“No, we DO NOT want your contact details!”

Imagine: You try to enter a departmental store. Before you enter, they tell you, right at the gate, that to enter the shampoo section even to window shop and check out the options and prices, you’d need to give your phone number right now and agree to be contacted over the phone at a time the store chooses.

Would you agree and give your phone number?

I wouldn’t since I have very, very limited hair that doesn’t need shampoo at all (soap would do), but depending on the amount of hair you have, you may agree.

But wouldn’t you think this is a bizarre ask? It most definitely is! It is bizarre because it tells you, even before you enter the store, that the shampoo department is desperate to make a sale.

And that’s precisely how it works with any insurance company online in India!

Last week, I thought of health insurance and started searching online for the available options. I remembered someone recently mentioning ‘Digit’ insurance as an option and remembered Star Health from my earlier, ’employed’ days.

I searched for both and found that to get a quote, I’d need to enter my email ID and phone number – without those contact details, the form wouldn’t process the other details.

I know fully well that adding my phone number would lead to a barrage of unwanted spam calls, but since I was keen to know the number (that I’d need to pay), I went ahead.

To be fair, they clearly add a fine print or a disclaimer that by entering the contact details, I’m authorizing the company to contact me. This is a precondition if I want to even ‘window-shop’ for prices.

I got the quotes from both and then started the endless calls. The Digit call came within a few minutes, while Star Health followed up a few minutes later. Then came a call from the UK for forex trading (the first-ever call from that number), out of the blue! Literally 5 minutes after I have entered my phone number on both Digit and Star Health – I have no clue who cross-sold my data and to whom.

I went ahead and got quotes from ICICI Lombard and HDFC Ergo, and ICICI was relentless!

Since the time I entered my phone number, I have received 12 calls and 4 text messages from ICICI Lombard. And 3 calls from HDFC Ergo. (I know this since I have TrueCaller installed on my phone)

IRDA (Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority) has made it mandatory for any insurance communication to include the disclaimer, “insurance is the subject matter of solicitation”. This means that insurance has to be requested or asked for, not sold. So, when an insurance company is selling you a product, it is making it extra clear with this disclosure that even though they are selling, the responsibility of buying rests only with you, the consumer.

The starting point of showing interest in any product or service, for us consumers, is to see what are the available options and at what price points. In the offline world, we did that by walking into stores/offices and speaking to the salespeople there. The salespeople may or may not ask our contact details while we seek the details we need, but it is up to us to give that – that is not a precondition for them to share details.

The starting point of showing interest in an insurance product is to go online and find competing quotes based on the rudimentary details you provide – what kind of insurance you need, for what specifications (car model, age for auto insurance; your and family’s age for health insurance and so on). The insurance company has no meaningful use of a phone number or an email ID to calculate a draft quotation. You will reach out to them when you feel the need if you want to. And the company would then have a chance to convince you about an appropriate product from its portfolio.

So the step of forcing you to provide your phone number is more likely an act of trying to convince you even before you have (a) done your research or (b) convinced yourself based on whatever details are with you. I fully understand why they do this – this is a standard sales technique and helps categorize leads as warm and cold, prioritize follow-ups, incentivize agents to close warm leads, and so on.

I do wonder, however, if an insurance provider could take the opposite route of what every other provider. That is if the insurance industry is notorious for spamming the hell out of people relentlessly, and even carries that identity as some sign of infamy proudly (even before the internet and widespread use of phones, ‘insurance agents’ were regarded as persistently following and soliciting people to buy), how would it be if an insurance company proclaims:

“We do not want your phone number and email ID! Just visit our website, enter basic details and get your quote. We WILL NOT contact you unless you consent to be reached. Our online quote forms will work WITHOUT you filling your contact details.”

This would obviously make the company blind to the specific individuals who are seeking a quote, they won’t be able to add individually identifiable details to a database and follow-up/chase them to ‘closure’.

But would the trust they built with you by not seeking your contact details and not making that a precondition to get a simple quote not mean anything? I wonder what is stopping an insurance company from trying this.

It need not even be this sweeping. It could be slightly granular in seeking consent too. How about giving 2 options to pick from:
– Click here to give us permission to contact you ONLY via text messages
– Click here to give us permission to contact you via either a phone call or a text message

Worth a try?

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