By Oliver Broadhurst

In September 2015, Hastings Direct was 30th out of 50 brands in Fairer Finance’s car insurance tables.

Just one year later, it had leapt to 10th, picking up a Silver Fairer Finance ribbon.

Its jump has been driven mostly by an improvement in complaints handling, as well as a sharp rise in its transparency score – which is currently the highest in our car insurance rankings.

We talked to Hastings’ Marketing Director Nicola Charles to find out how this change came about – and how other companies can emulate its success.

Rethinking Customer Experience

Nicola told us that Hastings’ goal was to be “refreshingly straightforward” with customers. But after undertaking some customer research, Hastings discovered it wasn’t always living up to its own expectations.

“[Our research] suggested that customers were not always reading or understanding key information about their insurance product," says Nicola.  “[So] we undertook a full review of our online journey.”

Most insurance customers are keen to complete their purchase as quickly as possible - so it’s all too easy for them to sleepwalk through the journey without understanding exactly what they’re buying. But purchase journeys are the one moment where companies know they have their customer’s attention. When the welcome pack arrives in the post, there’s a high chance that it won’t even be opened – so online purchase journeys provide the perfect, and sometimes only, opportunity to clearly set expectations.

Hastings’ new customer journey was developed using a “mobile-first design approach”. Nicola believes this method “lends itself to greater transparency as information needs to be available in one column in page, rather than behind links and pop ups”.

This was evident in the presentation of Hastings’ fees – which are now clearly presented on the page, unlike most of its competitors.

In our latest transparency analysis, 75% of car insurance brands that charge fees don’t clearly tell customers about them in the online purchase journey.

Instead, they’re often hidden behind obscure links such as ‘business terms’, or ‘No Hidden Fees’. More often than not, they’re simply not available at all.

An Example in Transparency

So what else did Hastings get right that others aren’t?

Some 72% of car insurance brands rated by Fairer Finance automatically opt customers in to giving their data for marketing purposes. Hastings doesn’t do that – giving customers a clear choice about whether they want to receive marketing from them or not.

Hastings is also one of only two car insurance brands rated by Fairer Finance that disclose the extra costs involved with paying monthly as clearly as possible. LV= is the other. While Hastings is the only car insurance brand to clearly and prominently explain all the detail about when you do and don’t get a courtesy car.

Nicola says that during the redesign process Hastings “tested several options and used customer feedback” to ensure that information was “presented in a simple, easy to read format”. The results are evident throughout the new customer journey.

Handling Complaints

Hastings has also seen a dramatic improvement in its complaints performance over the past six years.

Back in the second half of 2011, Hastings Direct had an uphold rate at the Financial Ombudsman Service of 80%. That compared to an average General Insurance uphold rate of 45%.

But by the first half of 2016 its uphold rate had fallen to just 18% - well below the H1 2016 General Insurance average of 32%.

Nicola puts these improvements down to an investment in Hastings’ people and culture.

“We have invested time in improving our customer culture”, she explains. “We have a committed customer relations team who are really focused on doing the right thing.”

She also admits that  “a positive relationship with the Ombudsman” has  helped.

Through listening to the Ombudsman's guidance, Nicola says that Hastings now has “a deeper understanding of how we should be handling customer issues, when to offer distress and inconvenience redress, and when to stand by our decisions”.

This increased understanding has “improved our processes when presenting our position to the Ombudsman, and now we make sure that we include a customer case summary as well as correspondence and system notes”. Additionally, Hastings now reviews all files independently before submission.

All of this has dramatically transformed Hastings’ performance at the FOS.

Room to Improve

No insurer is perfect - and there’s still room for improvement at Hastings. Our transparency scoring includes an analysis of the clarity of policy documents – an area where Hastings still loses a number of marks.

However, Nicola says improvements here are also being planned - as well as reviews of other customer communications, “to make sure they are easy to understand - avoiding or explaining industry jargon where possible”.