If you’re ripping your customers off, you can’t expect to design an experience to engage them. 

In 2014 Ernst & Young asked 24,000 consumers across 30 countries what they thought of insurance companies. Consumers trust insurance companies less than they trust bankers. “Further, the survey results reveal that far more insurance consumers actually switch insurers than express an intention to switch — an almost unprecedented finding in market research,” the survey states.

That is no surprise to anyone who is a customer of an insurance company. Last year, after ten years with Axa Insurance, I decided to shop around. Axa were charging me basically twice the rates I could get from their competitors.

Ripping the loyal customer off is standard insurance industry practice. “The curious, but obviously profitable business model, in which new customers get wooed with discounts and special deals, while the oldest, most loyal, best customers are 'thanked' with bills that escalate over time,” is how TIME described it in 2012.

“Personal finance experts say that to get the best rates, it’s necessary to shop around at least once a year and call up your providers with specific demands,” TIME continued, “as well as the willingness to jump ship when a better offer presents itself. Fail to do so, and you’re all but guaranteed to pay more than is necessary.”

According to Anna Tims, writing in The Guardian 2014, “Insurance companies are notorious for penalizing loyal customers so they can fund alluring deals to tempt new ones. The Financial Conduct Authority is currently investigating to see whether car and home insurance customers, whose policies are automatically renewed, are being disadvantaged.”

If you don’t regularly shop around for your home and auto insurance, you’re going to get ripped off by your current insurer, the Consumer Federation of America warned in 2014.

“There is widespread industry consensus that customer turnover rates are too high,” the Ernst & Young survey states. “Indeed, churn is a problem that many in the industry would be delighted to solve. While most insurance executives agree that something must be done, there is considerably less clarity and confidence about the best next steps to take.”

Learning Opportunities

How about: Stop ripping off your customers?

Unfortunately, Ernst & Young draw absolutely the wrong conclusion. They suggest that, “stronger, two-way relationships may be the key to future market leadership in insurance.” They go on to suggest that “Insurers must master both product and customer experience design. Operationalizing customer engagement means designing the products, processes and experiences that satisfy — and even delight — customers across a multichannel sales and service ecosystem.”

If you’re dealing with an abusive relationship you don’t encourage the abuser to start texting so as to embrace a multichannel approach. You encourage them to stop abusing. Insurance companies need to stop abusing their customers.

You can’t user experience design your way out of the fact that you’re ripping off your customers. Before the Web, this sort of business practice was easier to hide. But the Web brings a much greater level of transparency to the customer-organization relationship. It allows customers to compare and share in a way that was previously not possible.

The Web is about more customer power, more organizational accountability. Get used to it, organizations. It’s not going away.