Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) has held on to its position as a brand that customers are most loyal to, but it is fast losing the huge lead it once had over private sector brands in the business. LIC is followed by Kotak Life at number two and Bharti AXA Life/SBI Life Insurance (joint third spot) according to Insurance India 2016, a study by IMRB International, which has also found that about seven in ten customers (69 per cent) are 'loyal' to their insurance provider, up from 60 per cent last year.
In a customer satisfaction survey conducted as part of the study, customers also said that they were more satisfied with their insurers as compared to 2015. Satisfaction was a direct outcome of better products, greater adequacy of riders and a general consensus that returns and affordability on the products were more in line with the expectations. Together, improvement in service and the nature of the product have contributed to higher levels of brand satisfaction and loyalty.
Satisfied customers are more loyal, the numbers indicate. Among insurers, HDFC Life gained the most in loyalty over 2015, followed by Kotak Life Insurance. Praveen Nijhara, VP, IMRB-Stakeholder Management unit said, "It is evident that private players have made inroads into building customer loyalty by delivering positive and consistent experiences." Nijhara likens this to the telecom industry, where it took more than a couple of years for private sector players like Airtel, Vodafone, Tata and Reliance to find their groove.
Insurers have been able to keep customers happy by providing better service via their distribution channels, through commitment fulfilment and bringing in greater transparency in their dealings. But 18 per cent customers surveyed said they were unlikely to continue with or choose the same insurance provider next time.
The head of brand and marketing at a mid-size private life insurance company said that with private life insurers becoming more active on social media, brand recall has increased which has led to higher loyalty. In fact, the biggest reason for choosing an insurance provider, customers said, was the reputation they enjoyed in the market, more than the policy features, pricing and family and friends recommendations.
Reputation is the most important criteria for buying into an insurance company in metros but it gains even greater importance in the non-metros. Policy features are the second most important reason and pricing and affordability, third. Interestingly, affordability moves up to the top spot among older customers.
Customers are researching the policies they choose more closely, 42 per cent sought information from friends and family while 20 per cent engaged online and 15 per cent said that they had visited an insurance branch.
Insurance companies are increasingly dealing with customers who are more aware. A large percentage goes online with their queries, though a majority still chooses to buy the final product offline.
Direct insurance or selling via the online platform is slowly becoming the most important area of investment for insurers. However, the agent or bank's relationship manager still plays an important role. The survey showed that 46 per cent of those who purchased via an online channel did meet with the agent or bank relationship manager before going ahead. There is an overall hesitation about sealing insurance deals online as customers said they were not sure about the security of their transactions.
It is likely that many insurers will fix the gaps in service and address these fears in the coming year and Nijhara believes that with greater involvement of foreign players in the sector and increased investment in customer service, the role of private insurers is set to go up. It may not be surprising to see LIC lose the lead and share the podium with other players in the next 2-3 years. "However, insurers must also be cautious given that customer expectations are constantly evolving," he added. And to stay in the race, insurers have to keep changing with them.