The 2018 Accenture Belgium Insurance Market Pulse Survey reveals that Belgian customers have a weak connection with their insurers and struggle to distinguish between individual insurance companies.

When asked, “If you could start all over, which company would you choose as your insurer?” 29% of respondents answered, “I don’t know”. The first insurer only commanded 9% of the answers. As we explained in our first article, this indifference shows a worrying trend for the industry as insurance brands are losing traction with customers.

If insurers want to stand the test of competition, they need to change. They should focus their transformation and differentiation efforts on three areas: offering delightful customer experiences through their channel of choice; refocusing on their brand power; and moving past insurance by embracing the power of personalisation and ecosystem services.

Keeping up with change

Customers are now used to instant online access and expect the best-in-class personalised experience

Nothing is permanent except change. Although digital disruption is around the corner for Belgian insurers, it still hasn’t reached a tipping point. Like other industries, insurers are transforming themselves to offer new customer experiences and improve productivity.

We are also seeing customer behaviour evolving. Customers are now used to instant online access and expect the best-in-class personalised experience. They do not just compare their insurers with other insurance companies, but with other service providers, from banking to retail to social media. And other services and industries are moving faster to meet customer expectations.

By contrast, most customers feel their insurers have not changed in aeons. That may be an unfair characterisation as many insurers are investing heavily and have changed behind the scenes. But current digitalisation and innovation efforts are often invisible to customers, who do not know about the interesting services on offer, which include chatbots answering questions 24/7 or video chat arrangements.

New models

At the same time, the combination of product commoditisation, price pressure and technological advances are changing the role of brokers and agents. The traditional model is under pressure and there has been an important and swift consolidation of brokers in Belgium over the past decade. It is not yet clear where this will lead. Belgium could go the same way as some of its neighbouring countries, where rapid disintermediation took place and customers now increasingly sign directly with their insurers.

Our research shows that customers are ready for a blended physical and digital world

But Belgium could also reinvent the triangular broker-insurer-client relationship, with a hybrid model taking off. Our research shows that customers are ready for a blended physical and digital world. We found a 10% increase in demand for digital interaction over the past five years. Some insurers have also made this clear to the market by keeping the broker in a central posting and enabling them through digital tools.

As insurers attempt to reposition themselves to meet the demands of an online generation, they should bear in mind that they need to do a better job of winning customer loyalty.

This is almost a truism: great customer service leads to great customer loyalty. Customers still value human interaction for advice and when it comes to making purchasing decisions, and this is especially true when the complexity level of the product goes up. One way to do so is to find the right balance between human and digital interactions, between offering online control for customers and providing trust and reassurance through face-to-face encounters.

Our survey found that there is an appetite for computer-generated services: 62% are willing to receive computer-generated advice and 57% are ready to be assisted by a computer when filing a claim. Insurers need to explore this area: they need to give the customer digital tools to use when they want while making clear that humans are always available to deliver top-notch advice and servicing.

Brand awareness

When it comes to branding and standing out in the pack, the challenge for insurance companies is once again akin to of other customer-facing industries. In a world in which insurance products are becoming commoditised, brand power is invaluable, and only a select number of Belgian insurers can expect to dominate the market.

Insurers may feel that their business does not conform to the usual challenges posed by digital technologies

While there are some notable exceptions, most Belgian insurers do not score highly on the ‘fun’, ‘social’ or ‘engaging’ scales, as we showed in our previous article. Yet if they are hoping to differentiate themselves and establish their brand awareness, these are obvious dimensions they could work on. Indeed, the few insurers that score highly on these scales, focus on innovation and developing useful apps for their customers. For example, one insurer offers a platform to track personal health and fitness, which helps to build a culture of engagement and transform the insurer from provider to partner.

Insurers may feel that their business does not conform to the usual challenges posed by digital technologies. After all, insurance is intrinsically low-touch. Customers usually tend to buy a new policy every three to seven years, and only about half have had any interactions with their insurers in the past year.

However, that low turnover does not change the finding that customers still expect high-touch interactions from their providers. Insurers should look more closely at where they interact with customers and work on improving those touchpoints. For example, it could show how relevant and personalised insurers are to customers if they get in touch to offer advice and support on holiday insurance or on how to move house before it actually happens.

Personalised services

Insurers cannot move at the same pace when other industries are pulling away: insurers need to find ways to differentiate

We have found that personalised services lead to customer loyalty, and customer loyalty leads to increased profitability - so it is shocking to discover that only one-fifth of insurers have launched personalised services. Insurers cannot move at the same pace when other industries are pulling away: insurers need to find ways to differentiate.

The survey findings are clear: three-quarters of customers say they want more personalisation from their insurance providers and are willing to provide usage and behaviour data in exchange for lower premiums, quicker claims settlement or tailored coverage recommendations.

These findings should prompt insurers to rethink their services as they examine their role in new ecosystems and partnerships. By also harnessing the power of data and emerging digital capabilities, insurers can offer more personalisation and proximity to interact with the digital generation of today.

Although the Market Pulse Survey reveals a customer indifference, insurance companies need not despair yet. This remains a huge opportunity for insurers. Now is time to reconnect with customers and showcase the innovation they have been working on. Insurers are like any other business: the ones that can feel the customer pulse are the ones that will come out on top.