People who identify themselves as only "somewhat" technology-savvy reported a higher overall use of smartphones than those who describe themselves as more comfortable with technology, and insurers should build customer service platforms with them in mind, rather than the tech-savvy users, according to “Innovation in Insurance: A North American Consumer View,” a survey from financial research and consulting firm Celent.

The survey found consumers have and use a variety of technologies for service interactions and increasingly use smartphones to perform customer service activities. Not surprisingly, users have distinctly different preferences that vary based on the sorts of transactions they need help with, and with few exceptions, that self-service is now the preferred method for both simple and complex functions.

Celent says the data challenges several assumptions for the financial services industry. Whereas many may have believed that "Young people want to receive customer service only on the web," the survey found that respondents in the youngest demographic group actually prefer face-to-face interactions for complex customer service transactions.

When asked “How technology-savvy do you consider yourself to be?”

48 percent of respondents to the online survey selected “somewhat”

47 percent “extremely”

5 percent claimed “not very.”

Of those surveyed, 65 percent had Web-enabled smartphones, 27 percent claim to use them extensively, 31 percent occasionally and 42 percent use them “rarely or never.”

Asked how they describe their interactions with banks, insurers and brokers:

54 percent replied, “Active: I have frequent service needs, am detail oriented, and tend to track my money closely”

33 percent replied, “Passive: I have infrequent service needs, am not detail oriented, and tend to track my money loosely”

13 percent replied, “Rare: Someone else usually takes care of this stuff in my house”

The data showed that, surprisingly, the “Active/Somewhat” respondents said that they use mobile more than “Active/Extremely” clients. Celent concluded that to maximize the impact of mobile service delivery, insurers should target users who frequently request customer service interactions and build platforms for “somewhat” technology-savvy users. “In other words, do not build the mobile experience only for a technology-savvy user,” Celent said.

"Consumers seek service methods that offer maximum convenience, ease-of-use, and speed," the report found, and those benefits topped the list of most desirable features for customer service technology.

Overall, product, price and competitiveness were the top considerations for those choosing a new financial services provider, which Celent described as minimum requirements, or “table stakes” for insurers. Next were customer service and delivery methods, where web self-service edged out the ability to provide a “human touch.” A reputation for product innovation was next, followed by a history of service/technology innovation, self-service via phone and finally self-service via mobile device.

“Drilling further down into the data reveals that both 'active' and 'passive' consumers consider self-service and human touch important selection criteria. There is a larger emphasis on these capabilities given by the 'active' group, indicating to insurers that leverage can be gained in this important community by emphasizing these capabilities,” Celent said.

Based on the survey data, Celent encourages insurers to better understand their customers and their needs as they pertain to their products and services; evaluate where their innovation investments are being channeled, such as multichannel, mobile and product, etc.; “rethink customer journeys, and what assumptions underlie the design of those pathways;” and design customer service platforms both for simple and complex interactions and not “dumb down” online and mobile support.

For insurance advisory firms and software vendors, Celent recommends helping insurers understand the "art of the possible," in order to expand the sorts of customer service methods they deliver; co-invest in new approaches to customer service platforms with insurers who are willing to push boundaries; align product roadmaps to deliver the multichannel needs of consumers; design all product features for the desktop, mobile, tablet.

The report is based on a consumer survey of 849 respondents and was conducted in late 2012. The survey was aimed at identifying consumer preferences regarding customer service, and determining whether consumers consider a company's reputation for innovation an important criterion in their selection of financial services providers.

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