One of the most helpful insights of Austrian economics for business is the understanding of uncertainty. To complete a sale to a customer is to take that customer on a journey from high uncertainty to lower uncertainty — sufficiently low that they’ll make a purchase and enter into the experience of ownership or receiving service. We illustrate this principle via the market for small business insurance — a service that our guest Ryan Hanley describes as confusing, time-consuming and costly, i.e., fraught with uncertainty for customers. He addresses the problem by freely dispensing usable knowledge, and explained to Economics For Business how that revolutionizes the industry.
In a market where knowledge is hard to acquire, a knowledge provider creates new economic value.
The subject of small business insurance is quite opaque for customers. The language is often arcane and the terminology is hard to understand. The type size on contracts is small. It’s often unclear to customers what coverage they need, or what coverage they have, and what coverage they need. Ryan Hanley listened to customers’ questions and requests from his time as a retail sales agent and quickly understood that the provision of easy-to-consume and easy-to-understand insurance knowledge would be immensely valuable to customers. He started writing blogposts and FAQ’s for this purpose.
Expanded experience provides the foundation to be a credible and useful knowledge provider.
Ryan Hanley has held positions in the insurance field from sales agent to VP Marketing to Chief Marketing Officer to CEO. He’s also tried entrepreneurship in other industries. He’s talked to a lot of customers to understand their issues and problems and to try to solve them. This accumulated experience gives him the foundation to be a knowledge provider. He knows what knowledge is missing, what knowledge is most useful, and what form it should take for best delivery.
Knowledge becomes even more valuable to customers when it’s delivered with high empathy.
Ryan stresses that insurance is a superb service. If a customer business experiences a shock — its premises burn down, or it suffers a criminal theft — insurance is there to make things right again. It provides sustainability for a business and reassurance for the business owner and employees. Insurance is a high-empathy service.
However, the customer interface with insurance can be low-empathy — confusing and time consuming, and highly inconvenient to navigate by reading through contracts and filling out forms. Ryan’s solution is “human optimization”: making insurance easier to understand and easier to navigate and providing human contact and the human touch to add value. He points out that the insurtech innovations from Silicon Valley, which aimed to make insurance more efficient via an all-technology / no humans approach, has resulted only in unprofitable and failed startups. Customers need humans to give them trust in a complicated field they don’t understand. Digital automation is not the entire answer.
Freely available knowledge and the human touch combined with better technology elevates the service recipe to a higher level.
Ryan recognized that the native tech for the insurance industry, that had been built up over the years but become frozen and resistant to innovation, was a contributor to customer frustration. His answer was not new digital technology to replace the old, but a clearer identification of the customer problem: the multiple insurance tech systems were not well-connected with each other and not well integrated. The solution lay in better API’s and better software integration, which is what Ryan concentrated on. So now he could bring the human touch, plus new knowledge to fight confusion and opacity, and better technology exhibited as faster flow between content modules.
The business benefit lies in customer relationships and customer retention.
The business model for insurance depends on customer retention. Selling a policy is not profitable on day 1, but becomes profitable over time as cash flows from periodic premium payments. Customer retention is the key to profit and retention reflects satisfaction. Ryan is demonstrating that setting a high standard at the front end of the contract, with a more human interface, freely dispensed knowledge, and convenient navigation of the insurance process, results in profitable revenue streams and a high cash flow ROI over time.
Listening to customers, understanding their needs, and discovering the best way to serve results in retention.
Customers are looking for a special form of reducing uncertainty.
Insurance sells protection from risk. This is math to them, a calculable probability that governs what they charge for premiums and how much capital they need on hand for payouts. For customers, insurance is relief from uncertainty, a subject value that’s not math. They worry about sustainability: will they survive the shock when there is a fire or a crime. Ryan’s approach is to help them advance from high uncertainty (I’m not sure of all the risks, I am not sure what is the right coverage for my business) to lower uncertainty (I’ve been given new knowledge, so I am more informed, I know enough to make a choice of policies and providers). Ryan’s company can customize service (including, for example, matching payments schedules to the seasonality of a customer’s business) so that the customer feels certainty that the service is matched to their need.
Knowledge is education plus creativity. The result is trust.
The kind of knowledge that Ryan dispenses about insurance is education. Recipients are learners, filling in knowledge gaps. It can come in the form of YouTube videos or blogposts or any other form. Ryan’s Rogue Risk site offers hundreds of videos and articles. He is educating the customer base.
Creativity in communication is a vital part of the recipe. Education delivered with creativity stimulates curiosity and productive conversations. Even for a potentially dull subject matter like insurance, creativity add spice and extra interest. Creativity is human, and the human component can deliver trust. Giving knowledge away rather than hoarding it is a great start towards a trusting relationship.