FORECAST 2024: Customer Experience
We asked Forecast survey participants what their company is doing to improve customers’ experiences and/or meet customers where they are or want to be. They say that there are many ways they are working to better engage with customers, including investing in digital tools, working on employee engagement, using generative artificial intelligence (AI), enabling more self-service tools, providing more customer personalization and listening to what customers need.
“We are making numerous investments across the entirety of the value chain,” says Aaron Ball, SVP & Co-Head of the Foundational Business, New York Life, “including investments in financial education and wellness; digital marketing capabilities — both at the corporate and local agent level, including social media; sales experience and sales data analytics; purchase experience, including automated/accelerated underwriting; digitization of service tools and capabilities, including expanding self-service capabilities; and generative AI.”
Chris Blunt, President & Chief Executive Officer, F&G, says F&G is using several strategies to better improve customers’ experience including, “technology, targeted hires at key moments of customer truth, more integrated customer experience and better employee experience and engagement.” Blunt also notes that the company is “seeing strong employee engagement scores and was recently named #1 by J.D. Power for annuity service.”
Understanding the wants and needs of the customer remains key for many companies. “Listening to our customers to understand their unique needs and where they’re at on their journey continues to be the best way we begin to improve their experience,” says Amy Friedrich, President, Benefits and Protection, Principal Financial Group. “We know employers play a critical role in helping their employees access financial security, so we understand the need to make the employers’ engagement easier. We’re continuing to invest in a more seamless benefits experience, from digital onboarding and claims to consolidated billing. With the combination of people and technology, we’re continually improving experiences and increasing the ease of doing business with Principal.”
Adrian Griggs, EVP & Chief Operating Officer, Pacific Life, says Pacific Life has implemented accelerated underwriting and launched several customer and advisor self-service tools, which have improved the overall customer experience. “Much of our investment in experience focuses on streamlining and digitizing experiences for advisors, focusing on new business and policyholder servicing,” he says. “Digital platform enhancements have given customers the ability to see their policy (whether workforce benefits, life or annuity products) to improve the overall digital experience.”
Staying on top of the ever-evolving needs of customers is top of mind for executives.
“Our customers’ needs continue to evolve, and Protective works quickly to meet their needs wherever they are in their journey,” says Wade Harrison, EVP & Chief Retail Officer, Protective Life. “From enabling more self-service features for our customers to investing in capabilities that allow for quicker beneficiary payments to AI-integrated support, the investment in this work continues to show value through improved efficiencies among our teammates, increased placement rates, reduced cycle times, more timely customer experience feedback and prompter problem resolution.”
“The industry needs to continue evolving to ensure we’re there when and where our clients are before they need us,” says Mark Holweger, President & Chief Executive Officer, Legal & General America. “Look for more opportunities for two-way communication, which may mean engaging on platforms like TikTok, working with different influencers and continuing to support partners with skills to make those important conversations easier. It also may mean finding new ways to partner with the people and tools potential clients reach out to when they seek advice."
Of course, technology also continues to be essential in creating a superior customer experience. “Optimizing technology for greater effectiveness and efficiency is where every company is, or should be, but not at the exclusion of human engagement,” says Paul LaPiana, Head of Brand, Product & Affiliated Distribution, MassMutual. “It is a balance that needs to reflect and respect comfort levels regarding privacy, digital literacy and access. Companies that get this balance right are the ones to watch, and we strive for MassMutual to be one of them.”
Gordon Watson, Chairman, AXA Asia, says AXA is continuing to explore AI as a way to improve the customer experience. Some of the areas AXA is exploring are AI-powered chatbots, virtual assistants and AI for use in fraud detection and more personalized services.
Denise McCauley, President & Chief Executive Officer, WoodmenLife, says that her organization is focused on “accelerated underwriting, enhancing digital options for our stakeholders, driving down unit costs through technology and business process transformation, and expanding social media engagement.”
“We continue to invest in a differentiated experience for our customers, clients and advisors. This stems from our belief that differentiated experiences lead to more satisfied customers, clients and advisors, and ultimately to business growth,” says Caroline Feeney, EVP & Chief Executive Officer, U.S. Businesses, Prudential. “This is a critical piece of Prudential’s vision of expanding access to the tools supporting financial security to more people, especially in the mass market, which has traditionally been underserved by our industry. This includes offering easier access to tools, education and financial solutions to help improve an individual’s retirement readiness. It’s critical that through the advice and financial solutions we offer, we can meet customers on their terms and in the way they want to engage with us.
“Whether that be online direct-to-consumer or through a hybrid platform that can serve a client on the phone or through video conferencing, or whether that be through the more traditional face-to-face engagement — we must be there when they need us,” she adds. “Prudential is well-positioned to provide advice across the entire continuum because we have the direct digital and hybrid capabilities, we have our own Prudential advisors and a large network of third-party advisors. This ability for us to combine our high-tech and high-touch approach will enable us to serve larger segments of Americans.”
Executives stress the need for financial education and guidance for customers. “The industry needs to improve awareness and education around life and annuity products, driving them to better understand their needs, our products and how we may help them achieve their goals,” says Joe Monk, SVP, Financial Services, State Farm. “After reaching consumers, the call to action should be in the channel of their choice, including a partnership with digital and in-person assistance as needed.
“As consumers act to purchase insurance in today’s immediate gratification world, the life industry should continue to improve the underwriting process, utilizing available data to make more rapid, accurate decisions to greatly reduce the time for policy issuance,” he adds. “We are investing in our data and advanced analytics capabilities in order to meet customers’ expectations for immediate experiences.”
Mike Simonds, Chief Operating Officer, Unum Group, says his organization has “increased use of digital tools to equip customers with the information they need, when they need it.”
When it comes to customer experience, innovation and personalization are top of mind for many companies. “Our teams have been eager to foster innovation to ensure Northwestern Mutual’s relevance in the marketplace,” says Kamilah Williams-Kemp, EVP & Chief Insurance Officer, Northwestern Mutual. “We are constantly working with our advisors to imagine, invent and release new insurance products that will help our clients meet their unique financial needs. Every one of us is different, so one-size-fits-all product design is not an option for us. It’s important to me that we create financial solutions that are special and relevant for their circumstances.
“We also continue to use data and automation to improve our underwriting experience — and that experience spans our underwriting teams, our field force and, ultimately, our clients,” adds Williams-Kemp. “Our goal is to put insurance products in the hands of our clients who need them in the easiest and least intrusive way.”