Stephanie Behnke of Mercury Insurance: “To Innovate Means Never Standing Still”

Stephanie BehnkeMercury Insurance Group (NYSE: MCY) is headquartered in Los Angeles with over 4000 employees. A multiple-line insurance organization, it predominantly offers personal automobile and homeowners insurance through a network of independent agents. Since 1962, Mercury has specialized in offering quality insurance at affordable prices – core values that distinguish Mercury in the marketplace.

“Innovations in Insurance” is a new Q&A Enservio blog that interviews thought leaders working to improve the quality of work while managing change within their organizations.

As “Director of Innovation,” what’s your role at Mercury?

I’ve been with Mercury in a job I love for 24 years. I’ve been in the insurance industry since 1988 in all kinds of roles, from underwriting, to product management, to research and development. I was president of a subsidiary and CIO for an insurance wholesaler. The Director of Innovation is a brand new title within Mercury. As the Director of Innovation my job is to research and identify new technologies that will provide the best customer experience for our auto and property policyholders. When evaluating new technology, we believe in taking a holistic approach; to really examine the overall benefit it will have on a particular group or entire organization prior to rolling it out.

Can you cite an example of innovation in property insurance?

This is an exciting time to be in our industry, because new technology is completely transforming how we service our customers. We’ve always put our customers first and evolving technology is helping us provide an even better customer experience.

Imagine being able to visit a website, describe a lost claim item, instantly receive a price for that item, agree to it, then receive a direct deposit into your bank account. Vendors like Enservio can aggregate vast amounts of data and update pricing information on millions of consumer goods every night. This will help us provide our policyholders with instant settlements. The future is here, today.

My job is to search out and examine technology that will help us streamline the claims process and get our customers’ lives back to normal as quickly as possible.

What does “to innovate” mean to you?

My personal definition of innovation is continual evolution…never standing still. This means we are courting change while also adapting to it. We never cross a finish line and say afterwards, “good, now I can relax.” We can never have that mindset, because innovation demands constant improvement. We also believe that innovation can come from almost anywhere. We stay open minded and look at technology that other industries are using to see if we can apply it to our business.

How do you introduce new innovation?

The challenge is in leading the organization through change management. It takes about three weeks to adopt a new tool or process. We run an open forum and draw up a list of Frequently Asked Questions. When a new tool is introduced we begin by explaining what it does for the customer, what it means to them, and what it means to the company. That helps mentally prepare people early in the process. We then run a first wave of training to cover the basics. We let people get comfortable with the basics for one to two weeks. Then we introduce the second level of training where we delve into the more complex features and functionality. This way, students resist less and retain more. At the end of the day, it’s a win-win for us and for our customers.

Does the future look bright for innovation at Mercury?

We’re always re-thinking they way we do business. Customers expect the “Amazon experience.” They want instant access, email communications, chat sessions; and they want to be able to conduct all transactions online or from their smartphones. We must meet and greet our customers where they most want to meet. Innovation, when fully adopted, becomes the new expectation.

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