May 20, 2011 --The warm fuzzy feelings that consumers often have toward their own financial advisors don’t always carry over to the insurance companies that provide their insurance products.
In fact, in consumer research that Aviva USA conducted a few years ago, consumers indicated they did not feel that financial institutions, including insurance companies, treat people like unique individuals, says Chris Jones, chief marketing officer of Aviva USA.
That was the case in almost every market and across the globe, not just in the United States, he says.
The research also found there was a gap in what consumers expect of financial services companies and what they actually experience. “For instance, they expect to be treated as an individual, a unique human being, not just a number on a policy,” Jones says.
In addition, consumers expect companies to treat the company’s financial expertise as a given. Instead, many financial companies come across as “heavy on expertise but light on empathy,” Jones says.
The research, both qualitative and quantitative, found that some consumers “absolutely liked” their own relationship with their agent, he continues. “They felt the relationship is very important…they felt they had a deeper connection with that agent…that it was essential. But, when considering their carriers, they did not feel as close.”
The findings were so persuasive and so consistent across markets and boarders that Aviva decided to act, Jones says. “We want to create a common set of values between carrier, agent and client.”
The first step was to make some changes in the company culture, driven by employees’ commitment to being a different kind of insurance company and to put people before policies. Over a two-year period, there were changes throughout the company, including in the call center.
Now, Jones says, the company is launching a customer-facing initiative, directed at both agents and consumers. The kickoff was a national television advertising program that talks about how Aviva sees people as unique individuals, not just paper people or numbers.
The company coined a term — youmanity — to express the message that the company expresses “heartfelt humanity.” It has begun offering products, services and programs under that banner and promises more.
Where agents are concerned, they now have access to dedicated support teams, Jones says. In addition, they are invited to provide community service in the local area as one component of their agent recognition and reward trips; the service is through Aviva’s global Street to School project.
Consumer views of specific financial service firms did vary in the Aviva research, with some companies ranking better than others. That includes consumer perceptions of companies in Aviva’s own competitive set.
“But there were no clear winners,” Jones says. “That’s why it’s essential to get this right.”
Insurance producers say the insurance industry has a noble purpose--helping families take care of their families, he points out. But the research suggests the business needs to get back to its roots. “It’s not that insurance companies don’t care, but they need to get back to showing it,” Jones contends.
Independent research confirms the overall drift of Aviva’s findings. For instance, another global survey—from The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), New York City—found that, in late 2008, three out of four of nearly 6,000 consumers worldwide still had no contact from their financial institutions about the global market downturn.
What’s more, the survey found that these consumers were “not happy” about not being contacted.
What did the surveyed consumers want? Many who had not been contacted said they wanted to have honest discussions with their bankers, asset managers, and insurers about the crisis, BCG reports.
Meanwhile, the consumers who had been contacted showed “much higher levels of satisfaction” with their financial providers, the firm says.
In the United States, 29 percent of consumers in the BCG survey said they want "more" communication from financial providers. Across countries, only 5 percent said they were hearing "too much."
Linda Koco, MBA, is a contributing editor to InsuranceNewsNet, specializing in life insurance, annuities and income planning. Linda can be reached at [email protected].
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