Intelligence: Performance Reviews

15 February 2021: A few years ago Net Promoter Scores were a buzzword in insurance feedback. However, after a year where the sector has suffered repeatedly from bad headlines over business interruption and Covid-19 payouts, Post asks if they still want to hear about how they are performing.

“O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us

To see ourselves as others see us!”

So said Scotland’s national bard in the late 1700s – and that seemingly instinctive longing to get an outsider’s perspective is as strong now as it was then. But while Robert Burns’ plea for that perspective was ultimately futile, in our own age, with endless online feedback loops, it can be an almost daily (and perhaps unwelcome) occurrence. And that is no more evident than in the world of online sales where customer reviews are both sought after and feared in equal measure. Sought after because reviews have become a key marketing tool and feared because a slew of bad reviews can seriously damage, or even destroy, a brand’s reputation. And with insurance’s reputation suffering another serious blow amid the business interruption debacle, it would be no surprise if its practitioners were seen to beat a hasty retreat from the gaze of public scrutiny. But the opposite seems to be the case. While a relatively late digital bloomer, the insurance industry has enthusiastically embraced the world of online customer reviews with nearly every consumer-facing insurance brand soliciting feedback and reviews from its customers. In fact, such has been the enthusiasm for reviews, the practice has penetrated into the supply chain with a host of service providers actively seeking reassurance they’re doing a good job, despite the fact they don’t sell direct to the customer.

So what is driving this passion for feedback in an industry that is notorious for hiding its head in the sand? And what do those seeking this most public of judgements hope to achieve? Online customer reviews, while relatively new to the insurance industry, have been around for over 20 years. What was once a way to verify the reliability of an eBay trader or the quality of a book on Amazon, has since become an integral part of the online buying process. From those relatively humble beginnings, reviews now play a central role in the habits of online consumers with 95% reading reviews before deciding to make a purchase, according to the Spiegel Research Centre. Indeed, such is the apparent power of reviews, another study found that 70% of consumers use rating filters to focus only on those organisations with four stars, or more, overall. A fair reflection And this integral role in the purchasing process has not gone unnoticed by the insurance industry. “Review sites are a fair reflection of what is happening in a business,” says Julian Edwards, CEO of motorbike specialist insurer, MCE. “They are real time and they collect the actual position of the business at a given moment in time. We actively solicit reviews after all transactions – whether that is purchasing a policy or making a claim – via emails and SMS requesting reviews for Trustpilot, Reviews and Google.” 2018 Review Trackers online reviews statistics and survey 63.6% of consumers say they are likely to check online reviews on Google before visiting a business — more than any other review site 53% of customers expect businesses to respond to negative reviews within a week.

But 63% say that a business has never responded to their review 94% say an online review has convinced them to avoid a business 80% of consumers say the star ratings they trust the most are 4, 4.5, and 5 stars Last year, only 14% said they were likely to leave a review after a positive experience with an insurance agent. This year, that number rose to 18% Source: The motivation seems to be much the same for Ageas as its customer operations director, Caroline King, explains. “Reviews provide the honest feedback from people who have used the service and how they’ve valued it. So much of the research that would normally be done before buying a product is done online so it makes it a lot easier for customers to find out about companies.” It seems that beyond reassuring hesitant buyers, reviews are also being used to guide the performance of businesses. “By looking at feedback for each individual stage of the claims journey helps us fine tune the service experience further,” says Gary Davess, director of personal and speciality at Allianz. “For example, through customer feedback we were able to identify an opportunity to improve the way we acknowledge claims and by making this change and monitoring customer feedback we saw a 10% increase in customer satisfaction with claims communication.”

But the use of reviews in insurance companies goes beyond making tactical changes. They are informing the strategic direction of firms. “Customer reviews are critical,” says Nicki Charles, managing director of retail at Aviva General Insurance. “It’s about getting as much feedback as we can to help us improve our service and develop our plans. The way we gather the feedback and data is primarily through our own Voice of the Customer survey, which is sent out after a transaction, be that a quote, a sale, during the claims process or at renewal.” These customer reviews and what they tell the insurer, are embedded within its operations: “We use our Voice of the Customer results in all our business reporting and they are part of our objectives and key reporting.” Likewise, Ross Hallifax, affinity director at Markerstudy, says that customer reviews play an integral role in the company’s ongoing development.

“Having access to this information has enabled us to improve products, processes, communications, customer service and ultimately add value to our policyholders. We have also found that they help improve our click to quote and quote to sale as well as reducing offline contact,” he says. Which sounds like a win/win situation.

