The customer must always be in sight

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Insurers and providers must evolve to meet customer expectations and market changes, says Slater and Gordon chief executive officer David Whitmore

Amazon uses a patented process called ‘anticipatory shipping’ to get your order as close as possible to your address before you purchase it. The online shopping giant doesn’t actually read your mind to achieve this feat—part of it is down to artificial intelligence automating tasks that typically require human intelligence, such as studying buying behaviour to understand what to stock, how much and where. The result is the next-day delivery promise that the customer has come to expect and Amazon is sought out for.

Customer expectations for this kind of service are transferring to other industries, including insurance, which, at the same time, is experiencing a number of other changes that are forcing insures to become more competitive. Price cuts are slowing and premiums are edging up, while legislative reforms such as the Civil Liability Act promise to squeeze out underprepared service providers.

According to David Whitmore, chief executive of Slater and Gordon, insurers and providers must evolve to meet these customer expectations and market changes—and insists that the Amazon example is a good one to follow.

Consider communication, Whitmore says. Insurance customers increasingly want the ability to check the progress of their case or claim at any time—and when expectations are not met, they are prepared to be more vocal in their criticism. “It’s entirely understandable that customers find it frustrating if they don’t feel there’s a free flow of information. Improving, and diversifying, the way in which we communicate with customers is a priority for the business because we know how important it is.”

After they have had an accident, customers want to know what’s happening, when they are going to be back on the road, and how they can recover what they have lost.

Whitmore says: “All of those questions are the basis of communication. It’s worth comparing the insurance industry to the examples of others, such as Amazon, which lets its customers know exactly where their parcels are. We should look to other industries for inspiration and examples of what’s possible in our sector.”

“It’s clear that the insurance and legal industries can do more to let customers know where their service stands.”

David Whitmore, chief executive officer of Slater and Gordon

“It’s clear that the insurance and legal industries can do more to let customers know where their service stands.”

For Slater and Gordon, communication is a key area for investment.

Whitmore says: “The whole platform that should be provided to our customers as they go through these troubled situations must be more responsive to their needs and more responsive to their communication preferences and desires.”

“Let’s not forget that younger generations expect different levels and forms of communication from the companies that serve them, compared to older generations. We’ve got to recognise that.”

This means a more integrated service is required from insurers and their providers, says Whitmore, “because customers don’t want to go to 12 different providers when a problem arises. They want to get their service fulfillment, if possible, from one coordinated source.”

“Ease of access to insurance services is also a key area,” Whitmore says. “For example, Slater and Gordon provides accident management services. In the future, you may be stranded by the side of the road following an accident. We hope to be able to provide a service where you’ll access your Slater and Gordon app and that will be that—we’ll arrive, recover your car, repair it and, if it’s appropriate, help you to recover compensation from a third party. That integrated service, and the ease with which you access it, is the biggest need to meet in the market.”

To achieve this, insurers need to overcome the issue of fault, Whitmore says. “I think if we can get to a point where a service becomes fault-agnostic, then that will be a massive move.”

“The more the customer is relieved of any role in that, and the more consistent their service can be, regardless of fault, the better we are going to serve the consumer. They are going to be happier and that means they are going to be more loyal to that particular insurer.”

He continues: “Ultimately, because insurers are going to run a book that in most cases has a number of fault and no-fault cases, it’s in their interests to find a way to make this more efficient.”

Whitmore agrees that the Civil Liability Act will have an impact on service delivery, with the likely effect of pushing more insurers to go directly to providers such as Slater and Gordon, which traditionally dealt directly with consumers.

“The Civil Liability Act is going to have a significant impact on the type of service offered and who offers that service, because there are going to be some firms that won’t have the mass to survive in that new environment.”

David Whitmore, chief executive officer of Slater and Gordon

He says: “I can see that changing going forward because I think insurers will want to have a different relationship with providers like us, particularly as we see other changes in the market, such as the Civil Liability Act. That is going to have a significant impact on the type of service offered and who offers that service, because there are going to be some firms that won’t have the mass to survive in that new environment.”

Slater and Gordon has renewed two major contracts for accident management services already this year, securing its partnerships with insurance broker Brightside and, most recently, motoring organisation RAC.

The RAC partnership in particular—under which organisations members will also get access to Slater and Gordon’s full range of consumer legal services, including family, employment, dispute resolution and criminal defence expertise—signifies Slater and Gordon’s desire to offer integrated services that are as easy to access as possible.

Whitmore says: “Slater and Gordon as a business has always offered various legal services, in which we rank very highly. What we’ve tried to do with our newer contracts, such as the RAC, is ensure that anybody that comes to us has access to as many of services as possible. It allows the likes of the RAC to demonstrate to its customers that it’s trying to meet their needs as widely as possible. That is a trend that we hope will continue.”

Slater and Gordon is also revamping its direct-to-consumer offering. The firm has partnered with US-based LegalShield to pilot an app, called LegalDefence, which offers consumer legal advice and support for £24 per month, covering everything from family matters and disputes with landlords and neighbours, to driving and parking offences.

Customers will be able to tap into advice from a qualified legal adviser via their smartphones, access self-help legal documents and template letters, and benefit from correspondence produced by a qualified lawyer. Members can also take advantage of significant discounts on wills, conveyancing and remortgaging, as well as more complex legal matters requiring specialist support such as family and employment issues.

LegalShield has achieved considerable success in the US, where it has almost two million subscribers. While the app is still in its pilot phase, the subscription-based legal service reflects Slater and Gordon’s desire to develop, innovate and forge new partnerships to ensure it is well placed to meet the changing needs of its customers, says Whitmore.

Insurers and providers must evolve to meet customer expectations and market changes, says Slater and Gordon chief executive officer David Whitmore
David Whitmore was appointed chief executive officer of Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK in January 2018. He has more than 30 years of experience in services and consulting businesses and has worked extensively across Europe, the US, Middle East and Africa
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Mark Dugdale is the editor of Claims Media. Mark welcomes articles, letters or feedback from readers and can be reached via mark.dugdale@barkerbrooks.co.uk