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Customer Experience with World Nomads’ Chris Noble

By Joanne Jacobs

Disrupt Podcast Episode: Experience and Living the Brand with World Nomads’ Chris Noble

In this episode of the Disrupt Podcast, Gavin is joined by World Nomad, Chris Noble.

We talk about customer experience and living the brand, innovation and failing fast, failing cheap – and what it means to bring a brand to life in the competitive fintech space.

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Chris Noble

World Nomads

Chris’ mission is to pull together a kick-ass team of people to re-imagine an innovative, customer centric travel insurance service.

Gavin Heaton

Founder Disruptor's Handbook

Gavin is a marketing technologist, strategist and advisor. He is the founder of the Disruptor’s Handbook – a strategy and innovation firm that brings the best of start-up approaches to the enterprise.


GAVIN: [00:00:01] Welcome to disrupt the podcast The podcast for, social, tech and corporate innovators.

GAVIN: [00:00:06] Imagine working deep within your passion. Imagine a world where what you love doing so travel becomes central to not only the way that you live but also the way that you work. Hello and thanks for joining me on the disrupt podcast.

GAVIN: [00:00:20] I’m Gavin Heaton, the founder of disruptor’s handbook, a strategy and innovation services firm that helps organizations shift mindsets, innovate products, and respond to a disruptive and uncertain future. Today I’m joined by World Nomad Chris Noble. World Nomads is a travel insurance company like no other – built by digital natives for digital natives. It was created for the independent adventure traveller. Chris and the World Nomads team have a deep seated respect and love for travel and travellers. They focus on the customer experience and their dedication to it is quite amazing. You’ll hear this coming through in the podcast particularly as it relates to experimentation, innovation and testing. Fail fast and fail cheap is the mantra.

GAVIN: [00:01:01] I trust you’ll enjoy this conversation.

GAVIN: [00:01:04] So welcome Chris Noble to the Disrupt Podcast. Thanks for joining us.

CHRIS: [00:01:09] My pleasure mate.

GAVIN: [00:01:10] And I’d like to start by having you introduce yourself.

CHRIS: [00:01:14] I’m the general manager of world nomads dot com. We’re probably the most un-travel insurance travel insurance company you’re likely to come across. We are avid travelers, I think, in our heart first and foremost and that’s what’s made us a little bit unusual but no doubt you want to know a little bit more about that.

GAVIN: [00:01:34] Absolutely. I think the concept of a “travel” insurance company is an interesting one in itself in that you guys focus very much on the travel experience. Not in a way that detracts from the insurance products but in a way that enhances it.

CHRIS: [00:01:49] Yeah I think really early on and again at the end of the day everyone tries to find their passion whatever it is whatever they’re trying to do. Our passion came from travel first and foremost so we were digital natives. We came from that background but at our heart we were travellers and so when we were thinking about what is a product we want to do what. What is something that combines the best of travel but also gives us an opportunity to work in the digital space in the online space. There was sort of a natural fit with travel insurance and it might not – the dots might not seem a natural thing to join at the time – but for us we’ve all gone on these amazing journeys to far flung places of the world. We were very much the adventure type of traveller and inherent to that is just getting into shit. So you’re going you find yourself in some of the most ludicrous situations and it begs the question of what next what happens when I’m in these situations and I think for most people for most travellers travel insurance is that grudge purchase it’s sort of not an afterthought but more of like OK I suppose I better get that.

CHRIS: [00:02:52] But when you’ve been through a couple of hairy situations and I’ve had a few in the past not just your simple sort of lost luggage or things like that but some medical situations it sort of brings home or brought home to us the need to one – ensure we have an insurance product that supported the traveler – but also to creating a brand that spoke to that traveler that independent adventure traveler.

