User experience matters, and not in a “we can save that for the end” extra-credit kind of way. User experience instead is a fundamental building block for the creation of technical solutions and the business processes they support. Saving user experience considerations for the tail end of any kind of implementation puts your technology investment at risk of suboptimal performance; neglecting user experience can cause an otherwise successful implementation to create a smoking hole in your credibility and budget. This is an area where IT professionals and their marketing brethren need to recognize that this is not a place for on-the-job training or the employment of hobbyists, however well intended.

As a card-carrying baby boomer and the survivor of many customer-facing implementations, I’ve had the benefit of learning some of this the hard way. No need to touch the stove again to confirm its temperature. First and foremost, I know that I can McIsaac recognize good design when I see it, but I have no inherent skills that would enable me to develop good design by myself. That may well be an important first step in all this: recognize your own limitations and don’t avoid or postpone seeking professional help in some misguided quest to save a few dollars. There’s a big difference between being cheap and creating value. Too many organizations either assume user experience is easy or that it just doesn’t matter; bad idea, either way.

Recently, I had a chance to work with a carrier with which I’ve had a long-standing financial relationship. I found that each line of business and each statement, call center and service representative is unique by product, creating a labyrinth for anyone trying to get things done. It’s not exactly a great customer experience, and it’s likely costing them customer satisfaction, renewals and customers.

“Field of Dreams" Epic Fail

These stories of epic failures, driven in part by a botched understanding of the experience issues, are frequent, painful and entertaining. Another carrier, which will remain nameless, made a $75 million mistake by designing a “Field of Dreams” solution for brokers. They built it, but no one came. It turned out that the brokerage community was perfectly happy with the previous approach to business delivery. Creating a parallel universe was little more than an interesting and expensive pilot that led to an inglorious write-off of an impaired asset.

For insurers, it’s critically important to think about how the end users will look into an insurance carrier, rather than on how people inside the carrier will look out at the world of the consumers. Carriers frequently have grown up as “silo-structured” organizations, segregated by product and function, and may know more about their direct competitors than they do about the business units on the other side of their own corporate campus. While that may have made sense in 1984, it makes no sense today. Carriers’ customers, be they premium-paying contract holders or producers, simply have different and more sophisticated expectations now.

Having a unified experience that expresses the company’s capabilities clearly and consistently is increasingly the consumer’s expectation, particularly in a world where those customer expectations are being set by the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple. Diving under that bar will make carriers look quaint and ineffective. That can’t be good for either top- or bottom-line results.

In contrast, my bank does a remarkable job of pulling all of the pieces together into a unified experience that is both efficient and satisfying. It has refined the experience over time until it has become remarkably seamless and intuitive to navigate. Having spoken with the development teams, the notion of “outside looking in” permeates everything they do. Websites, ATMs and mobile capabilities have the same general look and feel and navigational principles. A strict regimen of A/B testing was foundational, extensive and valuable. Done at the right time, in concert with customer focus groups, it also helped the bank avoid major errors that would have required rework.

Good Science vs. New Science

User experience, however, isn’t necessarily about creating new science; it’s about using good science.

I recently had the pleasure of finishing the restoration of my father’s 1984 BMW. I have a relatively new one of my own and con- sider the user experience of the controls in it to be “Apple-like.” They are intuitive, logical and work well. Getting into the 30-year-old car created a momentary quandary, inasmuch as I didn’t know how to work the on-board computer — yes, it has one — and electronics. For the sake of experimentation, I approached the controls as I would in my new car. Amazingly, I figured them out quickly and they worked as intended. Clever engineering, even from back then, remains clever against the advance of time.

Not all technologies will fare so well, especially those that were not engineered with the user experience top of mind. But users’ patience is waning. As experiences that once seemed hard or disparate are simplified and streamlined into experiences that simply work and work simply, those that offer drama or pain will be left behind. Insurers need to make user experience a priority, lest consumers find a way to disintermediate them.

INNSight is exclusive commentary from Novarica.

Robert McIsaac focuses on life insurance, annuities and wealth management at Novarica, a research and advisory firm specializing in business and technology strategy for insurers.

 

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