The Seamless Society

A Matter of Perspective

Perspective is a funny thing…. it totally depends on your life’s experiences (or lack of experiences for that matter).

For the youth of today, their world is one of instant communications and information – in all forms – on demand whenever they want it and regardless of where they are at the time.  These so-called ‘digital natives’ are totally immersed in an ever-growing ocean of data flows connecting them to their friends and happenings. They take it as “just-so” that smart-phones, touch-screens and ever-more functional devices will be readily available and easy-to-use. And they don’t seem to have as much concern as should about what kinds of information they share with friends – whether actual friends or online friends living anywhere around the world.

For those of us who have to learn how to use all of these new appliances and deal with the information flows gushing over us (we are the so-called ‘digital immigrants’), our experiences are sometimes better described as chores to be done even though the end result can make our business and social lives easier. We wonder just how good we can be with those infernally-small keyboards on the smart-phones.

Blurring the Lines

But regardless of our status of digital native or digital immigrant  in this evolving technological stream, boundaries are blurring. Boundaries – between people, between companies, between events happening and our awareness of them – are rapidly disappearing.

Our society is becoming seamless.

This condition of seamlessness has several implications for the companies providing us products and services. If these firms do not perceive the world around them is becoming seamless they will not be prepared to conduct business in this transformed marketplace and will lose customers. In short, companies still operating as if this was a Lego-block world will become fodder for the history books.

Some of the key implications are:

  • Customers – already a rascally demanding bunch – will expect increasingly faster service. “What, you don’t know who I am? I’ve been to several of your stores and have made quite a few purchases. I really don’t care the purchases were from different stores or from different departments…”
  • Real-time or low to no latency for the tech bunch reading this post) will become critically more important. Companies who say they are all about responsiveness better not have their customers on-hold for minutes at a time while they are waiting for a human to talk with about their problems or to answer their questions. Companies burnishing that ever-ready FAQs will need really good (really, really good) search capabilities so customers don’t have to take very long to find the answers that actually, well …., answer their questions.
  • Companies will need to use all of those (or selected) smart-phone applications to reach and serve their customers. You will need “an app for that.” Customers will come to expect your company can be located and soon to be alerted to sales of what they care about to possibly purchase.
  • Company’s supply chains must become seamless if the firm wants to have any hope of strengthening their market share.

Bringing it Home

Bringing this home to my little pond – the insurance industry – means that insurance companies will need to:

  • Speed up their use of industry standards for all of their lines of business (hello, ACORD !!) and technology standards to drive data interoperability
  • Finally treat their producers as equal partners throughout the distribution value chains (yes, that means you need to eliminate all paper between your agencies / brokers and the field staff and home office departments)
  • Ensure all field personnel regardless of function (e.g. claims  adjusters, agents / brokers, field staff, salvage and subrogation staff, ….) have the devices they need to capture all the field information electronically.
  • Ensure the core administration systems (e.g. underwriting; policy administration; billing, claims) actually share all the requisite data flows to keep the business operating, support policyholder and producer service, and ensure auditability and transparency for all of those regulators (and reinsurance companies assuming your firm’s risks). These core administration systems are the guts of an insurance company’s supply chains.
  • Ensure data are securely locked down regardless of where they are stored (and yes, that means start now to experiment with cloud computing)
  • Continually pull together every bit of data related to policyholders to create an up-to-date profile of the customer including the products the policyholder owns, the selling and servicing agents, and each call or contact from (or to) the policyholder and the nature (and resolution, if applicable) for tha contact. Basically bring “Moments of Truth” into the Web 2.0 world.
  • Do the same as above for every agent or broker, including all of the original on-boarding information, licensing / training / certification data (for every insurance coverage the producer sells for your firm), compensation data, and data about the producer’s policyholders.

What do you think? What are some other ways insurers should prepare to compete in a seamless society?