CHRIS: [00:03:13] And we didn’t really see a time – and this was 13 years ago – I didn’t see at the time anyone that was necessarily doing that and I think although I have a different view now. Back then the view would have been if all I ever did was sell travel insurance I’d probably want to kill myself – but we have a much obviously deeper respect for travel insurance but at the heart of it still we’re travellers so the way in which we approach everything, in the way in which we expanded outside of just doing travel insurance is really about trying to make the journey for the independent and adventure traveler something special, something fantastic and positive and that you can explore the world, you can immerse yourself in cultures and get buried under the skin of a place.

CHRIS: [00:03:53] And if the shit hits the fan there’ll be someone that will look after you and understand you. Ultimately not through the lens of insurance but through the lens of a traveler.

GAVIN: [00:04:02] That’s a great point of view because one of the things I like about what you guys do is this idea that we look at customer journeys and you’re literally talking about customer journeys. Yeah and you’re marrying the challenges of a literal journey with a metaphoric journey into the insurance and a financial journey as well.

CHRIS: [00:04:21] Yeah it’s a joke internally about this concept of onions and everything as long as it’s a little bit like Shrek. But it is that and I think for someone who would consider himself a traveller someone who is genuinely it’s such an important part of their life – that that life cycle of trying to understand where do I want to go next. For a world nomad that is very much about what I need so inherently tied into what someone needs at a particular time and I think that’s what makes travel so brilliant and so fantastic is for a lot of people it’s just an opportunity for a break. Yeah yeah. I just want to take some time sit on the beach and forget about everything – but from a World Nomads perspective it’s someone who is genuinely curious and I think curiosity is one of those things that’s really about a world nomad – I’m genuinely curious about the world around me and where I sit within it. And so when you’re thinking about where you’re going often you’re trying to get an understanding of what you need at a particular time and I think world nomads has that view of you know “one traveller many journeys”.

CHRIS: [00:05:20] And so our role is to try and understand what those journeys are and more deeply than just wanting to take a break but very much about how do we support someone who wants to get under the skin of a place – get off the beaten path that doesn’t necessarily want to go and just do and visit the tourist sites – and there’s nothing wrong with that – but at the end of the day what do you need. What’s going to fulfil you – for a lot of people that that’s that’s about that’s a cultural exchange. There’s an understanding of a different culture to give them a mirror to themselves to understand who am I and where do I fit in the world.

CHRIS: [00:05:52] For a lot of people it’s about exploring their boundaries and those boundaries aren’t just about – you know the selfie and they look at me I’m doing something – it’s I’ve wanted to push myself in a particular way. I wanted to take myself outside of my comfort zone and that might be on a personal level, that might be on a learning level in terms of I want to build a skill that I don’t currently have. And sometimes it purely comes down to things like adrenaline that I just get out there. I want to you know I want to go diving.

GAVIN: [00:06:20] I want to scare myself.

CHRIS: [00:06:20] Yeah I want to scare myself. You know it’s about challenging you know I want it I want it I want to get out there I want to do things I haven’t done before and really experience it in a different environment and so our role is to understand that journey and then to try and map against that the things that we help we think are going to help people make a decision. And so very early on. You know when we got the site up and running and travel insurance we made a decision back in the day we want to have an opportunity for people to share their stories and so we created a blogging platform we called “journals” back back then because we thought it was journalling. I don’t think blogging had been invented.

CHRIS: [00:06:56] But we gave an opportunity for people to write and share their stories and predominately was with their friends and families you know that was that first step to sort of understanding how people travel and what motivated them and then you know that ability to share a story with someone else provides the inspiration to that person to then go “I’d love to do that” or it’s not the FOMO, the pure FOMO that you know people get “oh look at that person they look like they’re sitting on the beach having a great time”. It’s that that was such a great experience and everybody has a friend who comes back and talks about a trip they took and how it changed them. And so setting up journals was a way to do that and that helps early on where people like where do I want to go what to do and changes the narrative less around what I want to see. But what do I want to experience, what I want to feel. And so we started doing that and then we started to build around that – “okay well if I’m if I’m thinking about going to a place what do I need to know about that place and so that was very much about you know being able to provide content that would inform them. What can I see. What can I do and what will that mean. Not just the TripAdvisor view of here’s a four star listed monument or something like that. But why is that important. Why why why don’t I want to go to that place. Why do I want to experience that and that then gives them some of those building blocks in terms of planning.

