Social networking was in the headlines again this week with an Insurance Times article on the marketing angle of this nascent phenomenon. I was interested to read that Direct Line plans to use Twitter to communicate with customers, and the process was deemed useful as it had a potential to enhance brand image.

As many of you know, I take a curmudgeonly attitude towards the short- and medium-term impact of social networking in insurance. And you can extend that attitude to my experiences in insurer customer communications, and so the idea of Twitter playing a role in communications intrigues me.

Personal experience as a weary consumer shows that customer service in the UK for personal lines has been homogenized and streamlined. It’s at a point where if I have to talk to an insurer staff member (and yes, brokers aren’t any better), I spend more time on hold accompanied with muzak than I ever do talking to staff at an insurer. I wish I had better things to do than play games with a complicated call centre, but I have the misfortune of a “difficult” house that has a dark history of possible subsidence. Reports now show this is not the case, but the question is raised in every quote, which puts me in the “special underwriting” bracket.

I’m now up for renewal on my house insurance, and now have further supporting surveyor documentation to support the point of no subsidence, I am forced to “communicate” with my insurer. I call, wait five minutes whilst “all advisers are busy” and appreciate that I am “a valued customer” and hold on for a further five minutes as I have no alternative. Listening to the tinny voice that tells me to “use our Web site” increases my blood pressure as I sarcastically snap back at the phone “I would if I could!”. Eventually, I speak to someone who tells me to send in the documents, and expect a response in three to five days. No awards for speedy response there.

Don’t get me wrong—shopping for personal lines in the UK is a breeze as long as you aren’t a specialised risk. Direct and aggregator options really put the buying power in the hands of the consumer. And fair play to the insurers—they’ve responded to the challenge of low-cost channels with aplomb. Being a specialised risk means you get stuck with one insurer, as if you are like me, you become overwhelmed with going out to the market for new quotes each year and having to deal with all those call centres again.

Can Twitter save the day in specialised risk? I’d like to think it could play a role, but then I’d also like to think I could pick up the phone and talk to my insurer. We all have dreams. If the call centre model is challenging, which insurer staff is behind the twitter responses? This grumpy old woman remains unconvinced.

This blog has been reprinted with permission from Celent. Catherine Stagg-Macey is a senior analyst in Celent's insurance practice, and can be reached at

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Digital Insurance content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access