COVID-19 and the tipping point for life insurance
Did you know September is Life Insurance Awareness Month? No? Four years ago, neither did I.
The first question I (and probably you) asked: there’s a month for that? The second question: why? There’s a good reason, and we’ll get to it. First, let’s step back for a second and look at the numbers for life insurance buyers from before COVID-19.
Understanding the life insurance ownership gap
At the start of 2020, LIMRA research reported that 46% of adult Americans did not have life insurance. Most don’t see a reason to, or think it’s too expensive. But 40% of people who buy life insurance also regret not having done so earlier. Simply put – people don’t think they need life insurance until they go through major life events like marriage or children. It’s my theory that close brushes with death and health scares also motivate people to purchase life insurance.
But those stats were at the start of the year, before… well, you know. Skip a few months and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic ahead, and we’ve all been through the same uncertainty, fear of the virus, and concern for our loved ones. Some of us have been affected more than others, and there really aren’t any new words to say about it – everything has been said before, and I think we’re all sick of reading about “the new normal.”
The tipping point
So I won’t talk about that. What I will talk about is the 2020 Insurance Barometer Study, which reported something that really piqued my interest:
25% of surveyed Americans said they purchased life insurance for the first time after COVID-19.
What does this stat mean? To me, it says 25% of surveyed Americans bought life insurance remotely after COVID-19. With most of the US in lockdown and agents working from home, that’s the only way they could have done it.
I’ve worked in the insurance industry for a long time, and I can tell you it’s not easy to get customers to sign policies like that remotely. Several things have to fall together like dominoes to create a tipping point for this to happen: customers are pushed by external events, the insurance organizations they trust already have remote collaboration tools in place, and their agents are super good at their jobs.
The importance of being super competent
I’m aware that the concept of super agents is not a new one. I first came across the term seven years ago through the International Customer Management Institute, or ICMI, in a piece published by Matt McConnell, Chairman and CEO of Intradiem. Titled “Tomorrow’s Super-Agents… Handling it all in a single call”, the rhyme was certainly catchy, but it was the idea that stuck in my head.
A few years later, super agents are well-established in the insurance industry, although some organizations have different names for them (like universal agents, or top-tier agents). Even though it’s more specific to contact centre agents, I really like Telus International’s definition, which neatly rounds up everything that makes super agents so valuable to insurance organizations: they are “trained to handle nearly any issue a customer may have, from basic problem-solving, to advanced tech support, to sales. They’re also empathetic people-pleasers, with soft skills that are second to none.”
So let’s talk about empathy.
The E word
At Surfly, we help people to help people with our co-browsing technology. There are other co-browsing options available on the market, and some of them may meet your needs better than ours would. However, what I want to focus on is the idea behind collaborative tools like co-browsing – and that idea is driven by empathy. Our founder used to work customer service, and he created Surfly after a particularly frustrating call with a customer. He couldn’t help her because he couldn’t see her screen, so he decided to build a better way to be able to do that.
That, to me, is the one defining trait of a successful agent – genuinely wanting to fix other people’s problems. There’s a quote by Brian Solis that I’m prone to pulling out whenever this topic comes up:
“Effective engagement is inspired by the empathy that develops simply by being human.”
There’s a place for automation in insurance, clearly evidenced by the meteoric rise of insurtechs like Lemonade, but the middle of a pandemic is not that place. AI will never be able to experience empathy; it may appear to, but – and I know this is a cliche thing to say – there’s no replacement for actual human interaction. Even chatbots like Duplex, Google’s human-sounding AI complete with aahs and umms, are still largely operated by humans.
A consumer who is seeking life insurance after the onset of a global pandemic is likely to be in a state of discomfort at best, and outright panic at worst. The last thing you want is for that person to be passed off to an inexperienced agent, or worse, to an AI chatbot – because what the consumer is looking for isn’t just insurance, but reassurance. It’s a peculiar situation for an agent to be in, I’ll give you that – they have to step into the role of advisor, counselor, IT expert, all while trying to give the customer what they want: a life insurance policy that will put their mind, and the minds of their loved ones at ease.
No one can say how long COVID-19 will impact the way we interact with each other. We can’t even say for sure that there’s another side to come out on, and nobody is saying ‘when this is all over’ any more. That means we have to prepare for ways to be kinder, more empathetic, and also more efficient when we take on the responsibility of people’s lives – and the only way to do that is with a human touch.