Most insurers today offer their customers multiple channels: customers can communicate with insurers via the contact center, online, social media and maybe a mobile application. But insurers are increasingly moving from a multi-channel approach to an omni-channel approach.

What does that mean? Aren’t multi-channel and omni-channel basically the same? In a word, no. Mark Breading, a partner and chief researcher at Strategy Meets Action (SMA), did a good job of differentiating the two in an article in Insurance & Technology:

Multichannel integration strategies tended to focus on the individual transaction. Often, it was about the technology and process changes of transferring the information and context of one transaction to the next stage. An omnichannel approach considers the entire stream of interactions that the customer is likely to have with the insurer…Understanding customer preferences enables insurers to design a channel environment that provides all the options, while keeping channel switching transparent for the customer. The customer never has to repeat or re-enter information, never has to wait too long for a response, and always interacts with a person or system that understands the relationship and the context of the customer’s request.

The key here is seamlessness. If I begin filling out an online insurance form, but then in the middle of the process call an agent who has no idea what I am talking about, that is multi-channel, but not omni-channel.

The Shift Has Begun

Writing for Bain & Company last summer, David Whelan and Sean O’Neill examined surveys of approximately 26,500 U.S. property and casualty (P&C) customers and nearly 3,600 auto insurance customers. They found that 83 percent of respondents use multiple channels during the full range of their transactions. Whelan and O’Neill noted that many carriers are “still in their early days, with a long way to go toward engaging customers seamlessly across channels,” but optimistically observed, “Insurers have made progress in the shift to an omnichannel world.”Person on cell phone and tablet

Insurers should certainly be motivated to make this switch, because they are facing an ultra-competitive market and customers who are used to omni-channel service in almost all other areas of their lives (think about your banking experience, for instance). Infosys, a global insurance consultancy firm, noted omni-channel’s importance in servicing today’s insurance customers. The firm produced an article that explains that insurance carriers who consistently achieve top scores for customer experience usually log more than 90 percent of their customer interactions on digital channels, “by allowing free movement across channels.”

How Can Insurers Go Multi-Channel/Digital?

An effective digitalization strategy requires the development of a coherent, cross-domain strategy. Multiple channels aren’t enough, successful digitalization means providing a unique/seamless customer experience.

Making this shift will require some work on the part of insurance carriers. They’ll require a solution that enables seamless integration of data to any external system/device, with a state-of-the-art technology base that communicates with all technologies and apps. Agents and customers must be able to access accurate data at any time and from anywhere. This requires a product-centric application – with advanced, online dashboards – that offers a 360-degree view.

Many insurers are already taking the plunge, because a customer-centric, digital approach is still a huge differentiator…but it probably won’t be one for much longer.

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