Archive for March, 2012

Understanding the Customer

Understanding the Customer

Two years in development, three months in planning, the much anticipated and discussed Social Tech Boot Camp For Insurance Executives finally came to pass.

We had 14 very smart and successful insurance marketing folks, and yet with low levels of awareness of the fundamentals of Social Technology tools and concepts and how to leverage them. This is a very common state in the leadership ranks inside the life, health and accident insurance markets. Thus the need for the Boot Camp.

A few comments looking back from some of the executives:

“I lead a Division that manufactures and sells various specialty insurance products…I would absolutely recommend it to others. This is the way of the future and where the current environment is and unless you understand Social Technologies and how to leverage it, you’ll be left behind. I think it’s in every business leader’s interest to learn about it and execute on it.”

Social Tech Boot Camp Columbus

Social Tech Boot Camp Columbus

“…better ways to understand the customers and their preferences using crowdsourcing… and then how do we get customers into the funnel and getting them to push out that they like us.” Role: strategy and product development in the insurance industry

“…has been interesting to learn how to better leverage this… being deliberate and thoughtful about things like online reputation management.” Role: President of a portfolio of small businesses in niche insurance areas that we are looking to grow at a pace that is faster than traditional expectations of the insurance marketplace.

Lead the sales and client services team within employee benefits… “I’m just scratching the surface re Social technology and the application of it… I’m immediately going to assess my sales and client services team’s knowledge and bandwidth and map out a plan to implement some of these tools, technologies and methods on a day-in/day-out basis.”

Next up: Chicago, May 23-24. The class is starting to take shape. Should be another good group. And yes, I’ll be crafting a video of the Columbus camp in April. Looking forward to it.

Social Tech Boot Camp

Social Tech Boot Camp

Many people are curious why I’m focusing my energy on helping insurance executives understand SocialTech. Well, as my entrepreneurial Dad often said growing up, “Find a need and fill it.”

So what is the need? Insurance Executives seem to know either very little, or worse, “know enough to be dangerous” about Social Technologies. Dangerous? Really? Yes, absolutely. Making the wrong decisions in the Social Tech era, both personally and corporately, can be extremely risky. Just ask United Airlines about how a viral video cost them $180 million (see the story here).

“…extremely risky…” Strong words. When I say this to insurance executives in my sessions, those that are paying attention and not shy are usually quick to say something like, “So, Mike, are you saying that my compliance department is taking the wrong approach in preventing Social strategies by sales and marketing, customer service, and so on? Do you really believe that my IT department is increasing our risk by blocking sites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Blogs?” The answer is, “Yes.”

After experiencing this Social Tech Boot Camp for Insurance Executives, the vast majority of insurance executives will have their cup overflowing with powerful and actionable items after the morning session alone (oh, and the ROI metrics therein, by the way). I pour into them more useful, practical information about how to apply Social Tech to their business than they can imagine. And the small group of fellow attendees will likely validate, reinforce, and otherwise contribute even more than I can predict.

That said, I totally understand why this is the case. Anyone in the insurance business understands that because of the nature of the business, the challenges, barriers, and obstacles with respect to assimilating and then leveraging Social Technologies are multi-faceted for insurance executives circa 2012. And so they desperately need a small, intensely focused environment to learn and, more importantly, discuss these barriers and see the opportunities. In my humble opinion, the session not only needs to be led by a subject matter expert like myself (not trying to break my arm or anything, just trying to frame things), but also, and equally importantly, in a room with industry peers.

What are the challenges?

Disclaimer: I know I’m making generalizations to make a point. No doubt there are exceptions scattered around the industry.

  1. Personal – not ‘techie’, thus challenged by the speed and complexity of the Web, mobile tech, often simply typing speed. In many cases, it’s become so frustrating, that the executive either tunes out or bashes the ‘whole thing’ with cynicism or “I don’t have time for all that nonsense.”
  2. Professional – overwhelmed by email; drilled in risk-averse; making lots of dough and so tending towards complacency. Nuf said.
  3. Technology – even simple things like browsers and how to operate them for efficiency and fluidity, but also Smartphones, Tablets, portable hotspots, tethering, Social graph profiles, and the use there-of. Not to mention trying to get so competent with these tools that they can lead others effectively in these areas. You DON’T want to be labeled as someone who can’t walk the talk, right?!?!
  4. Corporate Culture – The insurance environment is traditionally very conservative, slow-moving, shy and retiring, and yet extremely profitable and thus ‘rich’ in the world’s eye. Do you see how insurance companies are a perfect target for a viral video like United Breaks Guitars? So what should they be doing proactively to protect themselves? Well, trying to stay under the radar in the hopes that you don’t get sideways with your customers and the culture around you is not a good strategy. No one’s perfect. You will make a mistake.
  5. Industry – The regulatory environment is incredibly outdated and ill-informed when it comes to Social Tech, although that situation has made great strides in the last 12 months. Concurrently, most compliance departments have not established what I call powerful “Rivers of Information” and so they are not up to speed on these latest developments. As a result, the insurance industry is over-regulated and getting more so all the time, adversely impacting its perceived ability to engage in Social Technologies. I’ll tell you what. IMHO, if health insurance companies had been more aggressive and effective with Web sites, blogs, video, and Social in the 2005-2008 timeframe, PPACA probably wouldn’t have passed by one stinking vote, don’t you think?
  6. Society – Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your perspective, we have a Society in a state of flux on several levels. Generations are living and working together with vastly different perspectives on many key issues. These differences impact perceptions on critical items like the need for insurance protection, what to protect, how to protect, how much to spend, how to LEARN all of these things, and how much to SHARE about all of these learnings and resulting actions. Who to trust? You get the point. So executives struggle on several levels and are often caught in the middle of the road like deer in headlights.

Listen. It’s totally understandable. I am in NO WAY bashing insurance executives. Quite the contrary. I’m dedicating my career to solving the conundrum. (Yes, I definitely am trying to make money and support myself, my family, my causes, and all the other things that require cold, hard cash.) To that end, I hope that this piece, but more importantly the Boot Camp itself, establishes my understanding of the insurance executive environment, and thus gives credibility to my ability to lead a discussion that will lead to effective solutions and strategies.

My goal: To help the insurance executive to lead their organizations in the right direction with respect to Social Technology.

As always, I’m interested in your thoughts. Please comment. Are these barriers true? What’s your take. Write a note below. Thanks in advance.

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