Listening to What Chinese Consumers Say About Insurers

Consumer Attitudes Point the Way as China’s Insurance Market Matures

The Power in the Chinese Insurance Market Is Shifting to Consumers. To Win in This Hotly Contested Market, Providers Must Earn Customers’ Trust and Become Better at Claims-Handling, a BCG Survey Suggests.

BEIJING—Life and auto insurers in China will have to do a better job in some fundamental areas if they want to hold onto their share in the fast-changing Chinese insurance market, according to new research by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). The research, described in “Listening to What Chinese Consumers Say About Insurers,” an article that is being released today, uses consumers’ recommendations and criticisms over a recent 12-month period to provide insights into the must-haves of insurance in China.

What determines whether Chinese consumers recommend an insurance brand is the trust they have in the provider and the simplicity of the provider’s offerings, according to the BCG survey. The claims stage of insurance produces the most criticism, with half or more of those who have criticized an insurance brand saying they have done so because of a claims process that was too slow, not transparent enough, too time-consuming, or didn’t leave them feeling adequately compensated. These are deficiencies that Chinese insurance companies should address.

The study, for which BCG’s China Center for Customer Insight surveyed 3,200 Chinese consumers, captures the sentiment toward insurers at a time of rapid change. Chinese regulators are opening the market to competition and pushing for reforms that will benefit consumers. At the same time, new consumer technology, including mobile devices, is creating expectations for simpler, more transparent interactions with insurance providers. 

“The power in the Chinese insurance market is shifting to consumers,” said Tjun Tang, a senior partner at BCG and a coauthor of the article. “To hold onto or improve their market positions, providers need to focus on the customer experience in a way that hasn’t been necessary before. They also need to figure out how they can enhance their reputation for being trustworthy and for the simplicity of their services.”

Middle-aged and older Chinese are among the least enthusiastic when it comes to insurance brands, especially when they feel they’ve gotten poor customer service.

More than three in five Chinese customers aged 46 to 55 who said something negative about their life-insurance provider in the period covered by the survey did so after a poor customer-service experience. No other factor accounted for anything close to that level of expressed dissatisfaction.

Another group not inclined to say a lot of good things about insurance brands are people who live in big cities. With respect to both life insurance and auto insurance, tier 1 city dwellers (those who live in the biggest cities, including Beijing and Shanghai) have relatively low advocacy scores compared with people in smaller tier 3, tier 4 and tier 5 cities.

Married couples with young children make up the group in China that tends to speak most favorably of insurance brands, the survey shows. People in this group own a lot of insurance and may believe in its benefits more fervently than those in other groups.

The following are among the survey’s other findings:

  • Auto insurance gets high marks. One surprise of the survey was that auto insurers earned comparatively high advocacy scores versus life insurers. Auto insurance gets higher satisfaction scores than life insurance at most interaction stages in China—including purchase, post-sales services, and claims
  • Attitudes toward different types of insurance diverge over time. Satisfaction with auto insurers tends to increase with customer tenure in China, possibly because of tie-ins that limit car buyers’ insurance options for the first year or two of ownership but leave them free after that to find insurers more to their liking. Exactly the opposite is true of life insurance customers: they tend to become less satisfied over time, probably because the number of interactions with life insurers goes down as customer tenure goes up. Higher levels of customer engagement would likely increase satisfaction scores for both types of insurers.
  • “Big” equals “trusted.” Chinese consumers rate big insurance companies high on trustworthiness and simplicity. In some cases, however, big insurers are seen as having less attractive product offerings than small insurers, especially in cases where the small insurers’ products are more flexible and more affordable.

Advice on What to Do

With the market in flux, Chinese insurance companies may be unsure of what steps to take first. Any changes that lead to a company’s being perceived as more trustworthy or that enhance the simplicity and transparency of its product offerings, including taking advantage of new technologies, are unlikely to lead to regrets later on; companies should begin initiatives in those areas immediately. The same is true with what happens at the claims stage—doing things now to increase customer satisfaction with the claims process can only help later on.

“Insurers have legitimate questions about the ‘how’—as in, ‘How do we recreate ourselves for the future that’s coming?’” said Michelle Hu, a principal at BCG and another coauthor of the article. “There is more clarity around the ‘what.’ Insurers don’t have to guess what matters or to whom. Consumers are starting to communicate this pretty clearly.”

A copy of the report can be downloaded at www.bcgperspectives.com.

To arrange an interview with one of the authors, please contact BCG’s Jeremy An at 8610 8527 9926 or an.jeremy@bcg.com.

About BCG’s Center for Customer Insight

The Boston Consulting Group’s Center for Customer Insight (CCI) applies a unique, integrated approach that combines quantitative and qualitative consumer research with a deep understanding of business strategy and competitive dynamics. The center works closely with BCG’s various practices to translate its insights into actionable strategies that lead to tangible economic impact for our clients. In the course of its work, the center has amassed a rich set of proprietary data on consumers from around the world, in both emerging and developed markets. The CCI is sponsored by BCG’s Marketing & Sales and Global Advantage practices. For more information, please visit http://www.bcg.com/expertise/institutes/center-customer-insight.

About Boston Consulting Group

Boston Consulting Group partners with leaders in business and society to tackle their most important challenges and capture their greatest opportunities. BCG was the pioneer in business strategy when it was founded in 1963. Today, we work closely with clients to embrace a transformational approach aimed at benefiting all stakeholders—empowering organizations to grow, build sustainable competitive advantage, and drive positive societal impact.
 
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