Back in 2019, we conducted research into 54 websites of the largest North American insurance providers. We discovered that 79 percent failed to speak in a way the average customer would understand. All but two are harder to read than Moby Dick. This is an epic failure of communication. The result can only be a bad customer experience.
Fast forward to early 2020, and the Financial Services industry is still at the bottom of Edelman’s Trust Barometer. And we’ve since experienced a pandemic. This climate of insecurity and anxiety can have done little to build trust between insurers and customers.
It’s time insurers made customer experience a priority. This will not only foster positive long-term relationships with customers. It will also help them stand out in the market.
Why customer experience is key
PwC says that 17% of customers will switch brand after just one bad interaction with an insurance company. What’s more, there’s an 18% gap between experience and expectation in the insurance industry. If negative experiences destroy trust, the industry has a serious problem.
Take Lisa’s example. She has buildings insurance for her home. While she’s on holiday, a fire in her neighbor’s house causes accidental damage to her property. She calls to make a claim – the first claim she has ever made with this provider. However, she doesn’t realize that her policy has been invalidated by the two months she has spent in her holiday home. She checks her claims terms and conditions and finds this sentence:
You are not insured under this policy when loss or damage occurs while the home in which you live has not been lived in by your family for more than 60 consecutive days.
The clause is included within a 20-page policy document that she didn’t read, because it was full of incomprehensible legalese. The insurance firm failed to alert her to this important condition in her policy. Lisa is angry, frustrated, and now considerably more stressed. And she must pay for the costs of the damage herself. The result is an unhappy customer who vows to choose another provider when her contract is up for renewal.
Improving customer experience – 4 areas to focus on
Human interactions can either build trust or damage it. If you want to improve customer experience, how you communicate is key. Here’s what to work on first.
1. Focus on clarity
Let your messages come through simply and easily:
- Keep your sentences as short as you can. We have a limited attention span for following a writer’s train of thought, especially when the subject matter is complex, as insurance is. Take the example of Lisa’s claims condition above. The important sentence is 32 words long, with no punctuation to ease a reader through it.
- Aim to have a typical sentence length of fewer than 25 words. And no more than 4% of your sentences should be long ones, across all your communications. We’ve got tips on how to achieve this (and track progress) in this blog.
- Use the active rather than passive voice. The passive voice leaves it uncertain as to who is responsible for the action. The active voice makes this clear. Look at the following examples:
Your claim is being processed. Once it has been assessed, notification of our decision will be sent in the mail.
We’re processing your claim. Once we’ve assessed it, we’ll let you know the answer by mail.
Imagine you receive the first message following a claim. You spend a few seconds to figure out its meaning, especially the second sentence. It sounds impersonal and convoluted. And it doesn’t reflect the way customers speak.
Now, look at the second message. It’s direct, straightforward, and instantly easier to understand. Sentences using active voice tend to be shorter, making them even simpler to process. You might also feel that the provider in the second example is more trustworthy, more likely to deal with your claim efficiently and fairly. That’s the power of the active voice.
2. Focus on words
Your choice of words really does matter. Select simple words whenever you can. Notice in the example above how we switched out some of the longer words such as “notification” and “decision”. These small steps towards simplicity add up to big improvements in readability.
Unnecessarily long or complex words don’t just slow people down. They can prevent people from understanding you at all. Here’s an example from a speech made by Al Gore at the National Small Business Week Awards, in which he announced new Plain Language Guidelines.
We are providing the following information about an insurance payment you indicate you have not received or which is otherwise missing. We have given the Treasury Department the necessary information to trace the check in question.
We received the missing check form you sent us. We asked the Treasury Department to find out what happened to your check.
The “Before” version has a grade level of 13.1, which means the reader would need over 13 years of education to understand it. The second version has a grade level of 5.9. The majority of Americans read at an 8th-grade level. These changes could mean all the differences between a customer understanding you and not having a clue.
Ban jargon, insider speak, and legalese
Tell your teams to stop using jargon, insider speak, and legalese in customer communications. In fact, better yet, ban them from using them internally with colleagues. As customer experience expert and Forbes writer
Dan Gingiss points out, this kind of language will then be less likely to leak into your external content.
Think of alternatives to the most commonly used complex words in your firm. You could replace:
- “Liable” with “responsible”.
- “Mandate” with “order”.
- “Solicit” with “ask for”.
- “Henceforth” with “from now on”.
Define and explain acronyms
And don’t forget acronyms. There are many of these in insurance, for example:
- COI (Certificate of Insurance)
- CFR (Certificate of Financial Responsibility)
- DOC (drive other car coverage)
- UEP (unearned premium)
Don’t assume that customers will understand your acronyms. Always define them – and then explain what they mean in practice, if it’s not completely obvious.
3. Focus on consistent communications across all customer touchpoints
This is a huge challenge given how many employees now create customer content. You’ll be sending out claims letters, customer service scripts, policy documents, terms and conditions, and much more. All were created independently, by different writers with different levels of training and expertise. How can you offer customers a consistent experience if your communications across touchpoints are so varied?
Insurance providers need to find ways to manage content centrally, and benchmark performance to track progress.
4. Focus on technology
Approaching a task on this scale manually makes it subject to error and inconsistency. Technology can do the dull, repetitive but essential work of checking across texts, and never lose focus. Our own VT Writer, for example, highlights the kinds of problems we’ve discussed in this blog. But it goes a step further. It also provides quantifiable improvements to the efficiency, clarity, and compliance of your mission-critical business writing.
Making the case for customer experience
The PwC research we mentioned earlier in this blog found another interesting result. Companies managing customer experience effectively were three times more likely to have significantly exceeded their top business goals in 2019. Customer experience is a valuable driver of profit, as well as trust. The business case is clear.
And there is also a clear case for empathy. In the uncertain times, we’re living in, people are already worried about their financial security. Focus on quality, consistent communications that build trust. Think of Lisa, her rejected claim, and the loss of her loyalty. it’s time to embrace clarity.