How the concept of 24/7 customer-service is morphing into instantaneous interaction
By Bob Scheppegrell and Scott RothBob Scheppegrell (left) is Senior Vice President, Customer Solutions, Lincoln Financial Group and Scott Roth (right) is Senior Vice President, IT Enterprise Solutions, Lincoln Financial Group. Visit www.lfg.com
Life insurance carriers are finding their customers are starting to expect immediate and personalized service experiences based on their interactions with companies like Uber and Amazon. For carriers in the life insurance space, these new expectations could be viewed as a challenge, as this industry has historically had complex, lengthy, paper-driven processes and limited service options. However, these new expectations are an opportunity to reinvent the customer experience making it simpler, faster and more customized by leveraging technology.
In recent years, carriers have made significant strides in improving the customer experience with technology. Much of the early innovation has been focused on the underwriting and new business process with advancements such as automated underwriting, the potential to eliminate underwriting labs and the electronic delivery of policies. While the customer experience continues to improve as part of the acquisition process, carriers are now placing increased emphasis on post-issue service enhancements to deliver a consistent end-to-end experience for customers.
Web Chat & Chatbots
One emerging digital service enhancement in the life insurance industry is the deployment of web chat capabilities. Chat capabilities can come in several forms, from chatting with a live service representative or communicating with a chatbot, each option offering its own unique value proposition depending on the need of the customer. A chatbot is an artificial intelligence software program that simulates conversations with customers using dynamic or predetermined responses.
The combination of live representative chat and chatbots increases self-service options for customers while enabling carriers to offer 24×7 service for certain interactions. In addition, chat capabilities offer greater communication flexibility for customers who may have a hearing or speech impairment and are unable to call into a service center.
With the chatbots augmenting the options that advisors and customers have to contact a carrier and conduct business, service representatives are able to focus more time on the complex and value-added customer interactions and transactions, such as changing coverage. In addition, service representatives can focus more on client interactions that may require emotional discussions, such as those dealing with the loss of a loved one during the claim notification process.
Chatbots can serve many different customer needs, depending on the chatbot’s development maturity. At the most basic level, they can respond to general customer inquiries, such as ‘how do I change my beneficiary?’ or ‘how do I make a payment?’. While at the discretion of the carrier, customers can get responses to these types of inquiries without having to log into their account. In responding to these inquiries, the chatbot can be ‘trained’ to answer variations of these questions as they could be asked in many different ways.
While chat capabilities are still new in this industry and currently only available with a few carriers, as the technology continues to gain traction, carriers can be expected to evolve the bots to be ‘deep learning’ bots. With deep learning, instead of relying on explicitly programmed rules, the bot teaches itself based on a hierarchy of algorithms simulating human learning allowing them to be more flexible with the scenarios they can handle. This includes being able to discuss policy-specific information with customers within a secure or post-log in online environment. In these instances, the bots can respond to more complex scenarios, and even complete transactions such as processing a premium payment.
Enter The ‘Omni-Channel’ Strategy
Web chat capabilities are often part of a larger ‘omnichannel’ strategy to meet customers where they want to be met, and empower them to communicate with a company using the channel of their preference – phone, the web, mobile, text, chat or email – affording the capability to seamlessly transition from one channel to the next as needed.
As part of this broader omnichannel strategy, the adoption of digital voice assistants in the life insurance space
will provide another powerful tool to help consumers manage their policies and take control of their financial futures. These technology capabilities will continue to emerge in carriers’ call centers. The traditional ‘press 1 for registration, press 2 for password reset’ for voice interactions are being replaced by artificial intelligence solutions that leverage natural language processing to transform the conversation to ‘how can I help you today?’. This powerful change shifts from the model of the consumer adapting to industry buzz words to the business adapting to consumers’ vernacular. This relaxed conversational model will open up increased self-service opportunities and further enable call centers to offer 24×7 service capabilities in a model that was widely restricted to business hours.
Beyond the call center, digital voice assistant provide an opportunity for insurance companies to tap into the ‘smart home’ by providing information and services at the call of a voice – ‘Alexa, what is my 401(k) balance’ or ‘Google, can you provide the status on the insurance claim I filed with company x’. Home automation represents a growing market in which artificial intelligence using machine learning and deep learning techniques will become a new expectation of customers.
According to research by NPR and Edison Research, as of January 2018 one-in-six Americans own a Smart Speaker (16%), with Amazon’s Alexa-based products dominating the market. This is an increase of 128% since January 2017. With such rapid growth and popularity, incorporating these devices into the life insurance service experience will be another significant step in meeting customers where they are and making it easier to do business.
Some of these service capabilities are newly available today in the life insurance industry and others are on the near horizon. While the technologies have been deployed and enhanced extensively in other industries, they bring great potential and promise to the life insurance space, paving the way for a new age of service and creating greater opportunities to interact with customers on their terms. ◊
Lincoln Financial Group is the marketing name for Lincoln National Corporation and its affiliates, including broker-dealer/distributor Lincoln Financial Distributors, Inc., Radnor, PA, and insurance company affiliates The Lincoln National Life Insurance Company, Fort Wayne, IN, and Lincoln Life & Annuity Company of New York, Syracuse, NY.
The views expressed are those of the authors as of the date specified, are subject to change and may differ from those of the firm as a whole.