies can rate based on how safely — or not — someone actually drives. “It doesn’t necessarily replace other factors, but it can be a layer on top of them to understand and treat people fairly.”
3. Design with Empathy – Designing with the consumer at the center requires having empathy for what they are going through at the particular moment they are interacting with a company—whether they are looking for the cheapest price for a renter’s policy, for example, or if they are in crisis following an automobile accident. Empathy means more than just imagining what someone is feeling; it also means having some knowledge of their situation and what they are trying to accomplish. The best way to achieve that empathy is through the kind of deep research UX design can provide—listening and learning from observing users, developing an interaction model, and ultimately using those insights to design and build a customer-centric experience.
At GEICO, the UX team regularly shadows calls with agents, listening to specific scenarios, and the troubles and frustrations customers have. “This is an opportunity to lean in, to say, ‘I’m really sorry to hear that, can you tell me more about why you feel that way,’” says senior UI designer Elizabeth McCormick. “We are always looking for ways to make the interactions as empathetic as possible.”
In practical terms, interaction must be adaptive to the mode of use and state of mind. When a customer is onboarding, they may be in a more analytical frame of mind, discovering and exploring new products; when it comes to filing a claim for an accident or theft, however, they may be in the midst of an emotional or even traumatic experience, with adrenaline high and ability to ingest information low. In those circumstances, it’s essential that the interface predicts the information customers will need and provides access to file a claim with clear prompts that are quick and easy to use. That means replacing text-heavy forms with simple ways to categorize details with icons, buttons, and menus, and providing decision trees and navigation maps to report the most common types of incidents. Savvy UX design will allow users to upload photos with geolocation to report damage, or record videos to quickly explain details of an incident in plain English.
At GEICO, an excellent user experience is highly valued, according to McCormick, and leadership looks closely at the feedback from the UX group. The group takes a holistic approach — policyholders, employees, and agents are all seen as users. The UX team looks at the service blueprint for opportunities to make the experience intuitive and easy to use; reducing human error and aligning language across the entire business.
From a customer perspective, insurance can be a complex industry, with a bewildering range of products and options. It’s also an industry that consumers often interact with when they are not at their best—when emotions are running high after a difficult experience. By putting consumers at the center, seamlessly integrating digital and human interactions, personalizing products to their circumstances, and treating them with empathy no matter where they are coming from, companies can earn loyalty and offer their customers peace of mind, whether they are a newer upstart firm, or a carrier that’s been around for more than a century. In a world where users are looking to educate themselves and self-serve the best options, the insurance agency that enables clarity of offerings, and provides self-service tools will win.