Lately there has been a lot of good dialogue about trends in mobile and social media and how they will help shape future business models in the insurance industry. Some have placed their bets on the belief that, in the not too distant future, customers will transact largely through digital channels, reducing their interactions with agents, adjusters, call centers or other “real live people.” Others have focused on providing improved technology and more robust data to agents and others to improve customer service. Many increasingly recognize the need to do both to gain and retain customers in today’s market, especially while trying to appeal to a diverse customer base.

The Millennial generation is more digitally connected and expressing the strongest preferences for performing common transactions online.  As a technologist I have seen the quantitative data and, as a parent of two daughters now in their mid-twenties, I have plenty of first-hand observations of how this generation leverages mobile and other digital media to conduct day-to-day transactions and keep in touch. Friends and colleagues who have kids in their teens and early twenties often commiserate about receiving text messages instead of phone calls or receiving news about school, a job, or a new romance through social media instead of real-time conversation.

Given these data points, it’s easy to fall into the trap of availability bias: overestimating the probability of an event based on how easy it is to think of examples. We can easily start to assume that almost all millennial customers will always prefer digital channels for transacting with insurers.  In discussing mobile claims with a group of summer technology interns, I realized I was close to falling into the trap myself.

The realization came when one young woman in the discussion said that she didn’t want to interact solely with an application. She recently filed her first claim after a minor accident and shared how nervous and uncertain she was and how comforting it had been to connect by phone with a person who could talk her through the process and provide empathy and assurance. Young customers may be very comfortable in the digital world, but the world of coverage and claims is uncharted territory for most.  While they may look to social media for referrals or advice when seeking insurance, ultimately they still value personal service when making use of it.

If we keep in mind the role technology can play in enhancing the customer experience, we can better serve and delight our customers regardless of how they choose to engage us, and we will be better prepared to serve them throughout all the phases of their lives.

Opal Perry is the VP Testing and Release Management at Allstate.

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