CHRIS: [00:08:13] And then the other layer which is obviously from our perspective a little bit closer to insurance was around safety and safety is a big part of what we do very much around trying to inform travellers of the shit that’s going to happen when you hit the road and for a lot of people they don’t really know. Most people would think about buying travel insurance on the basis of losing a bag and it’s not predominately and most of the claims that we have coming through travel insurance are medical claims right and people they will get into some of the most amazing situations you know whether it’s remote surfing in Indonesia and having an aneurysm whether it’s going up into Rajastan picking up a virus, whether it’s getting botfly in Argentina and how do I get a worm out of my leg with a piece of meat.

CHRIS: [00:08:55] It’s these types of things and so you know we’ve invest a lot of time and energy into creating travel safety content to try to help people understand what not to be the traditional blocker of don’t do that but more about just know this is the stuff that’s going to happen and this is the things that you can prepare for. And just so you’re better informed and better armed and then ultimately the insurance has to support all of that.

GAVIN: [00:09:17] Right

CHRIS: [00:09:17] So you take it from a different end you’re not you’re not necessarily designing travel insurance from an insurance perspective although you’re acutely aware of that.

GAVIN: [00:09:26] Yes.

CHRIS: [00:09:27] From a commercial perspective understanding the risks that occur and how do you create product that supports when that type of stuff happens. It was very much about – from our perspective going Well what are our guys going to do. So understanding the journey understanding the way that people travel informs you as well what are the products and the services that I need to build or travel insurance.

CHRIS: [00:09:49] But all of that work that we did was very much about one having a great product that based on our knowledge and our understanding of how world nomad travels. But the fun part really really fun part is the understanding of what it is to be a world nomad that and I use this and it sounds a little wanky but whatever – you don’t live and die you know you don’t live a Red Bull, you don’t live and die an Apple, but you can live and die a World Nomad.

CHRIS: [00:10:12] So from a brand marketers perspective that’s that’s been such an amazing thing for us to be able to tap into because we ultimately feel that we have created a brand that that is who we are and it’s rare to be I think in an environment where you can do that. So …

GAVIN: [00:10:29] Absolutely

CHRIS: [00:10:29] We’ve been pretty blessed in that regard.

GAVIN: [00:10:31] What I think is interesting about the way that you talk about your customers and you talk about your products is that you’ve got a deep understanding of that. You’re talking about a relatively conservative industry and no doubt it’s not the kind of industry that you would look at in terms of creating these innovative products except that’s kind of where you started. You started with innovative product that’s not on anyone else’s radar.

CHRIS: [00:11:01] Yeah and I look you know insurance has been – travel insurance in particular – that it’s not that it hasn’t been around for ages it has – it’s just to your point is the way in which you look it and ultimately I think most innovation needs to come from the heart of solving a problem and sort of understanding what the problem was and so for us when we first started out we probably were more aligned to the backpacker world.

CHRIS: [00:11:24] We’d done a lot of long term travel and when we were younger and the challenges you face with long term travel were some of the problems we were trying to overcome. And those are you know I’m you know to deliver this life of a world nomad that is to make decisions on the fly.

CHRIS: [00:11:41] And traditional travel insurance is very much about I’m going away for two weeks I buy here and I come back there – and you know that transaction might be bundled and traditionally has been bundled with a travel agent so it’s always been a secondary product but the shift to digital/online gives you an opportunity to put your product in front at a different time. And so for us it was very much about going right what are those problems we’re trying to solve and then give you an example of one of them was that a lot of people who travel make a decision when they’re away – “I want to stay I want to keep going. I want another three months or another six months”, and insurance by and large, are traditional, risk averse. So when they look at someone who wants to stay away and then wants to buy when they’re on the road. They have a risk of this person buying because something’s happened to them and they’re wanting to claim it and have you know this is just the case of someone that wants to keep travelling.

