Service Experience Innovation: Claiming Property Insurance

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This past winter in New England was the coldest and snowiest I had ever experienced. My poor old house felt the same and when the pipes burst and flooded the kitchen and family room I had to take measures to repair the damage and get her ready for the summer. What I faced in order to claim my insurance coverage and receive payment was a much bleaker experience than the winter that preceded it. As a designer of product and service experiences I am keenly aware of the products and services I interact with on a daily basis. I celebrate the great experiences and am dismayed and disappointed with the ones that fail. The process of claiming property insurance to cover the repairs of a mortgaged house must be the single worst service experience of my life. There is an opportunity to make what is already a difficult time less painful by acting in a way that displays empathy for the customer and all that they are going through to renovate their home.

Without going into the details of my experience with my insurance company and mortgage provider let me instead highlight some of the potential attributes of great service experiences that were terribly missing from mine.

Transparency: Don’t make a process a mystery. Be clear about the steps required and help your customer understand those steps.

Consistency: Don’t change the process along the way. Don’t introduce new rules that suggest you don’t want to complete the originally understood process.

Communication: Keep your customer in the loop. Linked to transparency, don’t be afraid to explain what is happening and providing regular updates that can help keep your customer confident that he is doing all he needs to do and you are doing all you can to keep the process going.

Speed: Communicate progress and demonstrate that you are making all efforts to complete the service cycle in a speedy fashion. If there are factors that are delaying you let the customer know that you are doing your best to accelerate the service delivery.

Information: Make sure that all documents required to complete the process are clear and unequivocal and easy to understand. Make it easy to complete and supply documentation and once received be quick to reassure your customer that the documentation is correct and received.

Trust: Don’t treat every customer as if they are a felon trying to work an insurance scam. If your customer is credit-worthy, hasn’t made 20 insurance claims in the previous 5 years, has never been convicted of a crime, has paid every bill you ever sent them… begin by giving them the benefit of the doubt. As intermediaries check the insured’s claim and verify the truth of it increase your display of trust and accelerate the process.

Ease: It is obvious but in this case it is not redundant to shout it out loud… make it easier than it is.

The process through the property insurance claim service experience is a nightmare of hurdles and pitfalls all working to make it hard to receive what is rightfully yours. You’ve paid for insurance throughout your life and now you deserve to receive the benefit of your responsible behavior!

I am sure that there is an opportunity to innovate this service experience to remove all of the issues that currently make it so painful. However, my cynical side says that the insurance and lending industry does not believe that there is profit to be had in improving the process. On optimistic days I believe that someone is going to come along and bring the customer experience revolution to the industry, rocking the boats and ships of old-school companies, and bring a fresh, communicative, transparent, easy and painless quality to the experience. If you are an insurance or mortgage company executive reading this (yeah, right!) then get in touch… I think I can help you with this!

Service Design Thinking and the Innovation of Financial Services, Part 2

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In a recent blog in response to the excellent 2010 book entitled “Service Design Thinking” (Stickdorn/Schneider 2010) I noted that this was the first qualifier of design thinking, as least as I had witnessed at the time, that spoke to how design thinking might be applied to a specific design practice. I also noted that the sky was the limit as to how design practitioners could take design thinking tools and methods and apply them to their own area of practice. “Service Design Thinking” does an excellent job of just this mash-up. The key elements of an integrated service design and design thinking approach to the creation of new business service/product interactions can be outlined as follows:

  • Empathy with customers
  • Ideation / Co-creation
  • Service Journey over time and space/place
  • Service/Experience mapping
  • Prototyping
  • Concept validation / Co-creation
  • Objective requirements
  • Prioritization and road-mapping

There is a growing recognition amongst financial institutions around the world that differentiating the banking experience is a way to attract new and retain current customers. Many of these initiatives are the product of partnerships with leading design innovation agencies such as Ideo, Continuum, and others. Because of this, the new initiatives are benefitting from design thinking approaches that practice the best practices outlined above.

The following are a small collection of examples of various financial institutions across the globe engaging with design firms to help them take fresh looks at old habits. I do not have proof that all of these endeavors followed the best practices described above, but warrant that many if not all did do so!

Are designers losing design strategy to business strategists learning design thinking?

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One of the early and simplest aspirations of those in the design community who feel that design can and should play a role in the formation and realization of business strategy is that design not simply be used in a tactical, ad hoc fashion…later in the process of bringing a product to market…just to add aesthetics and make something look good. Over the years there have been enough market success stories to allow for this expanded role. Many companies would even describe themselves as design-driven. This has expanded the role of the designer and design strategist.

However, when design has succeeded in making its way up the strategy ladder to have a more front-end role, communication between business strategists and design strategists has not always been the smoothest. Separate left and right brains have not always easily been able to produce a shared creativity. The language is not the same. The thinking is not the same.

I have always advocated that the best-case scenario driving innovation by design is the designer as design thinker who can move up the process to become a business thinker and naturally integrate the two. Why? Because the designer cannot just designthink but can also designdo and is in a great position to translate the strategy into action by producing a design. I like the designer as strategic designer!

Strategic design for competitive advantage: the competitor customer experience audit

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Whether or not you agree with Bruce Nussbaum, one of the leading media voices to support the approach to design inherent in design thinking, and his recent highly publicized declarations that design thinking has been a failed experiment; it may be useful in that it may provoke a broadening of the discussion around what it takes to create great design.

One aspect of the design of business upon which I would love to see such discussion is the role of design in the creation of competitive advantage. I have always believed that design thinking is most powerful when paired successfully with the elements of business thinking and that this happy marriage can provide great momentum to the process of producing market innovations. Market innovations that provide competitive advantage often exhibit one of its key characteristics…they differentiate the business from competitors in the market place. I believe it is the responsibility of business designers to understand how to achieve this and to continually innovate the tools and methods of design to achieve this. It is core component of the strategy formation process and an important area in which the role of designers and design managers can move upstream.  

In the design innovation process insights drive ideas and the deeper the understanding generated by your insights the more plentiful, inspiring and diverse your ideas are likely to be. Design research that engages with customers and users is the principal way that designers gain the insights that reveal unmet needs. Customer personas are an important by-product of such research and provide a lens through which empathic designers can imagine and validate ideas and concepts aimed at satisfying their goals and needs. However, I would like to suggest a desk research tool that builds on the primary research and resultant personas and can help focus in on potential unmet needs and which are not provided by competitors. The goal of this tool is to identify competitive white space that a business might occupy and which can result in differentiated products and services. The tool is called the competitor customer experience audit.