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Insurance firm Hiscox recently relaunched its UK website, as part of a strategy to improve the company's online performance.

I've been talking to Hiscox's head of online and customer experience Mike Beddington, as well as UK web manager Stephen Rumbelow, about the revamped Hiscox site, and the challenges of selling financial products and services online...

What was the thinking behind the redesign?

In order to grow our direct business, we felt we needed to focus on the online space. Before this, we had several different websites, four in the US and six in the UK, for instance. We had six different content management systems. As a result, we had no analytics, so had very little understanding about how our customers actually used our websites.

We had four broad aims for the redesign:

  • To increase our presence in the natural search results.
  • To provide and simple and usable experience for visitors.
  • To convert more visitors into customers.
  • To have a website that functions well 24/7.

We wanted to move to a model where we had one website in every country, providing a visible shop window for customers to access our products and information, find what they need and decide how they want to buy it.

We had separate sites for business and other clients, but now people can choose their product from the same place, now we try to make it as easy as possible for them to buy online, or to choose their preferred channel.

There is also the issue of moving away from our reliance on PPC, which was partly a result of the number of different Hiscox websites and the IT systems behind them, and having a visible site that works with a single CMS that is easier to manage.

The approach we have taken is to get it right in the UK first, then to look at doing the same for Hiscox online in the rest of the world.

We also relaunched the Hiscox brand at the start of the year, so now the whole process, from seeing an advert on TV to going online to see the website has been regenerated.

How have you approached the issue of making complex financial products easy to understand and apply for online?

I think a lot of what goes on online is plagiarism; people see what works on other websites and borrow it for their own. In general, I think the financial industry does it very badly online, so we looked for influence from outside of this sector.

For example, sites like Apple manage to convey complicated products like iPods to customers in a way that is easy to understand.

They market the top level proposition, but also provide different steps with more information to simplify a complex product like an iPod. We have tried the same approach, providing a series of links to further information if customers require it, and making sure that common questions are answered.

Did you do much user testing?

We started with three different sites:

  • One built around a distribution model, like RBS for example, in which visitors pick the type of customer they are, then choose their product.
  • A website based on a retail model, where customers pick the product they want, then choose how to buy it.
  • A needs-based model to help customers choose products, as used by VW.

We tested all three, but we found that people liked the retail model best. Once this was decided we did plenty of consumer tests, asking if the site was doing what it was aiming to do.

We are not a well known brand, so we wanted to use the homepage to explain what it is that we do, who we are etc. Trust is a key thing online, and we found that emphasising the fact that the company has been around for 100 years was something that reassured visitors.

Do you promote your products on comparison sites?

Yes, we see aggregators as an opportunity, and we are confident that, if we don't sell on price alone, we will win on the features of our services when compared with others. We try to make it a smooth process for customers to buy via aggregators, sending them straight to the quote screen.

How is the redesigned site performing so far?

There has been a lot of change, but so far, so good. Google is starting to pick up our site map, while it is performing well in terms of quotes and sales.

We have been running a survey among the customers calling us who have been using the site, and the response has been positive, with the site coming across as simple to use.

What proportion of customers apply online? Do you need to provide much support offline?

We don't necessarily want to influence customers' choice of channels, but it seems that the number of people buying on the phone has dropped significantly.

There has been an increase in the number of people asking specific questions by phone and then going back online to complete the purchase. This information has now been built into the site, so customers can find answers to these questions more easily.

What are the major challenges in presenting financial products online?

I think that the biggest challenge is in simplifying them to make it easy for customers to understand and make a decision about. There are potential problems if you use too much industry jargon so we spent a lot of time thinking about the kinds of copy we used on the site.

Has the financial sector been slow to adapt online? Why do you think this is?

Yes, this is partly because the organisations are so large that it can take more time to adjust, but they also aren't customer-focused.

While other sectors have tapped into what consumers actually want and used this as a starting point, building their services and products around them, they have built the products and services first, before trying to convince customers that this is what they want. We have taken that consumer-led approach.

Have you done anything around social media? Any plans to?

It is something we have wanted to get into, and we are currently going through an exercise to map and learn from what is being said online about Hiscox, and our products.

The next thing for us is to figure out when it is right to enter into it. I think it's only worth doing if you have something interesting to say, so we have to consider how we can add value to the conversation.

Graham Charlton

Published 16 July, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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