Kerri-Ann Hockley is head of customer service at professional insurance broker and Plain English Campaign Internet Crystal Mark holder, PolicyBee.
If we’re honest, people are a bit cynical about insurance. Particularly the ones who spend money on it.
Grumbles usually sound a lot like: “Insurers are always finding ways to wriggle out of paying claims” or “I don’t know why I bought this cover, it probably won’t help” or “They always hide stuff in the small print”. Those working in the industry have heard similar, many times.
So why is this? Well, in the nicest possible way, it’s largely down to buyers’ ignorance. This lack of awareness comes partly from not knowing enough about how insurance actually works, and partly from not knowing enough about what is and isn’t covered by specific policies.
But – and here’s the rub – that ignorance isn’t the buyers’ fault.
Arguably, there’s only one reliable way policyholders can find out more about their insurance and that’s to do some reading. Fine in theory but, for most people, the thought of wading through a 40-page insurance document fills them with dread. So much so, in fact, our research shows 60% of small business owners haven’t read their professional insurance policy wording.
And that’s a problem.
Yes, there’s a responsibility for policyholders to know what their obligations are. And yes, policyholders should know exactly what their insurance covers. But the reality is most are happy not knowing because the alternative is so unpalatable.
And why’s it so unpalatable? Because many policyholders don’t know, or have the time to find out, what the words in that 40-page document mean. They don’t want to read up because they can’t face being tied to a dictionary for an hour. Surprising? No. Entirely avoidable? Yes.
Insurers can’t expect customers to understand their cover when they can’t understand the words.
Using unnecessary technical language without consideration is a problem the industry has created and it’s a problem the industry has to solve. Insurance firms need to take responsibility for improving customer experience by making policy information clear and easy to read. If the FCA take it seriously, everyone should.
Because if they don’t, they’re failing the people who rely on them most.
Clear as mud
Aristotle once said: “Clearness is secured by using words that are current and ordinary.”
With that in mind, let’s look at a particularly murky combination of words: professional indemnity insurance.
When we asked 500 small businesses to define the word ‘indemnity’, 96% got it wrong. A key term and a fundamental principle of insurance seemingly lost on the majority of people who’d benefit from it most.
The obvious solution here is to change the name to something more, well, current and ordinary. With our research showing 4 out of 5 business would do just that, and around 54% agreeing that doing so would encourage more businesses to protect themselves, the case is pretty compelling.
So, the next question is what to change it to? Professional mistakes insurance? Business advice insurance? Muck up insurance? With most UK businesses agreeing the US version’s name – errors and omissions insurance – is more relevant to what’s actually covered, it seems anything would be an improvement.
So why does all this matter? Because clarity seriously benefits both you and your customers.
As we’ve seen, insurance has a PR problem. Insurance companies are perceived as closed off, distant and opaque, and that means they struggle to earn the trust of the people who buy their products. Language is a big part of that.
But the bigger problem for insurers is that customers are moving on. They’re fed up with jargon and, with the democracy of the internet at their door, they want openness and transparency. They want to be treated well and they want brands – insurance related or not – to act and sound like humans.
Frankly, many insurers find it hard to break free from hundreds of years of tradition and get on board with this, even if they want to. The weight of institution is stifling to the point of being self-defeating.
And that’s exactly what it is: self-defeating. Customers certainly don’t care about history. They just want to know they have decent insurance that covers what they need. Ditching the jargon helps everyone – customers feel more in control, more aware, more respected and therefore more likely to part with their money.
Insurers need to realise, quickly, that change needs to happen. It’s long been said that insurance is ripe for an ‘Uber moment’ – an outdated, traditional, self-serving model suddenly pulled apart by a new kid on the block.
We’re at a technological and ideological point where ‘that’s how we’ve always done it’ means nothing. If existing models don’t work, new minds design new ones to take their place, without sentiment or deference. Parts of financial services, such as banking, are already seeing this happen and are having to adapt to survive.
These days, being clear with customers isn’t just something to do for the sake of it. It’s your duty. It’s common courtesy. It’s a matter of keeping up. It’s a business decision.
And rest assured, if you don’t make that decision, you can bet someone else will.