Wouter Sleyffers, a Senior Consultant in our Netherlands Marketing, Sales and Service practice gives his insight into the strategies that Dutch insurance companies are using to regain their customers’ trust in the wake of the financial crisis, and asks whether their plans are enough to make a difference.

Frequent readers of the Customer Experience blog will know that it is neither easy nor quick to build and maintain a consistent and differentiated customer experience. Nike, Apple, Wimbledon or even the city of Londonare all testament to this.
Our focus for this blog turns to the insurance industry in The Netherlands which is looking at innovative ways to build strong customer experience in the wake of the financial crisis. Is their novel idea of ‘certifications for customer experience’ going to be enough, when customer trust and intimacy has plummeted across the industry?

Trust was on an all time low in history of insuring

The Dutch insurance industry wasn’t spared the effects of the global financial crisis of 2008-9, which affected not only its finances but its reputation.

The financial crisis brought to the fore some loose banking and financial practices, and highlighted the relative extravagance with which many of the organizations in the sector had been operating.  Of course, the situation in the Netherlands wasn’t unusual, but it was a shock to the system nonetheless, and resulted in a series of costly compensations, laws, mergers and nationalizations.

Earlier in 2010 the Insurance Association started an independent body, and brought about a “Certificate for Customer Focused Insurance Companies”. On their website (how good is your Dutch?) they declare that the association ‘helps improve customer trust in the insurance industry’. Insurers that want to be certified must meet the following requirements:

  1. Communicate clearly and sincerely to the customer
  2. Deliver constantly meticulous service
  3. Measure customer satisfaction
  4. Be accessible (by phone, and answer all customer calls)
  5. Manage a consistent quality programme, and permanently improve service levels

Insurers are investigated by an external audit team, who measure the readability of the letters and e-mails, how well customer satisfaction is measured(?), and how often the telephone is answered. It feels like a rather quantified way to assure a qualified aim – and doesn’t seem to touch the issue of trust which was meant to be the primary focus. 25 insurers in The Netherlands have now been given the certificate, which they proudly communicate on their websites and in newspaper articles. But what does it actually mean?

What bothers me most about all this is that insurers are measuring other insurers on how well they perform in some (but definitely not all) customer touchpoints. Areas such as their website usability, policy conditions, friendly and professional customer service staff, doing what they promise are just not measured at all. The industry checks how well the industry performs, in industry terms.

A leading Dutch newspaper published its worries on this as well, heading ‘whom to certify the certificate?’, stating that the ‘back patting’ will not in any way contribute to customers’ trust. The question remains: how to regain consumers trust in insurance companies?

We saw a good example of the answer in our recent blog ‘Don’t lose your customer during a product recall‘. Firstly, engage a reputable outside investigator, then pro-actively contact your customer and then send out your message. Building trust is all about building loyalty. That means that you must start understanding what consumers ask from you. Then, tell them you will deliver it and then…deliver it. [Please leave the certificate…]

What would be your advice to the insurance industry to assure its customers will trust them again? Do you know of any other examples where companies have managed to win trust back?