When your client purchases travel insurance from Allianz Global Assistance, they likely aren’t aware that their coverage was designed, marketed and supported by a large and diverse group of employees who are co-located at the company’s Richmond, Virginia headquarters.
Keeping 35 million annual travel insurance purchases under one roof encourages dialogue between different Allianz teams. This collaboration gives the firm a deeper insight into how their product works in real life, and executives there feel it gives them a competitive advantage.
Mike Nelson, CEO, global travel insurance, and CEO, Americas, told Travel Market Report in an interview at Allianz’s Richmond offices, that with numerous different distribution channels and business models, price points and consumers, owning the development, marketing and servicing of insurance plans end-to-end is key to the company’s continuing growth and success.
“We’ve got all of this knowledge and expertise able to innovate and deliver superior customer service right here,” said Nelson, with Allianz for about seven years. Previously, he ran a number of divisions at online travel agency Orbitz.
It’s what the company calls “The Allianz Advantage,” said Christopher Jones, director of USA product management. “It’s a holistic view of the customer, where we control their entire experience and align all of the pieces.”
The company’s headquarters houses its management, marketing, and product development teams. Equally important are the hundreds of customer service reps (CSRs) there, handling phone calls from any number of customers, including consumers purchasing direct online through partners like airlines, to travel advisors seeking guidance for their clients. (The company’s global medical experts are housed in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.)
Claims are also processed here, with the bulk of them examined by software, like optical character recognition for scanned documents. Most legitimate claims are paid out within seven days, but for those that are rejected, the building also houses a group of experienced CSRs who analyze appeals.
“As we’ve gotten bigger, we’ve gotten better,” said Jeff Rolander, director, USA claims and assistance. Because the company is acquiring and examining tens of millions of datapoints, it is able to use that data to refine its processes, procedures and product development. For example, having this group in-house led to Allianz adding coverage for a family member who incurs hotel expenses when they have to remain with a travel companion who has been hospitalized.
Having hundreds of trained CSRs in one facility also allows the company to quickly respond to major events, like Allianz did during the three Caribbean/Florida hurricanes in the Fall of 2017. Employees can be pulled off of their normal roles to handle increased inbound call volume.
The company expects that artificial intelligence will add even more efficiency, identifying trip segments that qualify for claim approvals, and automatically approving those claims 95 percent of the time. Some claims always will need human intervention, especially where documents like doctor’s notes and police reports are often the foundation for supporting a claim, Rolander said.
“We’re always listening for the dissatisfiers, the voice of the customer, however that reaches us,” said Kerri Potestio, senior product manager. This voice also could be travel agents asking questions, inquiries through social media (like Allianz’s Twitter chats), or direct feedback through customer service reps.
This holistic view is especially important for a travel insurance company, Jones said, because most times, companies like Allianz only receive feedback when someone has a problem, like a claim. Being able to measure and compare metrics across the travel insurance “path to purchase” improves and enhances every Allianz touchpoint.
Keeping it simple
As a result, while other travel insurance providers are starting to offer specialized products for things like cruise vacations, Allianz has developed a simpler, comprehensive product offering – what it calls its SmartBenefits plans (launched in August 2018).
One of the benefits simplifies claims and approvals. Clients who choose the company’s fixed amount payment option for travel and luggage delays (up to $100 per person per day) can avail themselves of a “no receipt” claims plan.
Additionally, under Allianz’s Classic Plan, proactive payments of around $100 are triggered when the company is aware that an insured’s flight departure has been delayed by more than five hours. If a client is willing to pay a premium and upgrade to Allianz’s Premier (for retail agency) or OneTrip Premier plan (for B2C), a claim is triggered after a 3-hour delay. (Clients have to opt in for flight tracking.)
“The benefit to travelers, versus other companies’ products like sporting/adventure travel protection, is that SmartBenefits offers more comprehensive coverage within our existing product,” said Jones. “Our competitors’ offerings appear to be more about marketing and communication than actual coverage differentiation.”
“It’s extremely popular, and we hear from agents and our consortia partners that they love it,” said Potestio, “because it drives traveler satisfaction downstream to them, too.”
Watch for clues
Allianz Chief Marketing Officer Joe Mason urges travel agents to think about the natural triggers that come up during a client discussion, as these hold the potential to open the door to talk about travel insurance.
“For most consumers, purchase decisions are driven more by emotion than reason,” Mason said. “So, when a client is talking about the things they are concerned about, like an unexpected interruption they had on a previous trip, that’s the emotional moment to tell them that they can have a company with a global network behind them on their next trip.”
James Setaro, Allianz marketing communications manager, reminds agents that a travel insurance sale is not about the insurance, but about the client’s expectations for their trip. “We give travelers the ability to set aside their worries, and seek out those transformational experiences off-the-beaten-path,” Setaro said. Agents should sell insurance that way, too.