[00:12:30] So how do we make that possible and that little change that little ability for us to drive through all the partners that we use around the world to provide insurance for our travelers is very much around you need to enable that flexibility. That’s what it is to be a world nomad you need to be comfortable with the fact that someone will want to continue to travel longer than maybe what you expect, and that was one of the first things … and we probably were in that regard one of the first insurers that allow people to continue that travel, to continue the journey and still provide them coverage. And then so that’s where it starts, I think is very much always about understanding what is what is the challenge someone faces and how do we meet that through the product that we sell. Like I said it’s not without challenge there are a thousand things we want to continue to do.

GAVIN: [00:13:14] And do you find that still part of the product development cycle for you guys – is the customer engagement and feedback from your customers as part of that cycle.

CHRIS: [00:13:25] It very much is. I would like to say that we need to do a hell of a lot more. I think the biggest challenge in any business particularly in the digital space deals with at the moment is around data – and to take an old school approach – it’s conversational data. So you know how do I listen and understanding from our customers about the problems that they’re facing whether they’re on the road and we do that as as many touch points as we can to get a sense of where did things go really well which is a great thing and then you can improve on that but also where the things not go so well.

GAVIN: [00:13:56] Right.

CHRIS: [00:13:56] And how do you overcome some of the challenges that you have with our particular product which is about making, you know, informing people enough so when they’re going away that they know when the shit hits the fan what want to happen to sort of expedite a claims process. A lot of people will get “you know I’m not covered”, you know insurance or travel insurance in particular is not like a blanket coverage for everything. There is a policy wording and people argue sometimes that’s the fine print and there’s nothing fine print about it it’s just the framework by which we can provide a product and understand whether or not it fits and whether or not it’s going to look after that individual and so big challenges that we have and will always continue to have – how do you make or how do you make people understand really what travel insurance is there for and how it’s going to look after them.

CHRIS: [00:14:41] People will spend five or six months planning a trip and not even read the policy wording and the policy wording and in some cases is the difference between you having to mortgage your house because you didn’t take out the right level of cover for an activity that you might have done that has meant that you’ve ended up having a horrific accident overseas and you need to come home, and you’re not covered, or not taking insurance full stop. And being stuck with that. And it really is those types of things, you know we would probably have five to six times a year at least where we’ve had to do large scale medical evacuations or we’ve had to deal with people that have had some really horrific things happen to them particularly in places like the US where medical care is a business and you could be racking up 10, 20 thousand dollars a day easily. So for us, taking that customer experience understanding the challenges that people are facing then finding a way to bring that into the product development cycle whether that’s through product design or whether that’s communication design. If you don’t have that sort of listen learn response cycle always going you just get left behind and you get it doesn’t you don’t have a good basis for innovation if you don’t have it.

GAVIN: [00:15:50] So back when you first started there really was … was there a burning issue that you were trying to solve or was this something that you created for example?

CHRIS: [00:16:01] You could look at it from two ways I think from an opportunity perspective the market was it wasn’t being done well online. So when we started certainly in Australia there would be a handful of people who were selling travel insurance online and making that easy. And so the problem that we were trying to solve at that point was to try and make selling or understanding first, travel insurance a lot easier, and then selling it in a way that made it made it simple for someone to be able to go through understand what they were buying and then be able to buy.

