Don’t Let Tech Eat Your Sandwich, Tech Exec Says

PONTE VEDRA, Fla. — Here is the crux of the issue in the form of an SAT question and answer: Tech is to insurance as Airbnb is to Marriott.

What? Isn’t Airbnb the bane of hoteliers everywhere? Does this mean tech will throw the insurance industry to the curb?

Quite the opposite, said Jeff Wild, senior vice president of, a web-based platform for life insurers to engage with customers.

“You know what they did over the last three years?” Wild asked about Marriott during the presentation “Customer Engagement: Buzz Word or Game Changer?” at LIMRA’s Distribution Conference for Financial Services. “Year over year of record business.”

Airbnb was supposed to be a sector-smashing disruptor but Marriott chose not to view it that way.

“They said, ‘Go ahead, Airbnb, bring all the attention to the travel business,’” Wild said. “Take all the budget travelers. We’re going to focus on the business and the high-end traveler.”

Marriott focused on service and its reward program. And, perhaps more important, the hotels ensured consistency, a prerequisite for effective customer engagement.

Insurance can do the same as tech companies build systems to serve consumers and, more menacing, Amazon leers at the insurance market.

“All of these tech companies are bringing attention to the insurance space,” Wild said.

But insurance companies will have to hustle to grab the opportunity to use technology as a way to build consistency into their brand.

Building a Customer Sandwich

Why all the emphasis on consistency? Because it is an important part of the customer engagement sandwich, which is how Wild visualizes the layers of ingredients make up the delectable whole: consistency, accessibility, personal connection and trust, the secret sauce.

Lose one of these and you veer more toward disaster than delicacy.

But obviously, insurance is a big ol’ nothingburger to consumers, according to data Wild introduced the session with. Six out of 10 consumers do not even remember the company that sold them insurance.

Much of it has to do with the industry’s tendency to focus on a sale rather than develop a lifelong relationship as many storied brands do. Besides Marriott, Wild also mentioned Reebok, which has developed a fanatical base, and Coca-Cola, which has become the king of consistency. Consumers don’t merely have a transaction with these companies, but an experience that brings them back, assured that it will be as good as they remembered.

Tech companies cannot build the whole sandwich. Many tech companies and insurers themselves have experimented with a digital-only approach only to find a trail of customer abandonment throughout the process.

It doesn’t take a village to make a good sandwich but it requires motivated people and a consistent process.

Wild acknowledged that the endeavor of combining tech and client care can be daunting, but that it is best to assume it will be challenging yet rewarding.

“You can’t be afraid,” Wild said, “to fail.”

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