The UK is a pet-loving nation. We treat our animals like members of the family and we do like to protect our own. We, as a family, are no different.
As any dog owner will know, ownership doesn’t come cheap. We, personally, are in the 25% who pay for pet insurance. This is a personal choice and despite being one of the more expensive premiums we pay, we are a risk averse family; as a return for this expense, we expect the best care and service.
The Pet Insurance market is set to grow – as more people opt to insure their pets, the range of available treatments expands and their costs increase. Mintel expects UK pet insurance premiums to grow from £976m in 2015 to £1.6bn by 2021. The insurance sector is amongst one of the worst for customer service. In a survey run earlier this year by Engine, 28% of people claimed that the insurance sector was the worst when it came to customer service.
This story highlights one great and pitiable customer experience delivered by different entities of the same insurer. Until recently, we were the proud owners of two dogs: a gentle and loving Beagle who had just turned 9 years of age and an energetic one year old Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever (Toller).
In May this year, our Beagle started to show signs that all wasn’t well. To cut a frustrating and agonising story short, he finally had a diagnosis last month of terminal cancer.
From May to September, I had to make a number of claims to our pet insurers. The claims process was excellent. It was smooth, efficient, easy, almost effortless. They took the hassle away for us. There was no need to complete long claims forms or to liaise with the vets and get hold of receipts. It was as simple as going online and entering the policy number, pet’s name and what the problem was. Each time, payment was made within a couple of weeks. The process has been streamlined in recognition that customers must pay for treatment up front and most cannot afford to be waiting around for payments. A big tick on what I would call the rational and functional stuff. Any possible friction has been eliminated or reduced.
They have clearly focused on improvement of one of the stages of the customer journey where there is much interaction – making and receiving claims. To give an idea of the size or incidence of claims within that journey – a record £1.8million was paid out in pet insurance claims every day last year.
Nevertheless, when it came to a time of real need, when some sensitivity was required and when the case didn’t follow the ‘normal’ path; things began to unravel. That great experience was completely overshadowed by what followed.
After the diagnosis, but before we had to say goodbye to our Beagle, I called (whilst trying to hold it together) to make them aware of the situation. I explained that I had read that the policy excluded euthanasia but I wondered if, because we had decided not to prolong our dog’s life with costly radiation and chemotherapy treatment which would doubtless prove fruitless (but was an option open to us), they might consider covering this cost. The lady, in a matter of fact way, reconfirmed that euthanasia was not covered and made clear in no uncertain terms that they could not make exceptions on a personal basis.
When I made the call, I knew it was a long shot, but had hoped that they may consider our case on an individual level and thought I had nothing to lose to tell our story. As I was about to hang up, the lady chirped up assuredly: “we are going to be covering euthanasia in the future. It will be included for you on renewal”. This agent clearly didn’t appreciate the impact of that statement, at that moment in time, for me as a customer nor did she understand how it would make me feel. They were aware from our conversations, that I had spent months trying to convince our vet to take his problem seriously, which had it been treated months before, may have not been terminal. Now someone who is engaged in the care of my dog on our behalf, was in effect saying that, had my dog been diagnosed just a few weeks later, they would have covered it; (the cost of the euthanasia, as it happened would have been well within the policy excess). My policy was due for renewal this month. This information with regards my experience during the previous period must have been at hand and visible, when she made her comments. It made me wonder “are sales and renewals really separate to claims within this insurer”? For me as a customer, I want them to appreciate and understand me at whichever point of my journey I am on.
A few days later we were all devastated when we had to have him put to sleep. I contacted the insurance company to check the progress of our claim as at it was quite a significant amount at this point and informed him that we had indeed let him go to bark at the postman in the sky.
This week, I received our policy renewal – for both dogs. How can they get this so wrong? The renewal documents were an upsetting and unwelcome reminder that Indie our Beagle is no longer with us. It is now down to me, as a customer, to make the effort to re-contact them to explain. I feel that our situation and context “as a valued customer” has been ignored at the expense of a ‘process’.
Not to mention, the shock that the policy premium has now more than doubled in cost! If a premium is going to be drastically increased wouldn’t transparency, expectation management and a degree of explanation been in order?
At the end of the day, this insurer was great on the process stuff, at eliminating the day to day hassles and pain from my journey as a customer. The basics however don’t make deep or committed relationships. They can make a transactional or superficial one, better – life-long even. Those who dealt with Indie’s last moments will be the only vets we ever return to – so good was the experience of interacting before, during and after we lost him.
There are some products or services which don’t need to go beyond the basics but with insurance, we place trust and have faith that we will be in good hands and will be looked after when we most need support –the emotional interactions do count. I didn’t feel that this company was there for me as a customer. They showed little understanding, although they listened, they didn’t hear me. Knowing that a customer’s pet has been put to sleep but ignoring it or forgetting it – is unforgiveable. There is something to be said about doing what is right for the customer and having the empathy and emotional intelligence to know what’s right. This comes from within the organisation, from staff and from the culture.
Jo Causon, CEO of The Institute of Customer Service has said of the insurance sector: “Although effective complaint management does contribute positively to satisfaction, preventing problems at the source is a far more effective guarantee of loyalty and recommendation.”
I’m not sure where our situation broke down. Whether it was the lack of connected data, the handling by the customer service person, the lack of empowerment, being restricted to process and protocol; but insurance companies appear to prioritise 3 distinct customer journeys: selling the policy, claim management and renewal. In this case, the three have not been connected even though I was one customer engaging with one company in one end to end experience.
As technology is introduced and replaces some of the less efficient parts of customer experiences, organisations will still need connect with a customer on a human level, particularly in situations like this where a deeper personal connection is needed and empathy needs to be shown. In this dynamic environment, companies and brands need to be more in tune with their customers than ever.
This insurance company, I am talking about, has a mission which states that it will make things easier and better value for customers. They did make things easier for me in purchase and making a claim – in the simple, basic stuff. Value – I’m not so sure. Should I go back to them, spend time explaining and retelling my story or go elsewhere? You can guess the answer.
I will likely just go elsewhere, for example to ‘Bought By Many’, where the customer appears to be at the heart of everything they do. They actively engage and listen to their customers and are passionate about doing what’s right for them. They call themselves a tech company, and engagement business, one that happens to sell insurance. A very high percentage of its customers are promoters. They are clearly doing something right.
I would suggest that companies should not focus exclusively on efficiency, simplicity and optimisation of the rational and functional elements of the customer journey; they alone do not make up the whole customer experience. A lack of attention on customer context, empathy and emotion, does not make for Happy Customers in the long-term.