CHRIS: [00:16:29] Traditionally. Like I said you would go to a travel agent and they would be standing there that said you on travel insurance with this that hands you a brochure basically is expected to book the trip and the insurance at that point in time. And I think in most cases people walked away with a brochure threw it into the into the third drawer in my situation where all the rest of the brochures go. And then when I don’t really know what I’m covered for and it is – it’s that low interest product that low interest category and so our challenge is to try and make it interesting and was to try and give people that sense that real sense that what I’m doing and where I’m going I’m going to be looked after and that there are some of that understands the way that I travel and that we have a good emergency assistance divisions that when the shit hits the fan they can get on the phone and they can make everything right.

CHRIS: [00:17:15] And that’s I think that was that was the first problem we had to overcome. But the opportunity itself was it just wasn’t being done well and mind and that’s what we that’s what we tried to solve. I mean buying travel insurance I like to think through us is incredibly simple but it’s incredibly complex underneath. And that’s you know that’s good online businesses can do that they can take a really complex and complicated things and make them simple really.

GAVIN: [00:17:40] So I just want to be respectful of your time and one of the things I’m always interested in when I’m talking to people is to understand if there was a person or a moment or piece of advice you were given that helped change the course of your career. or your thinking.

CHRIS: [00:18:00] Yeah that’s that’s a hard one I think when you think of when you think of those influences that you’ve had throughout your life. I don’t personally think I’ve ever really had like what I would call a very strong mentor.

[00:18:11] I’ve just had people around me that particular stages of my life have given me the encouragement to do things that I otherwise wouldn’t have done and I think that’s that’s the great thing about building relationships outside of just your own industry. And I don’t want to use the word networking because it sounds just horrific but the friendships and also appreciating and I think this is one thing that when I was a lot younger and you don’t tend to think about instilling respect for your elders – even if they’re not necessarily you know like people will look at older people and say you know digital native or heap shit on millennials and whatnot but at the end of the day you know the people that I’ve learned from are the people that have been where I have trod in the same path. Right. And you learn there are some you know a lot of respect for people not only within my business but out outside of the business. What particular person Daryl Wade who founded Intrepid has always been a wonderful bouncing board for – over the years – for different ideas and just a different approach. Someone that has incredible passion for what they’ve done but it is also being not afraid to make mistakes along the way and I think that’s that’s the other thing as well. You’ve got to be prepared to take risks along the way. Fail fast and fail cheap if you can.

GAVIN: [00:19:28] Fail cheap I like that one.

CHRIS: [00:19:30] But also just be prepared to do it and be guided by what you’re passionate about.

[00:19:34] Be guided by what you think ultimately is going to make someone’s life better whether that’s in your own working environment whether that’s the products that you build or externally. Beyond that. And for me I think that was that’s that’s the guiding light it just has been always to push it. Always try and work outside the boundaries think outside of the box look for relationships at the time don’t necessarily seem like they’re the right ones to have may be built around shared values. Which I think you know look at us and the things that we do. I mean we you know we’ve we’ve shot documentary series and have on National Geographic and we’re travelling and partner joining that dot was about really about understanding about the things that we’re passionate how do we bring them to life. But we probably wouldn’t have thought about how do we distribute the time and then we ended up putting it to airlines and then NatGeo picked it up and they turned and they read it on their channel. We would have never thought that would happen but we wouldn’t have happened if in the 10 minute conversation coming back from a meeting we didn’t say well why don’t we go to film some of the things that give it a shot.[00:20:36] We’ve got a charity program that funds amazing things around the world why don’t you go and film one of those things and if you didn’t take the risk of doing that in the first place the second third fourth thing that just rolled on after that they don’t happen. And that’s that’s the beautiful thing I think about being given flexibility and freedom to trial things is that you don’t know where they’re going to go but if they go down the hill you can try and knock them off.[00:21:02] So yeah that’s been my advice is to really respect the people around you that have trod a similar path and look for them if you can talk to them and understand what they came up with and then the other part is always take a risk always be prepared to have a little bit of a gamble to do something new do something different that’s going to inspire you.[00:21:20] Excellent.[00:21:21] Thanks again for your time. Chris My pleasure mate.


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