Customers get to sound off about a company and that feedback then informs the strategic planning and development of that organisation. Such is the enthusiasm for the review process, some firms are using them to decide whether or not to partner with a third party. “When we are looking to enter a new commercial relationship with another organisation, we look at its online reputation,” says Edwards. “Beyond any due diligence we would conduct, it tells us what is happening in a business. It’s not just customer review sites, but also the employee review sites.” The perceived value of reviews, it seems, extends beyond consumer interaction into the world of B2B trading. A 2018 report from Heinz Marketing found that 92% of businesses would be more likely to engage with another business if it had positive, public customer reviews, a lesson that the insurance B2B sector seems to have taken to heart. The perceived value of reviews, it seems, extends beyond consumer interaction into the world of B2B trading. A 2018 report from Heinz Marketing found that 92% of businesses would be more likely to engage with another business if it had positive, public customer reviews, a lesson that the insurance B2B sector seems to have taken to heart. The power of feedback is being felt further down the supply chain, even by companies that may not sell direct to the customer.

One such firm is loss adjuster Questgates. While it trades directly with insurers rather than the end client, it is often the face of insurance during a claim. So, its interest in the customer experience is understandable but where are the tangible benefits in seeking the feedback of someone else’s customers? “All the feedback we request comes into the central customer services team and every month the results for all areas of the business are pulled together,” says the loss adjuster’s client relationship manager, Lucy Simpson. These results are combed through to identify any performance trends – both positive and negative – which are then used to either pick up on any service issues, or where the feedback is positive, analysed to understand what created that positivity and seek to replicate it. “We use that data with insurers. They will ask for feedback on their performance but mainly it is to evidence our own performance which we can do at individual claim level.” And it’s not just established brands that seek the validation of customers they don’t ‘own’. “If you are a start-up there is a real need to stay close to what the customer is saying and using that feedback to fuel product development,” says Craig Foster, CEO of Leakbot, a leak detection tool, usually sold by insurers alongside a household policy.

Like Questgates, it has little direct sales interaction with customers, but it is as passionate about securing reviews as anyone else. “You could debate what [tech] feature you will develop next but if you base development on customer feedback, complaints about things that aren’t working and what front line people are saying, you can use that to fuel the development process.” In common with others in the industry, Foster says it reviews the customer experience at various points of their interaction. In Leakbot’s case, that means seeking feedback upon delivery of the kit, installation and the response when a leak has been detected in a property. Foster says that while there is reasonable engagement at all points, it is usually at the point the detector identifying a leak, that response rates to review requests increase. Which highlights a potential issue in the wider world of insurance reviews.

Most companies in most sectors have a tangible product to review. In insurance that product is, at best, a dry legal agreement and at worst, a vague promise to pay if something goes wrong. Which makes it rather difficult for customers to review the product itself beyond the purchase experience and the claims experience. Which has James York, CEO of Worry + Peace, wondering how appropriate the current approach to seeking customer feedback is to the insurance industry. “The problem with reviews at the moment,” he says, “is the average scoring approach used by most firms. You have 100 leads converting to 20 customers, but if you only invite those 20 people to leave a review, only a fraction of the people who have experienced your brand, have reviewed you.” Which is, he believes, a self-limiting act that denies companies a full 360 degree view of their service levels. But not only does he believe insurance organisations are missing out on the full spectrum of feedback available, he suspects many are using review sites as a marketing ploy, rather than a genuine attempt to seek out and understand customer feedback. The reviews are, he believes, being used solely for the benefit of the company rather than the buying population. “There is a temptation to consider it as an acquisition tool and if you are only getting customers to review you in order to sell another policy, that is a problem. They want a good average score and the best place to get a good one is from someone who has just bought a policy.”

The Underlying Motivation

The more positive reviews a firm has, the more likely it is to be recognised and rewarded by Google’s search ranking algorithms. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but for York, that deviates too far from the original purpose of reviews – to assist other buyers in making an informed choice. Whatever the motivations and however they are being used, it is clear that customer reviews have a growing role to play in the insurance buying landscape. That is no more evident than in the fact Go Compare, one of the firms that many accuse of encouraging customers to focus on price alone, also includes customer reviews of the brands it features. “From our perspective, it allows customers to get the best possible picture of an insurer and its product before they take out a policy,” says Lee Griffin, CEO of Go Compare. He believes that all businesses, regardless of sector, should care about reviews and that the events of the last 12 months mean they will carry even more weight in the world of insurance in the months and years ahead. “They are so valuable and are only going to get increasingly important in the aftermath of the pandemic. People will still want to save money on their insurance, but 2020 was the year no one expected so the number of people who think ‘it may never happen’ has probably reduced significantly, and they’ll be looking for breadth of cover as well as value.” There appears to be no hiding place from reviews, and nor should there be. This level of transparency has to be healthy for an industry that has a tendency to stick its head in the sand and ignore the reality of its reputation. The culture of online reviewing doesn’t allow for that, forcing the industry to fulfil Burn’s dream and see itself as others see it. The big question is whether or not the narrative of using reviews to improve service actually plays out in real life or whether they will become just another means to flog yet another insurance policy.