On a recent Saturday morning, I was rear-ended while waiting at stop sign. The only injury was to the other driver’s ego, and we both had some minor damage to the bumpers of our cars. I did see some real upside in my little fender-bender—the opportunity for a little insurance technology “field research”.

I got home, and instead of filing my claim through the call center as my baby boomer demographic is wont to do, I submitted my claim online and...it was easy!  The online form was short and intuitive—a bit longer than a screen. I got an acknowledgement that my claim was filed, and when I got home from work on Monday, I had a message on my answering machine from the claims rep with my claim number. So, okay, I didn’t get an alert or e-mail with my claim number, but considering my personal technology adoption challenges—strangely, even though I follow tech, I’m a “chronic laggard”—this was just fine with me. The tech worked for the job I wanted to do.

I quickly moved into the next step in the process—the claims estimate. Instead of heading to a drive-in claims center, I opted to have the claims adjuster come to my home. I was looking forward to getting a first-hand look at the new claims technology advancements in action. My anticipation had been primed by Nationwide Mobile, the cool iPhone consumer app that lets policyholders connect with emergency services, document the damage, submit the claim, connect with local agents, and so forth.  

At the appointed hour, the adjuster pulled in, and as he sat in his car, I contemplated just what kind of cool tech would be at his disposal. Would it be a ruggedized tablet notebook with a 4G card? Maybe it would be some iPhone or PDA app where the adjuster would snap a picture, touch the car part on the screen, and the app would produce the bill of materials, the repair estimate, and send it to the auto body shop of choice. As the adjuster got out of his car, I saw that the hot tech was ... a clipboard …

I did admit some surprise to the adjuster, telling him that at the very least, I was expecting a laptop. As he was taking a picture of my bumper with a digital camera, he explained that he’s got just two hands, and it was often just too difficult to juggle all the tools of his trade—the tablet computer he had, his camera and the actual paper he got from the office with the details of my accident. I asked what he thought about the really flashy iPhone or PDA adjustor applications, and his worry is that the screen was so small that the nit-natty pieces, like the little hinge covers on my Mini-Cooper trunk hatch, would be missed.

Rather than helping him be more efficient and productive as it was “sold,” technology got in the way of him getting his job done. He went on to say that the previous day had been a rainy one, so that was his day to work on and submit all kinds of paperwork and admin, and since today was nice, he was checking out smashed-up cars. It turned out he just adjusted the sequence of work tasks to perform his job.

What became clear to this admitted Luddite is that while tech marketing does a great job creating the hype and buzz about new apps, high-speed networks and mobile devices, all designed to ramp up productivity and reduce transaction costs,  too often tech marketers fail to understand how people really do their jobs. Tech investments that fall short like this end up being shelf-ware, and the carrier misses when it comes to scoring the expected business impact.

As tech marketers, we fall in love with the focus group findings, but we fail to take the right step and conduct ethnographic research—the “live with and live like” field study that helps product managers and markets develop the empathy that they translate into technology that’s meaningful to different roles and jobs in the insurance industry.  

And while we might think that the insurance industry, like Ellen Carney, is a slow technology adopter, it may be more likely that insurance buyers are justifiably skeptical that the tech doesn’t meet the industry’s role-based needs. (MIT published a terrific article in the spring of 2007—“Finding The Right Job For Your Products." You can read it here.)

What do you think? Do technology vendors really "get" the jobs that you and your staff do when they build, market, and sell tech?

Ellen Carney is a senior analyst with Forrester Research. She focuses on how the financial services industry researches, procures and deploys business technology, and is responsible for developing the global forecasts for IT budget and spending forecasts for insurance and banking. She can be reached at ecarney@forrester.com.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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