As an introvert, I don’t often write or talk about subjects that are highly personal to me, but every time I do, people seem to appreciate it. In fact, my partner and friend, Mike Maddock always encourages me to do it more. Another good friend and a highly regarded insurance industry thought leader, Nick Gerhart, encouraged me to tell this story specifically. So here goes.
In the second half of 2017, my family became a three-time reverse lottery winner. When you say that fast, it sounds really awesome. But it’s not. The Reverse Lottery is my personal shorthand for describing the complexities of insurance in a simple way. Random Sucky Things that you win money to “fix”. It’s the lottery you buy a ticket for but never hope to win.
(Related: I Can’t Fix It, but I Can Survive)
These situations have left me with some burning questions.
The first experience was the death of my 86 year-old dad in September. My dad experienced a stretch of time in and out of care facilities. I do not need to explain the pain of this loss to anyone. However, that pain is multiple times worse for my mom. They were married for 64 years and met as teenagers.
When my dad was preparing for retirement he bought life insurance as part of his retirement plan. As his daughter, I was very proud to encourage that purchase, and facilitated it through the company I was working for at the time. While life insurance wasn’t really something my parents knew a lot about, they trusted me enough to go ahead with getting a policy on each of them, as they both worked and had pensions to protect. Ironically, my dad was the one we all expected to live the longest. Partly because his dad lived to be 94 but also because he promised me that he would live to be 100. So we bought less on him than my mom. In hindsight, it seems silly to play actuary on the basis of my dad being like Superman to me. While my mom is thrilled to have had any life insurance at all, my only regret it is that I didn’t get objective advice on how much to buy, as more was clearly needed. As an insurance executive with years of experience I was humbled by my own process and shortcomings here. It led me to appreciate how difficult it is to plan properly for life’s unknown events.
The burning questions on this are, why did a comic book character play the leading role in determining how much life insurance my dad should have? If someone who actually has experience fell into this trap, what happens to everyone else? And how do we help them avoid it?
The second “win” of the Reverse Lottery was the Saturday evening after Thanksgiving, when my husband and I came home to a flood in our condo from a leaking boiler that flooded our entire building, but impacted only us. It destroyed the floors on two levels, staircase, several walls, molding and ceilings. Luckily it didn’t damage any of our personal stuff. But needless to say, it’s a major inconvenience and stressful to boot during a particularly challenging year at holiday time. So we are living in a hotel now as our place is being restored.
However, the good news is that I didn’t play actuary this time. I got advice on how much was needed from my financial advisor, Chet, who ironically doesn’t make any commission on that type of insurance, but encouraged me to have it because he was looking at my needs in totality versus just what he could offer me product wise. That’s someone who has your back. The other good news is that I chose a reputable insurance company that really came through for us, paying not just for the damage repair but for all the extra expenses associated with living elsewhere while the repairs are done. They are coordinating efforts with the condo association, contractors, mold remediation specialists, and even wired money into our account within ten minutes so we didn’t have to go out of pocket to eat out more frequently than we typically would.
The adjuster breathed a sigh of relief when he saw our policy had plenty of coverage. He told me that so many condo owners wouldn’t have enough coverage to repair the damages our condo suffered. We are lucky we had such a comprehensive policy. But really, we were luckier to have the advice to buy it and not cheap out. Policies don’t come to you solely by luck, they come by choice, and we chose the richer benefits because it isn’t an expense, it’s an investment in sanity.
Therefore, the next burning question is, how often does someone outside the company’s ecosystem (i.e. Chet) impact the outcome at claim time?
The third experience is perhaps the most difficult to talk about, because it is still impacting people 15 years later, including my brother, whose 60th birthday is the same day as I write this.
He’s a retired NYPD officer and a first responder to the World Trade Center disaster on 9-11. And while we are all well aware of the thousands who lost their lives and the billions of damage to property, that terrorist attack continues to damage more lives from a wide variety of health issues suffered by people at ground zero. This month, right before Christmas, he will have an operation to remove part of his kidney due to a 9-11 related mass that was discovered. He has already lost several friends to cancer who were beside him during that time.
However, the 9-11 fund has made his journey so hopeful. As an insurance expert, I would characterize it as the mother of all insurance policies. And he almost didn’t apply during the open window until one of his buddies encouraged him to do so, because he didn’t want to think about it, and didn’t know yet that there was anything wrong.
Good thing. Not only is all of his care fully paid for directly, but also the doctors working with him are among the best available in the world, and are treating him with dignity, respect and the urgency he deserves. Granted, this insurance policy had no premiums associated with it, but he paid with a very different currency to get that type of coverage. And he more than deserves it, as do the others who were down there on that horrific day and the months that followed.
Here, the scary burning questions are, what if his buddy didn’t intervene? And what would have happened if the assigned doctor did not treat this situation with urgency, and made him wait months for an appointment, as many specialists often do?
These burning questions point to a big customer experience lesson. It is to understand that there is so much opportunity to innovate around the moments associated with claims. After all, isn’t that what insurance is all about? People purchase insurance hoping they never use it, but when they need to file a claim the industry must seize this as its opportunity shine. Exceeding expectations is critical.
So much of the innovation I see is around making insurance cheaper and easier to buy because it is easier to count time and money saved. However, the benefit side of the equation needs more love and attention, because it is rich with possibilities for a better world. That’s because when the random sucky thing happens, it’s a gang of people with expertise, empathy or both that dictate how the story will go. And they come from many different angles and don’t always get counted in the customer journey, or they may be missing completely.
Your customer experience efforts must include deep insight on a wide ecosystem of people and their roles, pain-points, attitudes and behaviors to fully understand the opportunities to innovate and continuously improve the experience. Do you deeply understand all the players in that ecosystem, how they interact with your ultimate customer and at what critical moments? If not, consider a commitment to getting an unparalleled understanding of the hidden players in the experience. It could do wonders for your competitive advantage in the New Year.
Happy birthday to my brother. Looking forward to 2018.
—Read Innovation, Community and Timelessness on ThinkAdvisor.
Maria Ferrante-Schepis, CLU, is managing principal, insurance and financial services, for Maddock Douglas in Elmhurst, Illinois She is co-author of the book “Flirting with the Uninterested: Innovation in a Sold Not Bought Category.” She can be reached at email@example.com.