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Retail is, and has always been, a great harbinger of what’s to come for the insurance market. That’s why I took notice when Jamie Nordstrom, executive vice president of Nordstrom, said these words at the recent Shop.org conference: “Put customers in the driver’s seat, or be dead by 2020.” He was either putting a hex on the audience or sharing his courageous genius and sage advice for what’s to come. I’ll assume he was doing the latter, but I’m throwing salt over my shoulders just in case. I’m also making an even greater effort to heed his advice for my clients, so they can do the same for theirs.

It’s not hard for me to think like a customer, considering the fact that I’ve been one, in some capacity or another, for most of my life. I know what I want when I’m purchasing shoes online or ordering coffee at Starbuck’s. If I can’t locate what I want or find the service experience less than accommodating, I keep searching — often elsewhere — until I find it. This is what it feels like to be in the driver’s seat, in control, whether the feeling is contrived by really smart marketers or it’s natural.

“In control” is how your customers want to feel about their life insurance purchase. I’ve said over and over again that life insurance is such an emotional sell. In order to appeal to your customers, you have to actually know them: what is going on in their lives, how they prefer to receive marketing messages, through which channels. For instance, what channels are they relying on to receive information — email, social, mobile, video, life insurance agents, or all the above? When? Nordstrom reminds us that wherever customers may be, at that precise moment in time, Nordstrom needs to be at its best. Dabbling in social media without a full commitment to optimal audience engagement is a big mistake. Make the necessary investments for the right technology and talent, because the stakes are too high for a lost engagement opportunity. Once the fire is out, you’ll have to jump through many hoops to court and spark that relationship again.

Get beyond good intentions

Most marketers will tell you, they have a relentless focus to better understand and recognize high-value customers. However, according to a recent survey by Digiday and Acxiom, 74 percent of them can’t recognize customers in real time, and 79 percent don’t measure customer value. Why does this paradox exist? Well, it’s mostly due to a lack of resources: money, access to customer data, plus the necessary integration skills and technology to derive insights from that data. It’s tough to fuel customer-centric innovation while tasked with delivering short-term results. Customer centricity might be a “relentless focus,” but execution efforts are hindered by the daily reality of running the business.  

In a nutshell, collecting data alone is no way to get the job done. It’s important for marketers to collect the right data and refine it versus collecting more of it. For instance, use a technology partner to help you gather landing page, clickable banner visits, Facebook likes and all other disparate data points, in a compliant way.

My colleague Tim Suther, Acxiom’s chief marketing officer, says it best: “Marketers are just beginning the customer-centric journey. To achieve maximum customer value requires refining insights across all relevant data, then applying it wherever customers are. Doing so can improve customer value 10 to 15 percent.”

A well planned strategy for data and technology can help you anticipate your customer’s wants and engage them in your conversation. How else would you know that Irene, one of your best customers, and a busy attorney with a husband, three children and a mortgage, hasn’t looked at her life insurance policy since four years ago, when she became a partner at her firm? Data and technology working in tandem can give you insights on how to take care of your high-value relationship with Irene and let her know that her youngest child, Bridgett, isn’t reflected in her current policy. If the unexpected were to happen to Irene, her two oldest children would have their college tuition covered by Irene’s life insurance, but not little Bridgett. Present her with the information. Keep her in control and in the driver’s seat as she makes important decisions for her family. This is how I see the life insurance industry staying alive and thriving in 2020 and beyond.

I’ll add my own advice for those who refuse to comply: call your life insurance agent and make sure you have enough coverage. You’re likely going to need it!

 

For more from Rose Cahill, see:

Escheatment: Why It Matters

Lifecycle Marketing Helps Life Insurers Understand Customers Better

Individual Insurance Provides Independence to Today’s Workers