Benjamin Franklin on a $50 bill (Credit: Thinkstock)

When Benjamin Franklin wrote, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” he left out the need for customer service. And the need for customer service is never more certain than in times of crisis.

According to goMoxie research, 33% of U.S. customers have used their financial institution’s website and/or mobile app more frequently since the beginning of the pandemic. It would be nice to think that their visit provided a welcome moment of sanity and reassurance — a smooth and successful experience that helped them feel more in control of things.

(Related: 3 Top Ways to ‘Touch’ Clients in a Pandemic)

Unfortunately, that’s often not the case. The research also discovered that 37% of respondents ran into problems transacting online with a bank or insurance company.

That’s not only a problem for the customers: When faced with difficulty, 30% of customers switched to a competitor, making a company’s inability to meet customer expectations a real business liability.

Doing a better job means meeting a very particular set of preferences. Waiting for customers to reach out for help isn’t good enough; it’s better to intervene before there’s an issue rather than after, something 43% of customers identified as important for a successful online experience.

When it does come to that live interaction, customers expect to be able to deal with a real person. Next to text messaging, chatbots are the least preferred method of getting help, given chatbots limited scope of ability and questions they can respond to. Unfortunately, customers find this out after they wasted time asking questions that result in a frustrating service experience. Respondents indicated they preferred email and live chat.

Understanding and meeting customer expectations has never been more important for life insurance organizations. The popularity of digital channels and products was already on the rise in recent years, with many customers turning to apps and websites in place of traditionally in-branch tasks. COVID-19 didn’t just accelerate this trend — it made it the new normal virtually overnight.

With many physical retail locations closed for weeks or months at a time, even less tech-savvy customers were thrust into a crash-course in digital life. As spring turned to summer, then fall, online insurance tools settled into a more familiar zone for all types of customers. And this change is likely to be a lasting one, as the convenience of anywhere, anytime interactions makes the thought of standing in line at a branch when it’s not absolutely necessary seem ridiculous and old fashioned.

Embracing the habit of online interactions doesn’t mean that customers love the experience they’re getting; sometimes it’s the only experience they can get. As the life insurance industry moves online, so will the forces of competition, with customer experience front and center. By enabling the kind of simple, successful experiences that ease customer anxiety today, banks and insurers can build stronger relationships that endure long after the pandemic has passed. Those that can’t may find themselves left behind in the digital new normal.

With that in mind, here are five strategies to ensure online success for customers and businesses alike.

1. Provide clear information when and where customers need it.

Don’t bury useful information deep in your help section, and don’t provide it in huge chunks for customers to wade through. Give people the tips they need when and where they need them, in the flow of their experience, so they can keep moving to a successful interaction. That’s especially important on mobile devices, where navigation can be more challenging and both space and time are at a premium.

2. Help customers before they ask you to.

By the time customers ask for help, they may already be getting frustrated and annoyed. Many won’t even bother to ask and will just take their business elsewhere. Use their online behavior to detect signs that they’re running into friction and offer useful information to guide them through it. They’ll appreciate it.

3. Guide customers through the tricky parts.

You probably already know which parts of your digital experience can be the most challenging — and if you don’t, a little quality time with your contact center logs and site analytics will tell you everything you need to know. A few of the greatest hits probably include password resets, comparing similar products, and how to understand complex products like home equity loans and specialty insurance policies. Use digital guidance technology to help them through it without needing to call an agent. Offer up a password reset tool, comparison chart, or how-to video to help them complete their task.

4. Provide the kind of interactions customers prefer.

The most effective interaction channel is the one your customers like best. Bots can look good on paper, but in the real world, customers prefer email and live chat, so make sure you’re making the most of them. That includes reaching out proactively when you see that a customer is struggling to offer an email contact or chat session.

5. Anticipate the next contact and solve it before it comes.

Once you’ve earned a customer, you can expect the kind of contacts that are most likely to follow — usually basic information like setting up an online payment or recurring transaction, filing a claim or checking its status, etc. Don’t wait for them to ask how to do this — guide them to the tools and information they’ll need beforehand. You’ll save customers the need to reach out, and you’ll free up your agents for more valuable interactions.

Many on the insurance side may have got a slow start on the digital-first era, but it’s not too late to catch up. By paying closer attention to the kind of help customers need, and when, where, and how to provide it, they can increase success on both sides of the relationship and build a stronger competitive foundation for the long term.

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Tara Sporrer (Credit: GoMoxie)Tara Sporrer is senior vice president of marketing at goMoxie.