For Karen Riedel, it’s all about understanding customers’ needs and wants.
Riedel is director of product marketing for Aflac. In this role, she oversees the strategies of developing new products and enhancing older ones — making sure they meet the needs of Aflac clients.
The supplemental insurance firm recently launched a new integrated marketing campaign called Aflac Wingspan — an effort to reach more potential customers and boost sales during an economic downturn. Riedel has been keeping busy with the campaign, as part of it includes launching new Aflac products and revamping old ones. Riedel sat down with the Ledger-Enquirer to talk about the product development process, the need for supplemental insurance and new Aflac products.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Walk me through the process of having an idea for a product to Aflac actually offering it to customers.
Our product development process is basically five stages. We start with research. We (use) internal information, work with our field force, do focus groups and send surveys out to our field force, employers and consumers.
The next stage is the actual development stage — when we decide to pursue an idea. That’s where we actually take the product that we want and craft the language, price it, work out all the administration. We work with a lot of different areas of the company — IT, claims, actuarial, compliance, other marketing groups. It’s a very collaborative effort.
Then we have our project phase. That’s when everything gets coded and filed. The actual execution of it.
Implementation is our process of introducing the products to all the different states.
And then the marketing. We start marketing when we introduce it. Throughout that product’s life cycle, we need to come up with marketing ideas to enhance and help generate more sales of the products.
Everything we learn during that process goes back to the research phase for the next revision of that product.
Talk to me about life insurance versus disability insurance. How do you think people perceive the need for the two?
Life insurance is something people certainly understand the need for. In the market we’re in, we’re seeing average Americans on the worksite understand they either need insurance or don’t have enough. Our agents, focusing more on asking people if they want life insurance, have really helped our sales of life insurance.
What we want to ensure is that people also understand they have to insure their income. Accidents and illnesses occur. You need to ensure you have a continuing income should you be out of work, particularly in a down economy … When finances are strained, it’s even more important people have that safety net of supplemental products.
Why do you think people will go for life insurance but not necessarily disability or supplemental insurance?
Maybe they don’t think some of these things might happen to them. I think it’s important to continue the process of educating people to understand what our products do and how they help provide that safety net. We’re insurance for daily life. When (accidents or illnesses) happen and you miss work, unfortunately a lot of people don’t have that two to three months of savings that is recommended.
Tell me about the new products and revamped older products Aflac is offering with Aflac Wingspan.
We enhanced our existing accident and disability products, to ensure the benefits are most relevant. We also are expanding the market to make sure more people have access to Aflac products.
With the accident plan, we now cover dependent children up to age 25. We’re finding more children are staying home longer, and parents are concerned their children be covered.
In addition to enhancing some benefits, we also took out some exclusions — for aviation, hazardous activities, sports, taxi cab drivers — to allow more people to have it.
With our disability (policies,) we lowered the definition of a full-time employee to 19 hours from 30. This was a big change. What we’re finding in this economy is employers may be reducing the number of hours employees work as opposed to reducing their workforce.
We also have a transitional disability benefit that we added to our short-term disability. If you’re not working at least 19 hours or at all, and you have our plan, it will pay a disability benefit, should you become disabled during that time.
The new products are the lump-sum critical illness and lump-sum cancer. What we found in conversations with employers and employees is that they want more options.
We have a specified health event plan that pays daily indemnity benefit amounts, should they have one of these conditions. But we found there is an increasing interest in a product that pays in a lump-sum manner. We created our lump-sum plans to pay benefits (for an unlimited number of recurring health conditions, including the same or new critical illnesses.) So you could receive additional benefits for … additional heart attacks or strokes. Also, if you go five years, your benefit comes back entirely. Consumers really want to have this coverage, but they want it to pay over a longer period of time.
What’s your favorite part of the job? Least favorite?
My favorite part is looking at the research and talking through ideas with people — the communicating, the brainstorming of what’s the next new idea. How can we create something that will be helpful to people? That is something I’m passionate about — as well as my whole team. What we do on a daily basis truly impacts people. Something we’re developing now is going to help somebody is their time of need. That is very rewarding.
My least favorite … I think most people would say some of the more administrative tasks are probably the least exciting. I like the more creative aspects of my job.