Technology is changing rapidly; we all know that. We also know that simply keeping up with that change is a huge challenge in and of itself. All this change is reshaping consumer expectations and, in turn, those consumers will quickly change their expectations of their insurance carriers as well.

Youth generally drives technology change, but older consumers are quickly embracing the ability to easily access and update information. All this interconnectivity has been around for years, but the user interaction has become so simple and seamless that basically anyone can do it.

Until recently it was easy to classify consumers and their expectations by age group:

•    Under 20 (social media users)
•    Under 30 (grew up with the Internet
•    Under 40 (experience with computers)

Now, these lines have all blurred with the delivery of handheld applications—iPhones, iPads, Kindles, and other mobile devices. Baby boomers are the fastest growing demographic on Facebook, and are major purchasers of advanced, easy-to-use devices. The sheer accessibility of information, and the ability to perform activities anywhere at anytime is reshaping how we interact with consumers from automobiles (virtual showrooms) to reading books, to purchasing insurance.

Some major carriers are beginning to stick their toe in the water by connecting with their customers via social media outlets. The prevailing thought is that happy customers will interact, become fans of the marketing icon (like a chipper customer service person or a reptile, for instance). Other companies have introduced handheld applications for policy look up, bill payment and/or claim reporting as a means to reduce barriers for support. This is only the beginning. As customer expectations increase, the industry will have to continue to look for new ways to provide service to a broad base of customers who have a variety of expectations.

Call center support will still be required to handle complex and catastrophic needs, like fatality and house fire claims. But, the ability to see account information, pay a bill and check on the repair of a car from a smart hone will increasingly become the expectation of all consumers regardless of age. Our industry will have to keep up and lead as much as they can to meet the needs of our consumers, while shedding the traditional ways we have done things for decades.

Frank Heaps is the managing director for Innovation in Insurance (i3), and is an adjunct professor of insurance at the Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina.

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