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In a 2016 studyMcKinsey compared insurance to the airline industry. Both are highly regulated and highly competitive, and in both industries it’s difficult to differentiate products without lowering prices.

Furthermore, in both industries, consumers can find out online more than ever about coverage, prices, and services. This leaves customer experience as one of the few areas in which insurance companies can compete, win new business, and improve retention.

I’ve spoken to hundreds of insurance companies over the last few months about how they do customer experience. Based on my conversations and research, here are some of the key predictions I have for how successful insurance agencies are going to approach customer experience in the year ahead.

 

Chatbots aren’t going to replace people

Whether for a potential new customer, or a valuable repeat one, chatbots are not capable of replacing human interaction now and will not be capable in a year’s time.

At this point, chatbots limitations mean their best use case scenario is to augment customer service teams at peak times, for introductory, low level or simple repetitive requests. Even then, there are plenty of chances for things to go wrong. Forrester nominates “Setting goals that are too ambitious for existing tech” and “Not clearly defining the bot’s purpose” as two reasons chatbot programs fail.

But ultimately, in an intangible, personal, and somewhat complex industry like insurance, chatbots are light years from being a serious alternative to human interaction. As CEO of AIG, Brian Duperreault, puts it:

 

Insurance will always remain a people business. 

It’s just that these people will be doing different things.

 

In fact, nothing beats human interaction…

A key challenge of the insurance industry is the fact that it’s a necessary grudge purchase for most customers. Therefore, many prospective customers tend to judge the suitability of a plan or agency on what they can judge – in the words of customer service thought leader Micah Solomon “much of which comes down to the quality of customer service.”

One CEO – Larry Keefe of Starkweather and Shepley Insurance, suggests looking to customer service models outside the insurance industry – specifically to hospitality, to get that extra edge in terms of a personalized experience. “Even though we sell insurance, we want the experience to be on the level of what you get of walking into a great hotel.”

Sounds like a way I’d like to be treated by my insurance company!

 

…but that interaction needs to be seamless in any channel

Between video and web chat, in-app messaging, and social media, pure phone service is becoming less central to customer service success. However, this raises other questions. Is your staff trained to respond to in-app and web messages?

How do you balance the urgency between an inbound chat request, an email, a social media question, and a phone call? How do you ensure consistency in messaging across diverse platforms and teams? And the overarching question: how do you make sure interactions are impactful, efficient and relevant?

These are serious questions. Leaders are already implementing omnichannel personalization strategies – backed up by a centralized overview of customer data and hyper-personalized service. But according to Insurance Nexus, only 23% of insurers believe their customer experience is consistent across channels.

 

Digital will augment people, not replace them

On the flip side to point 1, digital innovation will be a deal maker. And those which take advantage of the latest value-added digital tools to improve the customer experience will be winners.

Consider this scenario: A customer asks a question of an advisor from your website or in-app chat. Instead of merely responding in the chat box, the agent sends an invite to share a screen with the customer, remotely showing where on the website the relevant information is and highlighting specific areas of information, while adding some context on the product being discussed.

Rather than the chatbot approach, which seeks to remove human interaction from the equation, this personal approach augments the human interaction.  As the agent is directly showing and explaining the product in question, this has the potential to give the customer greater trust in the agent and company. Likewise, for the agent, this is a fast and effective way to highlight to the customer what (s)he wants to see.

 

Conclusion

In a separate study, Bain & Co note “Finding profitable growth through current customers typically is less expensive and yields a higher return on investment than acquiring new customers.”

When the only way to differentiate is on service, gaining an edge with digital tools could be the key to a successful 2018.

Will you be at Insurance Nexus Customer Engagement Summit in Chicago?

I’m looking forward to learning more about what’s on offer in Chicago next week. If you’d like to chat customer experience generally, or improving the customer experience through visual collaboration specifically, send me a message: tariq@surfly.com

 

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