Small business is booming in the US. The US Small Business Administration declared this week as “National Small Business Week” to promote the role that small business plays in the US economy. Why should insurance companies pay close attention to the needs of small business? For starters, small businesses mean:
Big economic impact. Small business spells substantial opportunity. These small businesses comprise about 49% of private sector employment, and about 43% of private sector payrolls.[i] And as small business grow, that growth translates into the need for more insurance to cover employees, vehicles, and other liabilities.
New revenue streams. With self-driving vehicles tests planned in 30 cities by 2017, there’s trouble ahead for the industry’s cash cow, private passenger auto insurance.[ii] Small business insurance is one revenue stream that insurers can increase to counterbalance premium declines.
Once upon a time, insurers sat in the power seat when it came to their interactions with policyholders. The insurers understood the magic behind how insurance was sold, how premiums were calculated, and how claims were adjudicated. Those days are gone. In the Age Of The Customer, consumers are changing the rules and who wield the power. Thanks to all things digital, consumers have shifted from being passive sideliners and are willing — and able — to play more active and demanding roles across the insurance business. That means that digital must now be a core underpinning of an insurer’s customer experience philosophy, not an endpoint.
Just what are the factors propelling North American insurer agendas this year? For starters, it’s about:
Booming growth in revenues and profits. 2013 was a very good year for most North American insurers --the best since the financial crisis. Many are sitting on hefty policyholder surpluses and capital.
The fallout from HealthCare.gov. Balancing political winds with project management reality heaped more pressure on already stressed health plans, thanks to shifting deadlines, relaxed employer mandates, and zombie health plans. And as a result, trust across the broad healthcare ecosystem was undermined.
The risk of emerging insurers to meet the needs of digitally empowered consumers. Consumers are getting being trained to expect even more from their digital interactions. New insurers are coming to market offering new digital experiences that simplify, personalize, empower, and reassure customers.
Extreme weather. US and Canadian insurers have shifted to a posture of adaptation, and are looking to arm policyholders with new tools to better protect them from natural hazard risks.
If you scroll down, you’ll see a link to part two of my appearance on Jim Blasingame’s talk show, The Small Business Advocate. Among other things, in this segment, we talked about one of the keys to customer experience success: hiring the right employees.
Hiring is one of the tools for creating a customer-centric culture that my co-author Kerry Bodine and I describe in our new book, Outside In. Although hiring is fundamental, it’s something that many hiring managers get wrong. That’s because they’re still looking primarily at what their candidates know — their job skills — and not focusing enough attention on to who their candidates are.
Here’s why that’s a problem. You can teach people how to perform tasks, whether it’s stocking shelves or doing the books. And you can teach them enough about your products and services to be able to help your customers. But if they’re people who don’t want to help customers, you’re not going to teach them to be different people.
Are there really that many people out there who just don’t want to help customers? Yes. That’s a lesson Kevin Peters, the president of Office Depot North America, learned several years ago.
Kevin asked all 22,500 store associates to take a personality assessment test designed to evaluate employees’ skills, behaviors, and aptitudes as they related to serving customers. To his surprise and disappointment, a significant percentage agreed with statements like, “If the job requires me to interface with customers, I’d rather not do the job.”
I had fun last week speaking with talk show host Jim Blasingame, the “small business advocate.” (In fact, listening to the first segment of the show — embedded below — I was probably having a little too much fun at first.)
One reason I was keen to do the show is that I’ve been thinking a lot lately about showrooming. You’ve probably heard about showrooming — maybe you’ve done it yourself. It’s when a customer goes into a retail location to touch and feel a product and then goes online to buy the product at a lower price.
Showrooming causes a particularly acute problem for small business owners. Their very existence is at stake: Just last weekend, I walked by a small bookstore in Concord, Mass., and saw a sign in the window that said, “If you see it here, buy it here, to keep us here.”
I sympathize with that small store owner’s plight, so I’d like to offer some advice: Putting a sign in the window that begs people to buy from you is the wrong approach. Do customers want to “keep you here” because of convenience? Nope. They can get lower-priced products delivered the same day at little to no shipping cost. Do they want to add you to the list of charities they support? No, and you don’t want that either — you’re in business to make a profit, and you probably take pride in being able to do just that.
Here’s a better way to compete: Focus on delivering a superior customer experience. As a local business owner, you have the chance to know your customers better than any website can know them — even the increasingly sophisticated websites that make recommendations based on past behavior. If you develop that understanding and marry it with expertise about the products or services you offer, you’ll have a winning combination.