Matt Hall asks: how can human responses to crisis situations inform effective customer engagement strategies?
Humans often display very specific and almost instinctive behaviour during times of crisis. By understanding how people deal with challenges, organisations can provide their customers with the support to navigate an uncertain future.
People are inherently social animals and at times of crisis, many of us seek security in groups. We feel reassured by shared experience and comforted by the knowledge we are not facing a challenge alone. Through comparing and sharing ways of dealing with issues and problems, we increase the resilience of our communities.
Building this kind of environment in a customer context starts by listening. Creating channels for customers to communicate issues and challenges allows insurers to respond to them more effectively. In complex or rapidly changing situations, it is crucial that these channels are regularly and easily accessible.
Digital solutions offer unique opportunities to create new channels or even augment existing ones. New applications specialising in virtual events, discussions or competitions can allow customers to not just consume your content and communications, but actively participate in them too. The benefits of digital accessibility can drive greater inclusion and diversity as well, with the on-demand nature of virtual forums opening the discussion up to the widest possible audience.
Understanding and developing a customer community can help to share experiences and information that can lead to greater trust and loyalty.
A time of crisis can inspire feelings of helplessness, particularly as many have found during the Covid-19 pandemic, when the crisis seems all-encompassing or does not appear to have a conclusion. This can make it difficult to see how anything we do as individuals can possibly make a difference.
Being able to take action can provide people with a feeling of regaining control and, when the action taken has a value or purpose, it can also help to improve the situation in a tangible way.
Providing information that is reliable, clear and frequent is a fundamental building block of what should be an ambition for all insurers: trust
This insight can be directly applied to engagement, by providing customers with practical recommendations and guidance that should be clear in suggesting what action they can take to deal with any difficulties they are facing.
Conversely, a crisis can trigger a positive response in some people who may feel galvanised to take action and might have a strong desire to help others. To harness this response, insurers can provide opportunities to get involved with support programmes and outreach initiatives.
This could be as large as a fundraising campaign, or as small as encouraging people to check in with family or friends. Encouraging customers in various ways will drive better engagement, allowing them to get involved and feel valued.
By recognising the different emotional responses of people in times of crisis, organisations can understand how those responses drive customer behaviour. This knowledge allows the creation of engagement strategies that look after customers who are struggling, as well as making the most of those who are inspired to help.
The importance of communication in a crisis is well documented, but ensuring your communications are effective and engaging is a different matter. Unfortunately, many organisations still equate volume with success, believing that the more information is provided, the better the communication.
Human nature tells us this is not the case. During a crisis, our capacity to absorb information is reduced. People under pressure will often limit their consumption to single, trusted channels as opposed to the wide spectrum of views and opinions they would usually access. They may also demonstrate confirmation bias, seeking and listening only to information that supports their existing beliefs. This may manifest itself as only listening to positive news, as opposed to confronting the reality of a situation. In the worst cases, people may withdraw from engaging altogether if they feel overwhelmed.
These behavioural challenges are accentuated now that people have direct access to more sources of information than at any other point in human history. These sources of information can hold enormous commercial potential for advertisers, threatening neutrality and objectivity. For example, social media has democratised the ability to share and consume information, but this can often come at the cost of maintaining accuracy and truth.
Insurers who act in the interests of their customers have an opportunity to reinforce their position as being trustworthy; and presenting a balance of negative and positive views in communications can set realistic expectations with customers.
Inaccurate or poor-quality information will quickly erode the trust that has been developed with customers. Providing information that is reliable, clear and frequent is a fundamental building block of what should be an ambition for all insurers: trust.
In January, the CII’s Public Trust Index identified some of the areas where the reputation of the industry had suffered, in many cases driven by the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
Two of the recommended actions for insurers were: to demonstrate more care and compassion in dealing with customers and clients; and to establish a strong ongoing relationship with them. It is notable that these actions don’t just resonate in the insurance sector but actually respond to more essential human needs to feel that they aren’t alone, that someone is listening and that they are on your side.
If insurers can answer the essential human needs of their customers, a crisis can represent a once-in-a-generation opportunity to demonstrate their relevance and purpose to the customers they serve.
Matt Hall is strategy and operations manager at the CII