Nine in ten insurers believe their future growth depends on providing a special customer experience, but most do not now provide differentiated products and levels of service, according to a new survey.

Accenture, New York (NYSE: CAN), published this finding in a summary of results from a survey of 119 insurers in 24 countries, the companies divided equally between life and property and casualty carriers. The survey was designed by Accenture and conducted by Kadence Ltd., from February 2011 through May 2011. 

The survey reveals that more than three-fourths of respondents (79%) rated themselves as “average” or “among the weakest in the industry” in their ability to provide their customers with multi-channel access to their services, including through mobile devices.

More than two-thirds (70%) rated themselves as “average” or “weak” in their ability to tailor products and services to customers’ needs. And almost two-thirds (64%) gave themselves similar ratings in their ability to provide innovative products and services.

Also according to the survey:

  • More than two-thirds (68%) of insurers said they will increase spending on analytics capabilities over the next three years, up from an average of $21 million (per insurer) over the past three years. 
  • Only half (50%) of the respondents leverage data about customers’ lifestyles (such as hobbies and interests) to analyze their needs and expectations. And just 37% of them leverage usage patterns, such as driving habits and personal needs, to do so.
  • Only 16% of insurers use external data such as social media “to a great extent” to supplement customer information available internally. 
  • ·         The most critical challenge for insurers is to access relevant and up-to-date customer data, mentioned by 95% of respondents.

Most of the large amounts of demographic and transactional data that insurers have about their customers are used to answer the question: ‘what happened?’” says John Del Santo, global managing director of Accenture’s Insurance practice. “Our survey reveals that insurers realize that improvement is required and additional investment is needed to enhance their analytics capabilities and better anticipate customers’ needs.

“Access to new sources of data, for instance from social media, and improvements in data consistency, allow for much richer insights and help insurers answer questions such as  ‘how will my customer behave, what are his or her interests, and what will happen?’” Del Santo adds.

The survey also found that:

  • More than four-fifths (81%) of insurers say they will increase their investment in mobile applications over the next three years, up from an average of $9 million (per insurer) over the past three years.
  • Only 15% of insurers, on average, provide services geared for mobile devices, such as information about products sold, quotations and account management, while more than half (54%) offer these services online.
  • More than half (58%) of respondents, on average, say they will offer these services through mobile devices in the next three years.
  • Developing functional, technical and people skills, as well as addressing customers’ concerns regarding security, are the most important issues insurers have to address to develop mobile capabilities, with 38% and 36% of respondents, respectively, saying these were very important challenges.